If you’ve followed our blog, you’re already familiar with many of the physical health benefits of swimming, but this is our first blog post devoted to the mental health benefits of swimming. Did you know that one of the greatest swimmers of all time, Michael Phelps, battles A.D.H.D.? When Phelps was 9-years old, doctors started him on medication for his weekday school classes, but Phelps’ mother credits swimming classes as one of the major keys to his progress.
Here’s an interesting excerpt from ADDitude Magazine’s article: ADHD Parenting Advice from Michael Phelps’ Mom,
“Debbie used various strategies to keep Michael in line. Over time, as his love of swimming grew, she was delighted to see that he was developing self-discipline. ‘For the past 10 years, at least, he’s never missed a practice,’ she says. ‘Even on Christmas, the pool is the first place we go, and he’s happy to be there…. Michael’s busy schedule of practices and meets imposed so much structure on his life that he was able to stay focused without medication.’..
“At swim meets, Debbie helped Michael stay focused by reminding him to consider the consequences of his behavior. She recalls the time when 10-year-old Michael came in second and got so upset that he ripped off his goggles and threw them angrily onto the pool deck…During their drive home, she told him that sportsmanship counted as much as winning. “We came up with a signal I could give him from the stands,” she says. “I’d form a ‘C’ with my hand, which stood for ‘compose yourself.’ Every time I saw him getting frustrated, I’d give him the sign. Once, he gave me the ‘C’ when I got stressed while making dinner. You never know what’s sinking in until the tables are turned!”
In Pyschology Today‘s article: “The Swimming Cure for ADHD?”, Debbie Phelps explained how swimming lessons helped her son develop both physically and mentally.
“Apparently Michael was a very good athlete, talented in a number of sports growing up (no surprise – most athletic superstars have similar multi-sport histories, e.g. Roger Federer and soccer). But he was also quite hyper and not a particularly good student. So, at age nine he was taken to his doctor, given an ADHD diagnosis and started on medication which Debbie only gave him on school days because his weekends and vacations were filled with sports in which he excelled.
By age eleven he had committed himself only to swimming, which Debbie believes was particularly helpful because it was especially structured and highly regimented given his increasingly intense training. Swimming even for a team is also relatively individualistic. From my years of experience treating children with ADHD, I know that they do better with individual oriented sports like swimming or track (even tennis) compared to team sports like baseball (that’s death for an ADHD with all the waiting around in the outfield) or even soccer. At that point he no longer needed medication for school. My guess is that he had matured significantly or was so excelling at sports so as to feel more comfortable even at school. Debbie feels that Michael as an adult still has some aspects of ADHD. She feels his thoughts at times may still jump around some—apparently though not enough for a national media catering to America’s sound byte short attention span to notice.
Michael’s progress vs. A.D.H.D. was also highlighted in a New York Times‘ article, “Phelps’s Mother Recalls Helping Her Son Find Gold-Medal Focus.”
“She will never forget one teacher’s comment: “This woman says to me, ‘Your son will never be able to focus on anything.His grades were B’s and C’s and a few D’s. …
“I was always stern as a parent,” she said, “but from Day 1, I included my children as part of the decision process. So I listened.” After consulting with Dr. Wax, Michael stopped medication.
“In the meantime, Michael the swimmer had appeared. By 10, he was ranked nationally in his age group. Ms. Phelps watched the boy who couldn’t sit still at school sit for four hours at a meet waiting to swim his five minutes’ worth of races.”
When Michael was 11, his swim coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman — still his coach — took the Phelpses aside and talked about Michael’s gift. “Bob says, ‘By 2000, I look for him to be in the Olympic trials,’ ” recalled Ms. Phelps. “ ‘By 2004, he makes the Olympics. By 2008, he’ll set world records. By 2012, the Olympics will be in New York and’ — I said ‘Bob, stop, he’s 11, he’s in middle school….As it turned out, the boy would move four years faster than his coach’s prediction (and New York would lose its Olympic bid).
“More to the point, I think, is the moral of her story, which offers hope for parents of any child with a challenge like A.D.H.D.: Too many adults looked at Ms. Phelps’s boy and saw what he couldn’t do. This week, the world will be tuned to the Beijing Olympics to see what he can do.”
We hope this article has inspired you to consider new ways to help your child find their passion and build on their strengths. If you’re interested in registering your child for swimming lessons, call Baby Otter Swim School at 954-704-0080 or 1-888-SWIM-KID. Be sure to mention you read our blog!
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