PHELPS: The most successful Olympian, ADHD and habits!

Dr Leonaura Rhodes explains some of the reasons for Phelp's outstanding success: ADHD and habits!

Huge congratulations to Michael Phelps for becoming the most decorating Olympian in History. It is a truly remarkable feat! Not bad for a kid who started his swimming career sitting by the lifeguard’s chair because he was too disruptive! That was of course because Phelps has ADHD.

Thankfully Bowman, a coach at the the North Baltimore Aquatic spotted the potential of young Phelps and the rest is history!

So what’s the secret to Phelp’s success?

  • Phelps clearly has a remarkable genetic advantage, he is very tall, has unusually long arms and has hypermobile joints and an remarkable metabolism, that means he tires less easily, 
  • team of people who believed in him, 
  • really good habits... 
  • Oh and his ADHD!

So how can an unmanageable kid with ADHD become so very successful?  Well ADHD can have it’s pros and cons: 

  • the cons: hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention,
  • the pros: hyperactivity can translate into lots of energy, single-mindedness, the ability to hyper-focus, competitiveness, being able to see the world a little differently.

According to the CDC “ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood”. For some people their ADHD is part of a more complex neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism or learning difficulties. Some adults learn to overcome their ADHD but for many it is lifelong. For some people their ADHD prevents them from achieving this full potential, for others it is the key to their brilliance!

In Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book “The Power of Habit” he describes how Phelps has developed a series of habits, which have helped him become successful. I noticed watching Phelps yesterday in the Olympics, the he was almost unaware of his surroundings, that’s because he was focussing on his habits! Habits allow us to conserve energy, over 60% of the tasks we do daily are habits. In one race in 2008, Phelps was able to swim 800m blinded by water in his goggles, win gold and break the world record because of his powerful habits and practicing visualization of his race. 

There are many interventions for ADHD: medications, behavioral and education support, neurofeedback, coaching. For any parents out there though I’d urge you to see whether there are any really good habits that you can teach your child to help them overcome their difficulties like a “packing your back-pack” routine or a “settling down to do homework routine”, it might just help them conserve some energy and be a little more successful!

For more information on achieving your full potential visit


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Alan Haas August 06, 2012 at 10:06 AM
We work with many students who come to us with a diagnosis of AD/HD. We fully agree with Dr. Rhodes that this perceived 'disability' can be turned into an advantage through habit-forming activities, time management exercises, realistic expectations and positive reinforcement. Alan Haas, CEP Educational Futures New Canaan
Dr Leonaura Rhodes August 06, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Thanks for the comment Alan! Great to know there are organizations like ours who can help individuals achieve their full potential!


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