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Dyslexia – Visual strengths in sport

20th November 2020

Robinstyle photots

Half way through Lockdown Part 2, how are you as an individual coping? Throwing yourself into work (at home if you can), getting creative, learning a new hobby/new language, online Christmas shopping??? Or having a meltdown? Everyone deals with situations in different ways so my message to all those family ‘bubbles’ that are spending more time together than normal is to try a little bit of understanding, it goes a long way!

Talking about family, mine is all about football! Well, sport of any kind really. I, on the other hand, am not! I still don’t understand the offside rule despite them trying to explain it numerous times. So with that in mind please excuse any use of incorrect sports terminology in the following post!

A place to relax and have a read…..

The above article refers to a Dr Sangeeta Dey, Paediatric neuropsychologist, who is of the opinion that for children; “Playing sports normalises their experience, letting them be like other kids.” She values the benefits that participation in sports provide children. As it improves the child’s positive self image it may even help improve their academic performance. The article provides some real life examples of the benefits. Of one swimmer it states “swimming gives him an outlet for school related stress, an identity he can be proud of.”

A coach states ” Athletics puts them in a position in which they are equal to their peers.” “Its amazing to see the confidence with which they take to these activities.” A feeling which maybe lacking in the classroom.

It is noted that regular physical activity can enhance concentration and focus, improve mood, and help to relieve stress.

A baseball fanatic student and a golf enthusiast talk about how they feel their dyslexic strengths have helped them to excel in their sport. Here are their inspiring quotes:

“Baseball’s a cerebral sport in some ways. To play ball well it helps to be able to step back and see the whole game, not just the individual plays. I’m good at being able to detect patterns in the play and some of that transfers to my academic work as well.”

“Being a golfer was my main identity, something that really helped to build my confidence. The same kinds of things I was good at in golf, I was also good at in school. I’m creative, I see the big picture, and I pursue my goals aggressively. I have learned to take my time, envision the steps required to do what I need to do, and to focus on the task at hand.”

Another golfer, Tom Lewis, was the subject of an article in the independent ‘Evidence grows that sport is a productive path for dyslexics’ in July 2011. Tom Lewis is a dyslexic who did not enjoy school. Golf is a sport where strong visual skills can be an advantage. The article refers to the American Ryder cup player J B Holmes. Holmes has said that “Once I get on a golf course, I can usually remember all the holes, where they placed the pins before and where my shots went.”

The article includes a quote from Kenny Logan, Rugby international, “I saw the game differently, better than other players. I also had this ability to try things others didn’t. Dyslexics are very creative people who come up with ideas.”

The article also refers to Sir Jackie Stewart. Now, he is a man worth researching. A truly inspirational being, full of commitment to whatever his goal is and a fighter for a cause. Stewart, formula One, feels his drive and determination to prove himself arises from his feeling of failure at school. He says “The old Nurburgring had 187 corners per lap, and I can still give you every gear change, every braking distance on each 187 corners.” Just like Holmes could remember all the holes he had previously experienced. However, Stewart has difficulty remembering an abstract concept by rote, such as the alphabet!

Following on from a successful career in motor racing Stewart still is determined to fight for a good cause. He founded ‘Dyslexia Scotland’ and you will see numerous interviews of his available on YouTube. He still can connect sport with dyslexia, such as setting up a partnership for the season of 2015 with the Official Junior FA Cup to raise awareness in dyslexia. He has gone on to also set up a charity in relation to dementia. The charity funds the up and coming in the field and pairs them with mentors to try and discover a new way of thinking. Seems to me, like he may need a dyslexic brain to think of the new ideas! This quote refers to those characteristics:

“I have no doubt that finding a cure for dementia is one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced. But my vision is that by thinking out of the box and finding new ways to achieve success. We will find a solution.”

Which leads me neatly onto the advantages of the dyslexic brain!

Have you read ‘The Dyslexic Advantage, unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain’ by Brock L. Eide & Dr Fernette F. Eide? I really enjoyed the book and think its well worth a read if you are interested.

In this book the authors explain 4 different thinking and processing skills that are found in dyslexia. Individuals may have one or more of the styles in varying degrees, as always, everyone is different! These styles are described as M.I.N.D strengths.

The strengths I wish to look at for the purpose of this post is the N (Narrative) and D (Dynamic) reasoning skills.

Narrative Reasoning – Able to create vivid mental images to display ideas and concepts from past, present and future. A great Episodic/Personal Memory. I refer you back to my ‘Picture a memory’ post which goes further into the issue of memory. An Episodic memory simulates events and experiences. The term ‘scene construction’ was introduced by Hassabis and Maguire 2007. Hassabis says of the additional functions of the episodic memory :

” Using scene construction to recall the past is a small part of a much bigger system, called episodic simulation system. Episodic simulation is very powerful because it allows memory to be used creatively. It is creative because it results in something you’ve never experienced before. Process similar but outcome entirely new.”

Dynamic Reasoning – Inputing information and making predictions about past and the future. The ability to read patterns in the real world. It is the superpower of ‘prediction’. It adds the ability to predict to Narrative reasoning.

Episodic Simulation is valuable in uncertain circumstances, situations which have different variables which are ever changing. Maybe on a sports field or court?

What if you want to try to predict how a particular penalty taker would perform against a particular goal keeper? That players particular factual scoring record will be less useful that thinking about that goal keepers preferred style and how the penalty taker has performed against that type of style previously. The difference between abstract factual past evidence to personal experience.

Sports people with the narrative/dynamic strengths may find it hard to explain their decision making. Why they were where they were on the pitch at a given time. Individuals with these strengths may thrive in rapidly changing and unknown settings. They may just say they do things intuitively.

‘The Dyslexic Advantage’ authors explain that individuals with these strengths may see a solution to a problem backwards. They may stare into space, look out the window, out on to the field of play, daydream. But this is their way of seeing the solution first. Then having to work out how to explain how to get there! So don’t stop those ‘daydreamers’ they may just be working out an amazing solution!

One of the dyslexics highlighted in ‘The bigger picture book of amazing dyslexics and the jobs they do’ is footballer, Steven Naismith. He is also an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland. Here is a quote from him:

“To be a great footballer you need to be able to picture something before it happens and be in the right place at the right time, for me I would definitely say that is down to dyslexia. I suspect a very high percentage of footballers are dyslexic because they have the right skill set. They are thinking differently and that’s what makes them great.”

Naismith also says he knows ‘intuitively’ where to be on the pitch.

I would say that the aforementioned dyslexic sports people would say they demonstrate some of the dyslexic strengths and that they have helped them excel in their chosen sport. Enhanced picture thinking abilities, thinking out of the box, visual understanding, 3D perception and manipulation, creative, observant, pattern connections, intuitive, good episodic memory, ability to use episodic simulation to predict a variable situation, problem solving…. do I need to go on?

Naismith commented about his thoughts on how many footballers may themselves be dyslexic. Within a team, odds on, there would probably be at least one with some dyslexic symptoms on some scale. They may not know it, never been diagnosed. Always been good at hiding any difficulties and finding ways to help themselves not stand out from their peers.

Depending on which source you look at the statistics can vary but for this purpose I will quote the International Dyslexia Association. They say perhaps as many as 15 – 20% of the population as a whole have some of the symptoms of dyslexia.

In March 2019 on

Haye considers it is very important to be aware of any potential difficulties. Read his advice and how creating a relationship and leadership are crucial. Remember that dyslexics are picture thinkers. It is always important whether you are coaching on the field or teaching in the classroom to check a dyslexics understanding of your instructions. Ask them to repeat your instructions, confirm that your instructions match the picture in their heads!

The way you coach could mean all the difference in an individuals life!

This week try and remember that everyone is different. Differences should be celebrated and above all a little bit of understanding goes a long way………


5 thoughts on “Dyslexia – Visual strengths in sport

  1. This is very relatable for our 10 year old. Sport (football) historically was not difficult physically but he struggled with the rules. He was a loaner in school. Once we unlocked his educational needs it’s been a virtuous circle leading to greater inclusion in the playground, greater self esteem, greater confidence. He has been on a steep learning curve but now playing in 2 teams and is often selected as captain! All of the visual traits you describe were evident in early years and he could use household appliances way in advance of peers and could do things his older siblings couldn’t. It was stressful because we had to constantly supervise for his own safety! We knew the first ADHD label wasn’t correct and fought hard to get to root cause to truly understand his needs. Keep up the good work with the blogs. We’re finding them really useful. I despair at the lack of understanding at ground level in the education system and the bureaucracy required to battle through the echelons of the ‘system’. It should be much simpler and quicker to cut through to diagnose and give these kids the intervention and support they desperately need.


    1. Thank you for your comment and your son’s inspiring story, the world at his feet (literally)! As you say, the quicker children can be diagnosed the better not only with difficulties but also with their strengths. Their confidence will grow and with that they are more willing to face the challenges. Hopefully he will be able to get back to playing with his teams soon.


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