New book uses coaching techniques behind top-tier athletes to help children with ADHD

By Nicholas Roznovsky

Book cover

As millions of schoolchildren head back to the classroom in the coming weeks, many of them will return having been inspired by the performances of top Olympians such as Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps. These world-class athletes are proof that anyone can reach the pinnacle of their field with the right combination of skill, determination, and a laser-like focus during training and competition.

For Phelps, that intense focus always came naturally in the swimming pool. It didn’t, however, come as easily in other aspects of his life. Diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child, Phelps faced a Herculean challenge before capturing 28 medals and becoming the most decorated Olympian in history—staying focused in school.

His mother, observing how his single-minded determination in the pool helped him excel at swimming, channeled that concentration and effort into his schoolwork. By setting goals and allowing him to visualize his future accomplishments, Deborah Phelps was able to keep her son focused on his schoolwork and other facets of his life throughout adolescence.

The ability of Phelps and other world-class athletes to stay focused on the task in front of them is a trait that can be developed and harnessed to promote success by anyone—even those with ADHD—according to the authors of the new book “ADHD & The Focused Mind: A Guide to Giving Your ADHD Child Focus, Discipline & Self-Confidence.”

Written by neurologist Sarah Cheyette, MD; martial arts instructor Peter Johnson; and UCSF Associate Professor of Psychiatry Benjamin Cheyette, MD, PhD, the book aims to provide parents with an easy-to-understand approach to changing their children’s mindset and behavior by introducing simple, powerful concepts to keep their child motivated.

“Just as athletes improve their athletic skills through proper coaching and training, ADHDers have mental skills that they can improve through proper coaching and training,” the trio explains. “Both ADHDers and athletes need to identify challenges, set goals, and train hard with a coach. A person with ADHD who does this can break away from a cycle of underachievement or outright failure to become a world-class success story.”

Although “ADHD & The Focused Mind” uses athletic training as a framework for introducing important concepts, the book is not intended to just be a resource for helping athletes with ADHD. Children with no interest in sports whatsoever can improve their ability to focus, reduce their tendency to procrastinate, and cultivate their planning skills by developing the same mindset as competitive athletes, the authors state. Through narrative examples and short exercises, the work lays out the components of the athletic training mindset that can be applied to help anyone minimize distractions and increase attention spans through mindfulness and mental coaching.

In addition to providing strategies that can be used at home and school, the book also offers an explanation of the basics of ADHD—its common behavioral symptoms, the biology behind it, and what research has revealed about it. The authors also examine the issues many parents consider regarding prescription treatments, as well as the potential benefits and side effects of many common ADHD medications.

“ADHD & The Focused Mind” is now available from Square One Publishers online at and at local bookstores nationwide.

About the authors

Sarah Cheyette, MD, graduated cum laude in Cognitive Neuroscience from Princeton University, and received her medical degree from the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Following specialty training in pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and pediatric neurology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, she settled with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and established a private practice. She currently has a pediatric neurology practice at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where she focuses on the treatment of ADHD.

Peter Johnson received his BA in English Literature from Hayward State University, California, and began his quest for growth and learning. He holds the rank of seventh degree black belt in karate, and has been teaching martial arts since 1993. His philosophy is that martial arts is not simply about acquiring physical skill, but more importantly is about acquiring a drive for excellence in all areas of life. He has contributed to a comprehensive martial arts and character development program for children and families at his school in San Bruno, California. With his experience in the martial arts and his Certified Elite Instructor status in Tae Bo Fitness, Johnson's approach to training creates a blend and balance of body, mind, and spirit.

Benjamin Cheyette, MD, PhD, is a graduate of Princeton University and received his professional degrees from the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, followed by specialty training in psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, where he sees patients, teaches medical students, and psychiatric residents, and runs a scientific laboratory exploring the molecular origins of psychiatric illness. In his clinical practice, he treats patients with ADHD.