This October, NICAS is excited to team up with our trustee, Juan Avendano, to bring you a blog in honour of ADHD Awareness Month 2023. In his writing, Juan generously shares his unique insights, experiences and tips on navigating the coaching world with ADHD. We trust you'll find it as fascinating and invaluable as we have.

Coaching powered by ADHD

by Juan Avendano

Photo of Juan Avendano on an indoor bouldering wall Although considering neurodivergent participants is very relevant to the work of NICAS, I’m approaching the subject of ADHD awareness from a professional perspective. Inevitably, there are other coaches who also have ADHD, and, as adults, the resources and support are very scarce.

Admittedly, when I started coaching, I didn’t know much about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), nor that I fall within the threshold for a diagnosis as an adult. The way I behave, think, and learn is different than the average person: that much I understood. Nonetheless, the eternal question in my head has always been “why”: why am I always on the go, why does my mind go absent during a conversation, why do I get bored so easily, why can I focus so much on climbing and not on more important stuff… like paying bills or taking out the bins, why is it so difficult to stop talking and stop spurting whatever comes into my mind, why can’t I see through the millions of seemingly great ideas rolling down my mind like the Matrix code? Wait, I lost my train of thought. Coaching, ADHD, awareness. Got it.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in my forties, following a frustratingly long and tortuous process. Some of the most recent studies about the condition suggest that about half the people who had symptoms of ADHD during childhood will continue to experience some degree of impairment throughout their adult life. In the eyes of the law, ADHD is recognised as a disability, and it is also known to be a neurodiversity in the social model. The label has a stigma attached to it: some say it is something created by pharmaceutical companies in order to sell drugs to children, others may think everyone is – to a degree – scatty, ditsy, naughty or inattentive, and that shouldn’t be an excuse not to behave better and succeed in life.

The condition can be treated pharmacologically with an incredible rate of success: 70% of those regularly taking ADHD medication will see an improvement in their condition. Stimulant medications – the primary class of drugs used to treat ADHD – have been the subject of more extensive research than most psychotropic drugs. In other words, we have a deeper understanding of amphetamines than we do of many commonly prescribed antidepressants. When you are an adult with ADHD, the doctor may prescribe you a pill, ask to regularly check your blood pressure, heart rate and weight, and, at best, wish you good luck.

Psycho education, support strategies and therapy are seldom part of what the National Health Service will offer to patients. Unless the person is willing to pay for private interventions, it is up to the individual to figure it out. So, what happens when the coach has ADHD? How do we apply this punk mentality of “fake it till you make it” to a successful career within any industry? Unsurprisingly, 1 in 4 men within the justice system are diagnosed with ADHD. Lack of support and guidance, particularly as a young adult, could lead to missed opportunities and dropout of potentially great talent.

When NICAS approached me with the idea to write about my experience with ADHD, my thoughts went to the young professionals who, like me, feel very passionate about climbing and teaching what they know to children and young people. Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to work with outstanding athletes and amazing persons who didn’t judge me and understood my differences. That said, I have had my fair share of challenges in all aspects of my life. The motivation for writing this article is to gain wider acknowledgement of the difficulties of navigating “the real world” when you have ADHD, and to share the experiences I’ve had in developing my professional career as a performance coach.

Instead of boring the reader – even more – with long and preachy paragraphs, sprinkled with a bunch of big words and statistics to make me look smarter, I’ve decided to write a few lists: ideas and reflections about what I do best, what challenges me, what I would have liked to keep in mind and, finally, some resources I use regularly and try to apply both in my practice as a coach, as well as in my everyday life.

Advantages for coaches with ADHD

  • Good in crises, work best under pressure: stress and anxiety affect me; however, fear and discomfort can also be a great motivation.
  • Enthusiasm/high energy: I can’t deny it feels good to always have some fuel left in the tank… until I burn out because of poor self-care strategies, but that’s another story.
  • Winging it like a boss! Coming up with creative solutions on the spot – managing to deliver good sessions by adapting to changing situations – has sometimes produced the best results.
  • Multi-tasking: maybe not all the time, but it is not a myth we can function on multiple levels – some better than others.
  • Passion and hyper focus: climbing is my ‘thing’, so very few other distractions can get in the way. When I am coaching, the client gets my undivided attention and that is a bold statement.
  • Curiosity: the goal is to maintain the momentum and never stop learning something new. One day I will learn to play drums, write a book, or master another language.
  • Creative thinking: I am often able to find a working solution where a neurotypical may struggle.
  • Eating challenges for breakfast: because I am prone to get bored, anything that seems exciting will be approached with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I don’t respond the same when I receive a final notice or when the laundry needs folding.
  • Confidence: despite being an introvert, when I address a group or when talking about something I like, the whole room will notice.

Challenges when coaching with ADHD

  • Organisation and planning: it is best to establish routines based on what I already do well, rather than trying to make big changes that require a lot of effort and don’t feel “natural” to me.
  • Changing my mind: the speed my mind travels from one subject to another can lead to procrastination… too much information and not enough time to read it all. Working in shorter bursts of time, with enough breaks in between activities, seems to be my preferred strategy.
  • Managing finances/budget/admin: as above, allocate shorter periods of time – when I am most alert – to deal with priorities. There are apps to help with invoices and stuff like that, I just need to allocate time to use them. For prioritisation, I think about the Eisenhower Matrix to decide what to do when.
  • Motivation: are you challenged enough or too much?
  • Interpersonal relations: being honest, clear and open about my impairment helps at work. I have a Wellness Action Plan with my line manager, and we discuss it regularly. My partner is also my accountability buddy, providing feedback and supporting me to stay on top of things (and she also teaches me how to socialise better, which is a bonus).
  • Active listening: waiting for the other person to finish what they’re saying is very difficult to do when my brain wants to interject at every sentence. When I coach there’s always a notepad and a pen with me. A doodle or a couple of scribbles become like a map in the conversation, and it also helps me pay more attention because my hands are busy doing something.
  • Managing triggers: this is a big one. Depending on the circumstances, anything can set me off. Knowing what makes me feel good and what makes me happy, allows me to plan rewards along the day, helping me decompress and relax.
  • Summarising ideas/providing concise feedback: best to delay rather than miss the opportunity to provide great feedback. Or maybe a look or a gesture could say more than many words, said at the speed of a machine gun.
  • Taking unnecessary risks and/or making impulsive decisions: managing impulsivity can be learned in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness exercises.

How ADHD reflects on my coaching

Photo of Juan Avendano on an indoor bouldering wall
  • Never a dull moment: I do most of my coaching through analogies and stories. This often happens when the athlete has to rest, so my guess is that for them it feels quite full on. Somehow this has produced good results and keeps the athlete entertained and distracted from the gruelling training.
  • Humour: primarily to keep myself busy and sharp, but also to manage the arousal of the athlete, a good dose of laughter is often the answer. Keep it light, positive and respectful.
  • Jam-packed sessions: I take the lead from the participants. When there is excitement or high levels of energy, quick changes in the activity helps me manage my own and other people’s behaviour.
  • Hyperfocus in performance coaching observation skills: processing a lot of data at the same time, from a single attempt. Also useful to profile talent and in finding the quickest solution that could be applied with the minimum effort.
  • It may seem chaotic, but there’s method in the process: I try to keep only one goal for the session in my head and work around strategies to achieve it. Inevitably this requires me to think fast and adapt depending on the progress of the athlete. Others would describe it as a person-centred approach.
  • Learning by doing together: the coaching process is multi-layered; I strive to learn from the athlete as much as I’d like them to learn from me.
  • The more experience I have, the less I have to say with words: with experience, providing feedback becomes more efficient. Establishing rapport with the athlete, and understanding each other’s communication, allows for more concise and often non-verbal communication.
  • Never use ADHD as an excuse for mediocre performance: managing my symptoms is part of the excitement and spice of my life. ADHD doesn’t define me; it is something I can work with.

Things to remember when coaching

  • Know the things that make me feel good and those that make me feel happy: giving myself rewards throughout the day helps me regulate my emotions and be less impulsive. From a tasty snack to a few rounds on a video game or a chat with a friend, rewards provide the necessary shot of joy we so desperately seek all of the time.
  • Take breaks: avoid trying to do too much, too soon. Burnout happens when we repeatedly miss opportunities to focus on something else, rest the body and look after ourselves. As with training, periods of rest will make you stronger, better and more effective.
  • Mistakes happen: apologise, move on, and try to do better next time. We all make mistakes; it is important not to hold unrealistic expectations.
  • Avoid drinking too much coffee and completely avoid other substances (including alcohol): this is probably self-explanatory, but something that ADHD will always try to sabotage. People with ADHD are at a higher risk of substance misuse, so it’s something to keep in mind and seek help early.
  • Eat well and hydrate appropriately: the fuel we put in our bodies is one of the pillars of our wellbeing. There’s more than one app to remind you to drink water, make sure you keep your energy levels with decent (rainbow) food, often and in small portions.
  • Keep an eye on the clock: timers are one of the best tools for any coach, much more for those who struggle with timekeeping.

Things that could help coaches with ADHD

  • Learn to be self-reliant, but avoid working in a silo.
  • Find someone you can trust to be your confidant and keep you accountable. With your employer/line manager/supervisor, draft a Wellness Action Plan and review it as needed.
  • Move regularly and a lot, every day. Physical activity helps with sleep, appetite and as a release of energy.
  • Remember there are good days and bad days. Symptoms might present differently depending on stress, rest and nutrition. When in doubt, give yourself a reward and consider taking a day off from time to time.
  • The best you can do is to try your best. Accepting who we are starts by understanding where we struggle. So…
  • Ask for help. This can be very difficult for some, expressing you are having a tough time could be a starting point.
  • Pursue other interests outside your area of expertise. It goes for your career, as well as in life. Learning is a wonderful process; it doesn’t matter if you start a million projects and only a few are completed. As with climbing, there might be other interests you can feel passionate about.
  • Learn about yourself beyond the diagnostic criteria. The ADHD diagnosis is no more than a clinical opinion; the ultimate goal is to learn about all aspects of our mind.
  • When trying to establish a routine, training could be a good option. The planning required to train effectively and the inevitable repetition in the pursuit of measurable results can be the precursor to other aspects of life to arrange around the goal of improving performance.
  • Better to take small steps and build routines over time, rather than attempting widespread changes.
  • Use an annual planner and pin it in front of your bed. Having a visual reminder of your goals, achievements and important stuff happening in life is a great tool.
  • Learn to love lists. Bullet pointing my thoughts has made me more efficient and less distracted.
  • Write notes after each session. Reflecting on our performance, as well as writing stuff down when it’s fresh will capture better what happened. It can also be useful when our memory has a blip and, at the end of the day, it is a requirement for professional coaches progressing on the Mountain Training scheme. A win.
  • Have an accountability partner or work in a team. Ask for regular supervision/appraisals to rant, reflect and plan the next steps. Be open to receiving constructive feedback (it helps when the other party knows how best to provide such feedback to you).
  • Have a plan to wind down after work (not the pub).
  • Use self-compassion tools and, if possible, practise some form of mindfulness. It’s about taking breaks, with a purpose and focusing on wellbeing. Being kind to ourselves could be seen as talking to ourselves as if we are giving feedback to a client: avoid focusing on the negative or being harsh.
  • Avoid repetition: working in auto-pilot could lead to burnout.
  • SMART Goal setting: think about your career progression and what you’d like to achieve, planning small steps as if you are writing a plan.
  • Delay your feedback: take some time to think about what it’s really important to say and how you can summarise the idea into only a few words.
  • Try to wake up and wind down at the same time, every day.
  • Be careful with “out of sight, out of mind”.
  • Set direct debits, standing orders and reminders to stay on top of bills, payments and invoices.

ADHD doesn't define us; it's something we can work with and use to our advantage. In conclusion, ADHD awareness is not just a personal journey, but also a professional one. ADHD doesn't define us; it's something we can work with and use to our advantage.

As we look ahead, I encourage fellow coaches and individuals with ADHD to seek support, be self-reliant, and pursue their passions. Remember that there are good days and bad days, and it's okay to ask for help when needed.

In the world of coaching, ADHD can be a powerful asset when harnessed. So, embrace your unique way of thinking and use it to inspire, motivate, and empower both yourself and those you coach. ADHD awareness is not just about understanding the condition; it's about working with the differences, not against them.


  • Book: Scattered Minds by Gabor Mate
  • Book: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood and Jeffrey Brantley
  • ADDitude Magazine
  • Wellness Action Plans
  • Documentary: The Disruptors
  • YouTube channel: How to ADHD
  • Smart watches: useful to track your health and level of activity, as well as your mood and to remind you to drink water and to take your meds. Be mindful about which notifications you’d like to allow to tap your wrist for attention. Setting up the preferences could be done with the help of your accountability partner.

About the author

Juan Avendano is Coaching Manager for Stronghold Climbing Centres in London, and a trustee on the NICAS Board, BMC FUNdamentals provider and coaching consultant. As a GB Climbing coach to Erin McNeice from nipper to teenager, Juan supported Erin to become the youngest member of the Team GB squad at just 17. He's a dad to neurodiverse twins, and has also been diagnosed with ADHD himself. Alongside this, he works in a Primary Care Mental Health Team for the NHS.

Published: 20 October 2023

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