HOUSTON - Watch the members of the U.S. men's national gymnastics team warm up and it's impossible not to notice the similarities.

The pronounced V-shaped torsos. The diminutive statures. The proud strutting. The inhaled intensity in those moments just before they perform.

There's something else many of them have in common, something easy to miss unless you ask them how they got started in this sport they've mastered.

Several of the top gymnasts competing here this weekend at the 2008 Visa Championships have the same backstory: They were hyperactive or at least very energetic kids directed toward the sport by mothers at their wits' ends.

"It's true," said David Durante, the U.S. national team member from Garwood, N.J. "I can't tell you how many people I've heard that from. I think a lot of moms put their kids into gymnastics when they're little so they can learn some discipline."

It's a logical connection: Harried moms. Rest-proof children. And a sport that combines tumbling, jumping, swinging, spinning and hanging.

Durante, who captured the all-around title at last year's Visa Championships, said that in his pre-gymnastics days in Central Jersey, he was "jumping on furniture all over the house."

Four of his colleagues on the most powerful team in the sport, Team Chevron, told similar stories.

Camden's Sean Golden used to "bounce all over the place. My mom finally put me in gymnastics to calm me down."

Penn State's Kevin Tan was "a hyperactive child" and gymnastics was a "way to get me out of the house and into something productive."

Justin Spring was a kid "everyone in the gym hated."

And Jonathan Horton described his younger self as a "wild child."

"I once climbed a pole in the middle of Target all the way to the ceiling," said Horton, who won the NCAA's 2008 Nissen-Emery Award, college gymnastics' Heisman, while a senior at Oklahoma. "I rode a garage door to the top when I was 3 years old."

Experts say no clinical research has been done on possible links between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and an appeal or aptitude for men's gymnastics.

An estimated 5 percent of the nation's 55 million schoolchildren suffer form ADHD, according to the American Medical Association. No one knows how many turn to gymnastics as therapy, but a University of Pennsylvania psychologist suggested parents could do worse.

"Even though the subject hasn't been well-researched, anecdotally that connection makes sense," said J. Russell Ramsay, associate director of the Penn's ADHD Adult Treatment and Research Program. "There are a lot of parents of children with this disorder who see gymnastics, or athletics in general, as a positive way to channel their child's attention."

Despite their claims to hyperactivity, most of the athletes interviewed here were never diagnosed with ADHD.

Golden, however, was. And it was soon after his mother rejected a doctor's advice to put him on Adderall, a drug frequently prescribed for hyperactivity, that she and her son discovered the sport.

"She thought there were better ways to deal with it than medicine," Golden said.

That scenario - the mother, not the father, choosing the son's sport - is also a familiar one here. Perhaps because even with all the talent on display at these championships, gymnastics tends to be more popular with females than males.

According to USA Gymnastics, of the 4.5 million artistic gymnasts in the U.S, 71 percent are female.

The sport's fan base tilts that way, too. Women and girls made up a large portion of the tiny crowd that watched the Visa Championships' opening night here on Thursday, and the demographics of the TV audience for Olympic gymnastics skews heavily female, according to gymnastics officials.

Since gymnastics is not on the average American father's sports radar, many of the athletes here were introduced to it by their moms.

That's not surprising, Ramsey noted, since even in this age of two-working-parent households, mothers remain the primary caregivers. So when they go searching for a physical activity to remedy their child's worrisome behavior, gymnastics is a popular choice.

"I know nothing about sports, but I love gymnastics," said Margo Horton of Houston, Jonathan's mother. "I remember Olga [Korbut] in 1972 and Nadia [Comaneci] after that.

"Jonathan just had so much energy. He was always shimmying up something or other around the house," she said. "One day the light went on."

When it did, she turned to a sport she knew and loved, enrolling the toddler in once-a-week gymnastics classes.

A possible reason gymnastics might help in dealing with hyperactivity, or at least excess energy, Ramsey noted, is the nature of the sport.

Gymnastics consists of short, quick bursts of activity, so it's possible that it's better-suited to ADHD youngsters.

Ramsey, whose clinic treats primarily teenagers, said many with the disorder can't sustain focus long enough to become world-class swimmers or distance-runners.

"They know the rules," he said. "They can do fine for a while. But their inappropriate behavior just comes out at the wrong time."

In any event, the gymnasts here said they found the sport to be an ideal method of curing whatever it was that overanimated them.

"Once I settled down and got my head straightened out, I realized how much gymnastics had helped," said Spring, a 23-year-old Virginian who won the high-bar event at last year's Visa Championships. "Coming from that [hyperactivity] background is fine. A lot of us are spacy like that. What makes a good gymnast is who can make the change. Who can mature and strike a balance and really focus on what they need to do."

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.