As someone who has watched football and other sports closely for 50 years and often photographed games, it is clear that in many games there is evidence of both hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity, the diagnostic components of ADHD. Emotional lability is also a major feature of ADHD though is yet to feature in the formal list of diagnostic terms. Adults with ADHD can have all of these or simply one component. The diagnosis will still be ADHD if the many other criteria for this diagnosis are met. And thats the real point. Simple acts of impulsivity or inattention do not determine a diagnosis of ADHD, it is far more complicated than that. In this modern era though where medical screening is routine and obligatory to detect cardiac problems such as various forms of cardiomyopathies ( which have huge arrhythmogenic potential), should it not be useful at a minimum to screen for ADHD? ADHD can be managed and treated by a variety of techniques and medications.
Each week the news is full of sportsmen who have behaved in a manner that is often described as ” reckless”, but it might equally be regarded as ” impulsive” or ” emotional labile” responses. Joe Marler the England and Harlequins prop forward, was recently determined to have called Samson Lee a ” gypsy boy” in an international rugby game. On his return from a 2 match suspension he last night April 22nd 2016, is cited for ” kicking an opponent in the head”. Seemingly reading comments attributed to Conor O’Shea , the Harlequins director of rugby, Marler needs to “learn to control his emotion”. In the same week James Vardy reacted in an emotional and possibly verbally aggressive way to a referee after being sent off. Football often refers to flashpoint tempers, but of course not all players react this way. There is no way of knowing who has ADHD without formal testing and most players with these facets will not have ADHD.
There are of course well recognised sportsmen who have been successful in their careers and also diagnosed with ADHD, but a key facet is that often this diagnosis has come either after their career or later on in it. A good example is Cammi Granato. An Olympian athlete and history maker, Cammi Granato has ADHD. As a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team that won gold in the 1998 Olympics, she scored more goals than any other U.S. women’s hockey player. But she told Psychology Today in 2011 that her personal life felt out of control until she was officially diagnosed with ADHD in 2003 and started learning how to take control. This is a single case history or vignette but is unlikely to be unique. The key issue for sportsmen is how to learn how to take control and more importantly prevent issues emerging, such as red cards and maybe as a defender inattentive issues.
Clearly I am hypothesising greatly here but do believe that screening all sportsmen in professional sports would be beneficial both to themselves and their sports. An awareness of the potential outcomes of an impulsive act might just reduce incidence of future ones.
A retired Scottish footballer, Roddy Grant, was diagnosed at age 47 which in this era is far from uncommon.
“Football helped me mask the condition because it would burn up so much energy.
“But I was always high as a kite after games, win, lose or draw. Colleagues in the dressing room would say I was hyper and it was a massive issue for me”
Other than effects on the individual there are likely effects on the team. Would a clinical research study for example show that players with ADHD have worse disciplinary records? Would strikers with ADHD be more effective as their impulsivity would be positive and creative? Would defenders with inattentive forms of ADHD concede more goals through errors?
There is though a far bigger picture here, and this was well reported in The Guardian last year.
A few years back, a Premier League club found themselves in a moral dilemma because one of their academy players was creating problems behind the scenes. The boy was talented enough to have a chance of a successful career. But his behaviour was erratic and showed no sign of improvement. It went on long enough for psychiatric reports to be ordered and the prognosis was that he had a disorder – possibly ADHD – that needed medication.
The problem for the club was that some of the drugs were prohibited, meaning that if he took them he could not continue as a footballer and would have to be cut free. That left the club with two choices: go with the medical opinion or try to find another way and, in effect, ignore the professional advice.
So screening is not without its problems, however management of ADHD does not mandate the obligatory usage of medications. Screening can also be a fairly simple task, to screen for the possible presence of ADHD, those with positive screens can then be fully evaluated, a far more complex procedure.
There is certainly a case to consider in modern top level sport that sportsmen should be screened for the presence of all disorders that may affect their careers. Possibly ADHD is one of those.