I have been a high school athletic director and soccer coach for decades. I work at the high school I graduated from in 1976, Forman School, where all students have learning differences. It took me five years to graduate. I have ADHD.
I know how it feels to grow up as a child with a learning difference. Back then, the pattern in school was, “Okay, class. Take your books out. We’re going to do 25 pages of reading, and then we’re going to take notes.” I couldn’t do that. I was hyperactive. I couldn’t write. So I really saw myself as being stupid. I was seen as a “retarded” child. I never saw myself learning. No one taught me how to learn in a different way.
As a result, I often felt frustrated. I lashed out a lot. I had behavior problems.
I carried that anger you have when you know you’re good, but your teachers and classmates are telling you you’re not. Having ADHD meant that I didn’t have much success at anything.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
Inside, I knew I was good. (How else could I score 25 goals in a single soccer season?!) I loved myself. I was a passionate person. I wore my emotions on my sleeve, and I was always about helping other people.
I also found outlets: I loved animals – horses, dogs, cats – and athletics. A guardian family took me in and I lived on a farm. That was great because you worked all the time, you took care of the animals, and you took care of yourself. I continued to try to learn, and I finally had some success in learning.
I eventually learned that you don’t have to be somebody you’re not. You’ve just got to be yourself, and just be you. You can let people love you for who you are, care for you for who you are. It took a long time for me to get through that – a long time. But here I am.
McCARTY’S RULES FOR MILLENNIALS
I became a coach because I love sports and I love kids. I’m great with kids. That’s why I’ve been at Forman for so long. Here are some messages that I think are really important for them to learn – plus one lesson I’ve learned from them.
That you do matters more than what you do.
The ADHD child has to have some kind of exercise. They can’t be gaming, though. It has to be some walking, some running, some physical piece to get the blood flowing.
“Classic” team sports are great because of the team piece. We make Forman students play competitive sports, because they have to learn that piece of life.
But a lot of our kids ski. They swim. They do yoga.
The mindfulness piece with yoga and relaxation is important: controlling what you can control every day, not trying to control things you can’t. Dance and sailing can be very relaxing, very peaceful ways to stay active.
Staying active is what’s important.
“Athletics” is about what you can do, not what you can’t do.
Too much in life is about what you can’t do – especially for students who learn differently. Not enough is echoed in the world about what you can do. I really, truly believe that.
The best activities are the ones where kids don’t have to be judged for what they can’t do. They just go out and express themselves.
Snowboarding is a way to do that. So is boat building. We include culinary – learning how to cook – as a way to get Athletics credit at Forman. We’re bringing in a music program after school. We keep looking for places when our kids are going to be successful.
For parents who are looking at sports programs or after-school programs for ADHD kids, that’s what I would look for: ones with a wide variety of options. Also look for programs where there are no cuts, and everyone gets a chance to play.
Striking out is part of the game, so take a chance.
I was always good at soccer, but I struck out a lot as a kid. In baseball, I think I have the career strikeout record at Forman School.
I do have the career strikeout record. I know I do.
Kids with learning differences have fallen down a lot. They have been laughed at. They have a hard time trusting that they won’t be laughed at if they try something new, like a new sport. They don’t want to fail. They would rather not try than take the risk.
I always tell our kids, “Do something you haven’t done before. Take a chance.” Before you can be successful at anything, you have to be able to fall on your face, get back up, and try again. You can only succeed if you’re willing to go out and give it a chance.
Positive energy pays off.
Kids with learning differences have a lot of practice with self-doubt. They’re their own worst critic when they’re not doing something well. When they don’t play well, they can’t let go a lot of times.
You can’t go negative with kids. You have to go pro-positive. You have to fill their tank when something good happens, when they improve. You have to earn their trust by showing them that they’ll be supported and successful.
For our ADHD kids, when they get into something and start finding success with it, they become so entranced. They just want to do it more. It’s like a flower: You water it, and you can’t keep it from growing. It’s unbelievable.
Ignore the norm.
When you tell Forman kids they can’t do something, you know what they do? They look at you and go, “Why? Why can’t I do that?”
They think, “I can do anything.” That’s powerful for me, because I never said that in my life.
Children now don’t follow the norm, especially when they become successful in something that they’re good at. I watch my Forman kids go off to be multi-millionaires and entrepreneurs. It’s inspiring.
Join in, find something you’re good at, and keep doing it.
It doesn’t matter what that is. It could be music, cooking, yoga, or team sports.
You will burn off excess energy, relieve stress, and build confidence. You may learn how to commit or how not to quit.
But the big reason to engage in exercise and athletics is this: You will learn how it feels to be successful.
Director of Athletics, Forman School
Scotty McCarty, who graduated from Forman School in 1976, is the school’s Athletic Director and Boys Varsity Soccer Head Coach. United Soccer Coaches, a national organization, recognized him with the High School Coach of Significance Award in 2017, the first year the honor was given.