- An estimated 8-10% (possibly up to 20%) professional athletes have ADHD (compared to four to eight percent of the general population of adults).
- Athletes with ADHD perform better in individualized or fast sports.
- Many athletes with Asperger’s are undiagnosed and excel at technical positions (i.e. catcher, goalie, surfing, running, martial arts)
- Many athletes who have mild to moderate ADHD/ASD are able to excel in sports if they find the right fit. If their ADHD or Asperger’s symptoms are severe, most of them will need to be treated.
- Many individuals and athletes have both ADD/ADHD and Asperger’s.
- The use of medications is often not allowed in most professional sports.
- Biofeedback and Neurofeedback are increasingly being used to increase attention and socialization, while decreasing anxiety, impulsivity and obsessiveness.
Professional Athletes with ADHD or ASD
ADHD: Michael Phelps, Terry Bradshaw, Pete Rose, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson, Jackie Stewart, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Jason Kidd, Greg Louganis, Andy LaRoche, Alex Trevino, Derek Lowe, Scott Eyre, Tom Gorzelanny.
Asperger’s: Clay Marzo (surfing), Jim Eisenreich (MLB), NHL goalies, T. Mac (High School basketball)
What are some advantages in sports of having ADHD?
Some sports do not require intense concentration, but rather short bouts of attention (15 sec.) or short shifts (i.e. hockey). Below are other advantages than athletes with ADHD may have:
- heighten awareness of environment
- ability to do well under pressure
- ability to do well in chaos (quarterback)
- unique/creative problem solving (routines)
- quick speed/reaction time
- lack of concern about losing at the moment
- quick reaction time/impulsivity if controlled
What are some reasons to refer athletes with ADHD to a sport psychologist experienced with ADHD?
- Performing well in practice but not in games
- Bored/unmotivated in practices
- Performs well in unstructured situations and poorly in important & structured situations
- Performance-related anxiety (sleeplessness)
- Concentration breakdowns
- Conflicts with coaches/teammates
- Forgetful (plays, outs, time remaining)
- Late/misses practice/game
- Impulsively throwing equipment/frustrated
What are some advantages of having Asperger’s in sports?
- Overfocusing on technical aspects (curveball, 3 point shoot, save technique)
- Hyperfocusing & practicing for longer periods of time
- Hyperfocusing when necessary (pitcher full count pitch, goalie shootout)
- Greater ability to stay calm due to having less emotional access
What are some reasons to refer athletes with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism to a sport psychologist experienced with ASD?
- Difficulty with unfair/incorrect official calls
- Difficulty with lack of structure (overtime) and changes (being traded)
- Difficulty socially bonding – often play positions that are considered “odd/different” (i.e. goalies, relief pitchers)
- Overfocused on technique, even if unsuccessful
Assessment of ADHD/ASD
The following tests are recommended to accurately assess ADD/ADHD/ASD. For additional information, please refer to www.attentionlearningcenter.com.
- Clinical Interview
- Behavior Rating Scales:
- Parent & Teacher
- Adult & significant other
- Continuous Performance Tests:
- IVA (both Auditory & Visual assessment), TOVA
- QEEG Mapping Brain Imaging Technique
Examples of Professional Athletes with ADHD
NBA player with ADHD: Kris Kaman – NBA LA Clippers
- Diagnosed ADHD as child.
- Prescribed stimulant and had negative effects.
- QEEG analysis revealed a High Beta pattern, which often doesn’t respond to stimulant medications.
- Trained with Neurofeedback and significantly improved his scoring and rebound average the following season.
- MLB player with ADHD- assessed and trained at MPC/APC
- Diagnosed with ADHD & anxiety.
- Underachieved in college baseball first few years.
- Prescribed stimulant medication Adderall, but had side effects.
- QEEG Map indicated high Theta (daydreaming, ADHD) & high Beta (anxiety).
- Trained with Neurofeedback to enhance SMR (lowers impulsivity, increases relaxation) & inhibit Theta (increases focus) & inhibit Beta (lowers anxiety).
- Trained with HRV and GSR biofeedback to decrease anxiety and increase batting performance.
- Trained in the use of mental skills such as visualization.
- Results of training: more successful in college baseball, drafted by MLB team, and playing on MLB Cincinnati Reds minor league team.
Professional Surfer with Asperger’s diagnosed at ALC – Clay Marzo
- He spent ten years searching for accurate diagnosis.
- Clay was diagnosed at ALC by Dr. Michael Linden using his QEEG Mapping subtype analysis in 2007.
- His story recently (8/4/09) featured on TV on ESPN60 (www.espn60.com), in Outside Magazine (9/09) and in ESPN The Magazine (9/7/09) (www.espn.com)
Asperger’s Athlete Clay Marzo – QEEG Map
The QEEG Brain Map below indicates increased (red) Theta (slow activity related to inattention and impulsivity and increased (red) Beta (fast activity related to anxiety, overfocusing and obsessiveness. According to Dr. Michael Linden’s research (Attention Learning Centers), High Beta one of the most common pattern in individuals with Asperger’s.
Asperger’s Athlete – Clay Marzo – QEEG Map Coherence
The figure below indicates hypercoherence (too highly connected) in frontal Alpha brainwaves (orange) and hypocoherence (dark blue) in right Parietal areas in many brain frequencies. The right Parietal area of the brain is related to many of our social and emotional functions. According to Dr. Michael Linden’s (Attention Learning Centers) research, Right Parietal Hypocoherence is a common pattern in individuals with Asperger’s.
Attention Performance Centers Media:
Book: Applications of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback in Sport Psychology: Unleash the “A” Brain (In Press) – Strack, Linden & Wilson (Eds.)
Review of Neurofeedback Treatment Studies and QEEG Subtypes of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (In Press – 2009). Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.