Teaching Executive Functions and Social Emotional Learning Skills (SEL) with Sports

Skateboarding, Surfing, and Snowboarding can improve executive functions and social emotional learning skills (SEL)! Sports that require balance and body awareness are easy to learn for some kids, but often hard to master. Skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding are examples of sports to which some kids are naturally attracted. Generally, kids who take up one of these sports can readily learn another. However, to master the tricks and form that separates casual participants from devotees requires practice, focus, self-awareness, working memory, and self control.

For many kids with ADHD and executive functioning difficulties, these sports have a degree of risk that makes them exciting and a bit dangerous. The high level of thrill-seeking makes these sports an ideal opportunity to experience sustained focus and the stimulation of dopamine reward pathways of the brain. It’s not an “accident” that many of the greatest extreme sports athletes have been diagnosed with ADHD.

For parents who have kids with ADHD, pushing them towards these high-risk sports may be an opportunity to build self-esteem and improve executive functions and social emotional learning skills (SEL).

Here are some of the ways that skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding can be used to talk about these skills and practice them.

Focus – The risk inherent in extreme sports is an excellent antidote to the monotony of practice for kids with ADHD. Concentrating on and persisting at building the physical skills needed to skateboard, surf, and snowboard help build a “try, try again” attitude outside of those sports.

Flexibility – Skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding are sports that keep athletes on their toes. High rates of speed and crashing waves mean thinking fast and going with the flow. This is valuable practice for kids with ADHD, who sometimes have trouble adjusting and transitioning from situations and activities.

Self-Control – Physical and mental self-control are honed by extreme sports. Controlling emotions and having the resolve to work hard and take risks are necessary to master sports like skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding. This is excellent practice for the real world, where sometimes the rewards for sticking to it are much more mundane than a rush of adrenaline or a trophy.

Self-Awareness – Being aware of one’s body and limits are necessary for extreme sport athletes. Understanding where one is in space as waves crash, obstacles arise, and boards lift off and touch down helps practice spatial awareness and an objective understanding of one’s self. Self-assessment is also a necessary sub-skill of self-awareness for athletes; being able to review a performance or understand a weakness or strength is important for any athlete’s growth.

Working Memory – Tricks on a skateboard or snowboard demand remembering a series of actions, knowing where one is in space, and an understanding of order and patterns. This makes extreme sports excellent working memory practice. Believe it or not, it’s the same skill that plays a huge role in reading.



Featured image: Flickr user Jaro Larnos

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