What’s Possible When Teachers and Coaches Understand ADHD

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One of our members shared the following story with us, and we got her permission to share it with you. It’s a terrific, true story. The names have been changed to protect the mother of a 14 year old girl who would be mortified if she knew her mother had shared this story!

Hilary is physically active with good eye-hand coordination. She has a love-hate relationship with organized sports. She loves it, but her coaches do not always share her enthusiasm. Hilary has ADHD.

One of the coaches Hilary has had the most trouble with is, ironically, the Special Ed guy for our school (K-12). During volleyball, Hilary would make one mistake and he would bench her for the rest of the game – and never communicate “what she did wrong.” She was disheartened, unclear why some players were allowed to make repeated mistakes and still play. She was terrified to move on the court, afraid that if she messed up she would be benched. The coach was aware of her ADHD, but his understanding of it seemed to be limited to “hyperactivity.” His treatment resulted in a team with no cohesion and no team spirit.

With high school basketball, Hilary got a new start. It was slow, but the new head coach was aware of the problems from volleyball season and went out of his way to encourage her. He allowed her to make mistakes, to let her body muscles learn and adjust to noise, nerves, miscalculating choices, etc. She didn’t get a lot more playing time, but her confidence and spirit came back, she has an awesome free-throw percentage and she made some awesome plays. The coach called her the most coachable child he has ever had.

One day the coach was taping Hilary’s ankle in the locker room before practice, when he asked, “Hilary, I need you to do something for me.” He turned to the assistant coach (who happens to be the aforementioned Volleyball coach) and said, “I want you to hear what I’m asking her to do, so you can be my witness. Hilary, in practice today, I want you to count the number of times Riley dribbles each time she has the ball and let me know after practice.” The assistant coach looked at the head coach like he was nuts, but the Coach said, “Hilary can do it, you just watch.”

At the end of practice, Hilary’s report went something like this: “Well, Riley dribbled 37 times, Sharon dribbled 20 times, France was 3, Jenna was 8, but her average was 3; Riley’s average was 8, and mine was 4.” The head coach was surprised. “Hilary, you did ALL the players?!?!” She smiled and said, “Well, I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.”

The assistant coach doubted Hilary at first, but when they started putting figures together, he was convinced she was right. With a bewildered look on his face, he shook his head.

Around that time, with some help from the music teacher, an article I had copied, about the challenges and gifts of ADHD, made its way into the teachers’ mailboxes. I don’t know that the coach or his teacher/wife read the article, but neither has prior skill-set training for ADHD. I’m thinking he read it.

His next assignment was more public. On the court, in front of the other players, he said “today we’re going to see how many shots we can make in 5 minutes from any position on the half court, all shooting at once. We’ll keep track of the baskets made. Hilary (long pause), I want YOU to keep track of the baskets MISSED…. while you’re shooting with the team.” The other girls thought it was impossible — nobody can do that and run the drill. Coach then adds, “for ALL the players”. Hilary responds, “got it.” GO.

At the end of practice, the two coaches total their figures, and then ask Hilary for her number. Coach looks at the girls and says, “this is so cool. Hang on a second.” He whips out a calculator and shows the team, “NOW, we have our team shooting percentage”!

The coach told us, recently, “I’m so glad you told me Hilary has ADHD! Her brain is amazing. Practice must be boring as hell for her!… To have to do just one thing over and over when she can keep up with so many things at once. I keep trying to come up with something she can’t do, but so far she’s stumped me on everything I’ve asked her to do.”

It’s been fun to watch someone else take the reigns and unlock the possibilities, with just a few simple adjustments to the way you motivate a person. The difference for Hilary? Life-changing, for sure! It’s amazing what a difference one teacher or coach can make in the life of a child.

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