7 Learning and Attention Problems That Cause Sports Challenges

By Erica Patino

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Playing sports can benefit kids with learning and attention issues. But having these issues can make it tricky to participate in sports. Here are some common challenges.

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Young boy running the bases in a baseball game with spectators looking on cheering
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Kids with attention issues can often be impulsive. That can cause problems on the playing field. When kids don’t think before they act, they could jeopardize their own safety and that of the other kids. For example, a child playing baseball might throw a ball to a teammate who isn’t ready.

Young boy running fast kicking soccer ball
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Kids with attention issues can also be hyperactive. During a game, they may get so wound up that they get confused about what they’re supposed to be doing. For example, a child who is hyperactive might get so excited when playing soccer that he ends up tackling a member of the opposing team. That’s a different sport altogether!

Middle school students dribbling a basketball down the court during practice
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Issues With Motor Skills

Kids with dyspraxia or other issues that affect movement might struggle with motor skills. Trouble with fine motor skills can make it hard for kids to manipulate objects with their hands—like hold a baseball bat.

Kids who have trouble with gross motor skills may struggle with running and jumping and other big muscle movements. Sports that require quick reflex time could also be an issue for kids who have trouble with motor skills. The good news is there are lots of sports—like swimming and track—that kids with motor skills issues can excel at.

Soccer coach going over plays with the team
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Trouble Following Directions

Kids with listening comprehension problems can have trouble following directions. That can be especially tough when playing sports that have different kinds of strategies and plays, like football. And even if they understand directions beforehand, they may still have trouble following them in the moment.

If your child has trouble following directions, check out these fun sports for kids with listening comprehension issues.

Close up of two baseball players sitting on the bench watching the game
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Trouble Accepting Constructive Feedback

Kids sometimes have trouble taking constructive feedback from a coach and other players. But that’s a necessary part of sports, especially as kids get older and the games are more competitive.

Kids with learning and attention issues may already feel discouraged about their academic struggles. So it could be a big blow if a coach tells them they’re doing something wrong in a sport, too. Here are tips to help your child deal with feedback and rejection in sports.

Girl’s Baseball coach talking to his team in the dugout
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Trouble Understanding the Rules

Each sports game has a set of “if-then” rules. For example, if your child steps outside the boundary line while dribbling the basketball, then he’s “out of bounds.” Understanding and following these rules is crucial to teamwork.

But for some kids with learning and attention issues, these “if-then” scenarios can be hard to follow. Some kids might also have trouble understanding the position they play in a game, such as knowing what to do as a fullback as opposed to a forward in soccer.

Soccer team members standing on the sidelines with their arms around each other
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Showing Empathy for Other Players

Sports can also be complicated for kids who struggle with social skills. They may have trouble understanding how other players feel. For example, a child might call attention to an error a teammate made and is embarrassed about. If your child has trouble with social skills, these sports may be good options.

When it comes to sports, it’s important to have coaches who support your child. Here are tips for coaching kids with learning and attention issues. And find out what to do if your child’s coach is a bad fit.


Start the slideshow again

5 Fun Sports for Kids With Motor Skills Issues

Issues with motor skills can make team sports a challenge. But if your child struggles with balance, coordination and other aspects of movement, he can still enjoy playing sports.

5 Fun Sports for Kids With Listening Comprehension Issues

Kids with listening comprehension issues may have trouble understanding what coaches or teammates are saying. But there are many sports that don’t require much coaching or listening. Here are some good options to consider.

About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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