Tim Howard: How Tourette’s Helped Him in World Cup

tim howard

Tim Howard might have gotten part of his goalkeeping ability from Tourette Syndrome, which could have played a big role in helping him during the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer game against Belgium. America knows Howard as the man who can pretty much save anything. However, a lot of people may not know that Howard is affected by Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette’s is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder which causes someone to make quick, repeated movements, involuntary tics, or sounds that they can not control. It is usually most present in childhood and decreases as one ages. Tourette Syndrome does not adversely affect life expectancy or intelligence.

Howard was diagnosed with the disorder when he was in the sixth grade. Between the ages of nine to 15, the tics were at their strongest, according to Howard. Different variations of the tics and symptoms would come in waves. Howard mentioned that as soon as he had one figured out, a new tic would come through. Regardless of the struggles Howard has had to deal with in terms of Tourette’s, a lot of advantages from the disorder were working in his favor on Tuesday. Despite a 2-1 loss to Belgium, Tim Howard broke the goalkeeping record for the most saves recorded in World Cup history and his Tourette’s may have played a large role in helping him do it. Neurologist Oliver Sacks described a case decades ago about a nearly unbeatable ping-pong player that shares a neurological component with Howard’s performance during the World Cup.

Both Sack’s patient and Howard have Tourette’s. According to Sacks, many with the condition also have naturally fast reflexes. The ping-pong player demonstrated this in an experiment in which he was able to step in and immediately step out of a revolving door without ever getting struck by it, or stuck inside as it finished its rotation.

In response to Tim Howard’s game, Sacks said he sees abnormal quickness in many of his patients with Tourette Syndrome. He mentioned a study in which a group of people with Tourette’s and a group without were tested to react as quickly as possible to a certain situation. Those who had the disorder reacted five to six times faster than those who did not and never compromised accuracy.

Although Tourette Syndrome is typically a burden more often than not to those who have it, the disorder can enhance not only reflexes, but focus and attention to detail as well. A lot of the time, those who have Tourette’s also have obsessive-compulsive tendencies. They will repeat different tasks over and over ritually and most often to perfection. These tendencies can help enhance abilities and skills, such as Howard’s goalkeeping ability. The persistence to do certain things exactly right requires an incredible amount of focus, which can help tics subside in those that have Tourette Syndrome.

Howard said that sometimes he will let himself twitch without restraints when the players are down on the other side of the field, but when they are in front of his goal, he becomes extremely focused. He stops twitching and his muscles obey him.

Tourette’s seems to originate in a region in the forebrain where attention, cognition, and the initiation as well as inhibition of movement seems to occur. The condition is believed to involve a type of neural circuitry where focusing can get rid of tics, and mind can prevail over matter. Other great athletes with the disorder include Jim Eisenreich, Mike Johnston, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Despite his struggles, Tim Howard’s skills, ability, practice and even Tourette’s ended up helping him in the World Cup.

By Laura “Addi” Simmons

New York Magazine
Washington Post
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