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Tim Howard, Soccer, and Tourette Syndrome


Tim Howard has been the talk of the town in the past few days.  His amazing talent defending the US goal against Belgium has earned him that honor.  Even though, the US lost, it was an exhilarating game and Howard showed his athletic abilities.  Even if you are not a soccer fan, you can be inspired by his story.

He is a great goal keeper and also has not let Tourette Syndrome get in the way of his passion, goals, and vision in life.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

This is a neurobehavioral disorder that involves repetitive, stereotypical, and involuntary motor and vocal tics.  The tics may occur many times a day every day or intermittently throughout a period of more than a year.  The onset is before age 18.  It is a disorder with symptoms that can last a lifetime.

How did Howard handle TS as a child?

Let it be a lesson for parents everywhere.  When Howard was ten-years-old, he began to develop compulsive behaviors such as bringing home pockets full of stones.  He would arrange his toys in a particular order or would count the lines on a sheet of paper.  His mother began to educate herself and took him to a psychiatrist.  The doctor wanted to prescribe him medication, but they decided against it.  He tried coffee.  It didn’t work.  Eventually he began to meditate.  He was only in 6th grade.  He reports he would close his eyes and collect himself.  His mother also sent him outside to play a lot.  His teachers were understanding and allowed him to get up and pace the floor when he got restless.

He reports managing his tics wasn’t easy.  Once he had figured out one tic, a new one would appear.  He is glad cursing has not been part of his vocal tics, instead once in a while he has a strong cough.

When he was about 18 years of age, he realized he was faster than others and that his swift reactions and reflexes were linked to his disorder.  He used them to his advantage, but he has also learned to manage his emotions.

When individuals with TS are stressed or nervous, their tics flare up.  Howard reports that during games his muscles contract more often and that his tics increase.  He does not suppress the tics, but once the ball comes near, he focuses and his muscles obey him.  “I have no idea how I do it.  Not even my doctors can explain it to me. It’s probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette’s syndrome,” he said.

Tim Howard’s athletic abilities and own determination have aided him.  He is able to handle this neurobehavioral disorder.  There is no cure but there are ways individuals can manage it.  He is an example to others suffering TS.  Thankfully there is enough research so that providers can teach individuals how to manage it as well.

What is the treatment for TS?

Research indicates that best treatment for TS consists of medication and behavior therapy.  TS is a complex disorder thus, a comprehensive assessment is crucial.  Habit Reversal Training has shown to be effective in helping individuals manage TS.  A Functional Assessment Form is completed to determine the antecedents (what is happening before the tics) and consequences (what is happening after the tics).  A tic symptom hierarchy is developed in order to work on one tic at a time. Through HRT individuals learn to become aware of the tics (Awareness Training).  They learn to use a behavior that is physically incompatible with the tics (Competing Response Training).  They learn diaphragmatic breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that include progressive muscle relaxation.  When children are in treatment, a reward program is implemented (by the parents with the therapist’s guidance) to help motivate children to practice the skills.

Tim Howard’s mother didn’t know for sure what was happening to her son, but she was wise.  Whether you are a parent or an individual suffering from TS, you may consider the following advice:

  1. Educate yourself
  2. See a specialist
  3. Learn Meditation and Mindfulness Skills
  4. Exercise – Play hard!
  5. Learn to manage your emotions
  6. Learn to manage the symptoms
  7. Experts know the disorder, but you are the expert on yourself…and your child!

Sources:  The Washington Post : How Tourette’s-afflicted Tim Howard went from international ridicule to World Cup history

SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL: ‘I Don’t Need Pity’: US Goalie Tim Howard on Life with Tourette’s


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