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Nerys Hall - GB Junior marathon kayaker - ADHD

We’re thrilled to introduce Nerys Hall to the blog this week! Nerys (left in the picture) is a Junior European medallist in the marathon canoe (sport) double kayak (discipline) - she also has ADHD, some associated struggles and a lot of associated strengths!

We met Nerys during a joint interview with British Canoeing (s4 e6 BCAB Coaching Podcast) and loved her outlook on neurodivergence in sport, so couldn’t wait to interview her ourselves!

Watch the full interview below:

Key themes from the interview:

During our interview with Nerys, she debunks some of the common misconceptions surrounding ADHD and 'laziness' and opens up about what she struggles with the most and what other people can do to help her:

1️⃣ The benefits of sport for ADHD

For Nerys, the benefits of being active, of being outside and of being on the water are clear. The routine and structure sport provides allows her to break the frequent hyperfixation cycles she tends to fall into at home. Physically moving from one place to another helps this, as does being amongst nature, being on the water, and receiving a good dose of dopamine from exercise... Dopamine being the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that ADHD brains are often lacking.

Nerys highlights the particular benefits of water sports to neurodivergent people:

“When a boat runs well, when it’s feeling flat, it’s feeling smooth, it’s really powerful, it’s such a satisfying feeling… especially on the water - if it’s going right, it kind of feels like everything’s right.”

I can certainly testify to this - there’s something innately mesmerising and relaxing about rhythmical water sports. Yes, exercise is vigorous, but when you enter ‘the zone’, or that ‘flow state’, it can feel soothing to an overactive mind…

2️⃣ Common misconceptions vs reality

An overactive mind.

That is often labelled as ‘lazy’.

Confusing right?

Nerys confronts this misconception, having been labelled as such herself. For Nerys, her fear of judgement (born from past experiences) sometimes holds her back from participation - this is confused with laziness, which further compounds her fear of judgement…

In actuality, Nerys’s mind (like most ‘ADHDers’) is hyperactive - surely the opposite of lazy? When Nerys struggles to concentrate on the task at hand, it may not be that her mind has simply slowed down, stopped, or drifted off; it may be that it’s receiving too much information that is distracting and difficult to filter. As Nerys highlights, people with ADHD “tend to feel things to a greater degree.”

3️⃣ What other people can do to help

Nerys discusses various strategies coaches and teachers have used to help her with her variable attention. For example, on relaying an instruction, a coach might ask Nerys to repeat it back - not to catch her out, but to ensure the message has been received (this was on my ‘communication plan’ too!)

Given that ‘ADHD brains’ potentially receive more or filter less unnecessary information than ‘neurotypical brains’, it follows that multi-layered instructions would be hard to process and retain. Therefore, a coach could also break down instructions into segments to avoid overloading their neurodivergent athlete - this is something that works well for Nerys.

However, as previously alluded to, the effectiveness of any support strategy is reliant on the coach-athlete relationship; on honesty and genuine trust. Yes, most athletes would benefit from forming trusting relationships with their coaches, and most coaches attempt to establish trusting relationships with their athletes, but due to their unseen differences, neurodivergent athletes are often left ‘on the outside’.

The way in which a trusting relationship is fostered from person to person will inevitably differ, and will depend on their unique neurology and behaviour traits. Therefore, the key first step to fostering a trusting relationship with a neurodivergent athlete is for a coach to truly get to know them; to rid themselves of any assumptions or preconceived notions, and to ask.

Nerys’s coach knows her well. He knows that she has a very curious mind, and that as a bottom up thinker, she has to know ‘the why’. However, he also knows that she can become overwhelmed. So he makes a judgement as to how much advice or information to convey at any given time - he knows when to satisfy her curiosity, when to keep it simple, and when and how to ‘drip feed’ information.

Post-interview update

Since the interview Nerys has taken some time to come to terms with her diagnosis and what it means to her, and to reflect on her approach to sport and exercise. This season she’s focused on shifting her mindset from results driven to being present in the moment (as much as possible with ADHD) and enjoying herself. The irony is that this mindset shift will probably yield better results in the long term anyway! As Nerys comments in the interview:

👉 “When you feel better within yourself, you’re capable of so much more.”

It’s amazing that Nerys has this level of awareness at only 18, and we’re convinced it’s going to help her succeed in whatever she chooses to do - whether that be securing a place on the LA 2028 Olympic Games, inspiring other neurodivergent people to take up sport and exercise, or simply enjoying sport and using it as a self-management tool for her ADHD.

We hope you find Nerys as inspirational as we do. It isn't easy to speak openly about your neurodivergence in sport - especially when you're still competing. But Nerys is determined to be a role model and change the narrative - now.

If you haven’t watched the interview, we highly recommend taking 20 minutes to do so…

Follow Nerys on Instagram @nerys_hall

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