Episode 82. Empowering Neurodiverse Athletes with Michael Shipper

What difficulties might children with ADHD experience in sports? Are some sports better for kids with ADHD? Are individual or group sports a better fit? We’re diving into the role that sports and athletics can play in the life of a neurodiverse person with Michael Shipper. If you are in the midst of signing your kids up for all of the summer activities, this is one you won’t want to miss. And if you don’t have kids, I guarantee you’ll be able to connect our conversation back to your own childhood and fit it into the growth you’re working on right now.

Michael Shipper is a certified personal trainer who has been working with special needs athletes for over 15 years. His philosophy is one of INclusion, not EXclusion. He is the founder of Empowered Sports & Fitness, which works with neurodiverse athletes who may have learning disabilities like ADHD and others. His overall objective is to enable any person, regardless of ability or background, to have an active life through play and ultimately develop a long-term love for exercise.

Michael Shipper links: Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Website | TikTok

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):

Welcome back to Refocused. My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and I am so excited about today’s conversation. We’re diving into the role that sports and athletics can play in the life of a neurodiverse person, along with all of the little intricacies I bet you didn’t even know you needed to think about, and I know that I didn’t, when it comes to how we perform both physically and emotionally on the field, and even on teams.


We’re talking to Michael Shipper, the founder of Empowered Sports & Fitness. And parents, if you are in the midst of signing your kids up for all of the summer activities, our conversation with Michael is one you won’t want to miss. And if you don’t have kids, please don’t turn off the episode just yet. I guarantee you’re going to be able to connect back so much of our conversation to your own childhood, and hopefully take some of Michael’s expertise, and fit it into the growth you’re working on right now. So that’s all coming up next, Empowering Neurodiverse Athletes with Michael Shipper, right here on Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel.


It might not sound like it through your AirPods or over your radio speaker, but I’m tall. I’m taller than average. I’m a little over 5’10”, which means one of the first questions that comes up when people meet me is, “What sports did you play growing up?” Now granted, the older I get and the more removed I get from my sports playing days, the less these conversations come up. But when I first started working as a journalist, I worked exclusively in sports, and so it was a natural conversation starter for people. The pipeline from athlete into sports journalism is pretty apparent the second you turn on any sporting event. And my answer was always the same. “No. I gave up organized sports. I wasn’t competitive enough.” Which is partially a true answer, but at the time it was all I could come up with to explain why, even though I loved a handful of team sports, I never stuck with them.


Obviously now, all these years later, following an ADHD diagnosis and loads of therapy and self-growth, I know it was a lot more complicated than that. And my, “I’m not competitive enough,” answer was much more intertwined with the truth that whatever I was playing at the moment couldn’t keep my attention. And I was comparing myself to my teammates, who had decided that whether it was volleyball, basketball, softball, dance, it was their activity, and they were going to be the absolute best at it. And I was really content doing a lot of things and being decent, which is a generous observation for some of the activities I took on growing up.


The thing is, if you’re neurodiverse, you could love organized sports, or you could hate it. And like so much in our lives, that relationship can evolve. It can very much be a personal thing, but like so much else, it’s also heavily influenced by the environment around you: Your coaches, your teammates, what’s happening at home, at school, and even more so, what’s happening in your brain. Throw in some undiagnosed or unmanaged ADHD, and it can make sports and athletics downright miserable.


I realized that one of the biggest issues I had growing up was being on teams with coaches who just weren’t for me. Did I know that at the time? No. Was it even a possibility, if I had realized I’d needed a different style or a different coaching approach, that I would have been able to bring this up to them? That’s the most definitive no ever. But times, in a good way, they are a-changing, and we are starting to acknowledge and demand a change in the environments we are creating for our children.


Michael Shipper is the founder of the New York City-based Empowered Sports & Fitness, where he combines his expertise as a personal trainer with the expertise of his own lived experience. And what I just talked about, it’s a huge part of the underbelly of the work he is doing to help neurodiverse people ranging in age from two-and-a-half, all the way up into their forties, find their place as an athlete, whether it’s through organized sports or their own individual goals.


Michael, I am so excited to have you on Refocused. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Michael Shipper (04:33):

Thank you for having me, Lindsay. It’s great to be here.

Lindsay Guentzel (04:36):

I thought it was really important to let you share your own story, instead of me reading your bio off a sheet of paper. So I’m hoping you can just jump in and tell us a bit about what got you started, and how you have found yourself where you are right now with Empowered Sports, and what started this whole journey.

Michael Shipper (04:52):

Absolutely. So I started Empowered Sports & Fitness because of my own life experiences. At the age of five, I was diagnosed with a learning disability, which was language based, as well as retrieval based. And because of that, I ended up leaving a mainstream program, and I entered into a school in Greenwich, Connecticut called Eagle Hill, that specialized in working with kids with learning disabilities.


And while I was there, I learned everything that I needed to know about me. How I learned best, how I processed information, how I reacted to certain tasks that were thrown my way, especially when things got challenging. And while I was there, I quickly learned that the main philosophy of that school was it was an equal playing field. Whether it was in the classroom, whether you were participating in afterschool programs and sports, in the classroom, everybody got a chance to read aloud. If you tried out for sports, everybody got a chance to try out. And just by coming and trying out, you made the team. So it didn’t matter how fast you could read, or how fast you could run on the field. Everyone was treated equally.


And that is exactly what I’ve done with Empowered Sports & Fitness. I’ve created an environment where families can come here, feel safe, have a great time, and provide them with the same experiences that I had growing up, and doing it for their children.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:43):

I want to put a pin in something that you said there, talking about your experience, and realizing that it wasn’t the norm, and I want to come back to that. But before we do, I want to talk about the work you’re actually doing. You have this gym, and I mentioned you’re talking about people ranging in age from two-and-a-half up until their forties, so that’s a very wide demographic of people. Tell me a little bit about some of the programs that you guys are running, and what you are doing specifically to work and help neurodiverse people.

Michael Shipper (07:11):

Sure. So first and foremost, we are considered youth fitness specialists. And what we do is we create inclusive opportunities, regardless of an athlete’s ability or background, to be active, to participate in programs that understands their needs. And as far as the neurodiverse athletes that we work with, it really runs the gamut. So we have kids that come to us that are on the autism spectrum. We have kids that have learning disabilities, ADHD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy. You name it, that is our area of specialty. And we are creating programs that match their physical, their adaptive, and their cognitive abilities.


And one of the biggest things that we do as coaches is, we are adapting to the athlete’s learning style, not the other way around. We do not expect the athlete to fit into some sort of cookie cutter approach. That is our way of doing things at Empowered Sports & Fitness, and I think that’s really what makes us so special in the communities that we work with.

Lindsay Guentzel (08:33):

So I’ll pull back the curtain here a little bit. Michael and I actually had a great phone call a couple of weeks ago to set up this conversation, and to just walk through what would be great to talk about. It’s kind of a staple in journalism. I don’t think a lot of people ever actually own it. If you watch Late Night, and the guest comes out, they’ve had a very, very planned out meeting ahead of time to fine tune exactly what they’re talking about.


But it’s great, because it led us to what we’re going to talk about next, which is the three areas that you guys look at when you are working with an athlete. And I’m just going to name them off, and we’ll start at the top, though. So it’s physical, adaptive, and cognitive. So let’s start with physical, because one of the things that I didn’t realize before we started kind of going down this rabbit hole of looking at ADHD and movement is that there are a lot of things that I don’t think all of us realize our ADHD is affecting when it comes to how our body moves through life. And I’m not just talking about athletics, and being a good athlete, or having the capability to run fast, or anything like that. Even things like bumping into things. Once I realized that my bumping into things and the bruises may connect back to my ADHD, life made a lot more sense.


So let’s start with the physical, because as we’ve said, you’re working with so many different people, who have so many different things going on in their lives, and who also have so many different goals.

Michael Shipper (09:57):

So physically, when we meet an athlete for the first time, we’re taking a look at their general movement. How is their body moving? What are those areas of deficiency? What are those areas of strength? And trying to come up with a very comprehensive game plan that is age appropriate and movement appropriate. And as you mentioned, there is a lot that comes along with movement. And I think the best way to sort of explain how we approach movement is to sort of compare sports and fitness.


Sports is a very exclusive activity. It’s a very finite kind of thing. Fitness, on the other hand, is very inclusive. It’s very general. And that’s where our focus is, is teaching kids how to be comfortable in their bodies. And we do that by really getting into the details of the sensory system. And it’s a large focus on what are called perceptual motor skills. And that’s everything from visual tracking, to auditory processing, vestibular awareness, which has to do with balance, body awareness, which has to do with your body parts and where they are in space, your right side versus your left side, crossing the midline. There’s temporal awareness, which has to do with rhythm. There’s so much that comes into consideration when moving our bodies, and that’s exactly where we start with our athletes. And from that baseline, we create progression, to the point where we’re helping our athletes to master movements. And that’s exactly what we focus on.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:54):

I have a curveball I’m going to throw you here for just a second. In an ideal world, every neurodiverse person would get to sit down with someone like you and talk about all of these things individually, and we just know that that is not the case. And so we have a lot of listeners who are gearing up for summer, and they’re signing their kids up for activities. What are some things that they could be thinking about or paying attention to for their own child, or even if they are trying to add more movement into their own lives, about how they move, and things to think about in respect to what you mentioned, that are just some things that they could be taking note of on day-to-day basis?

Michael Shipper (12:30):

Sure. So two things that we do here at Empowered Sports & Fitness, where we remove the competitive aspect from movement, is dance and yoga. Those are great ways for kids to really explore movement, and really get to know their body, and that input that they need through their sensory system.

Lindsay Guentzel (12:55):

One of my favorite follows on Instagram is a woman who goes to the gym, and she just moves her body in ways that feels good, and she records it, and it’s this 45-minute video sped up of her just doing all of these movements. And I think sometimes we get so caught up in wanting to look a certain way, and I don’t mean physically look a certain way, but how we’re behaving, and being aware that everyone’s watching us. And sometimes you just have to remind yourself, you need to do what feels good to you.

Michael Shipper (13:23):

Agreed. Absolutely. Just to throw out some other activities, aside from dance and yoga, consider individual type activities. So rock climbing is also a great option. I know some families have even done things like horseback riding, and swimming lessons, bowling, things that really take away the competitive edge and allow you to just focus on your body, having fun, moving, participating. Those are the kinds of suggestions that I make to families when they come to us trying to figure out what other activities that their kids can potentially join.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:01):

And that competitive nature really does put a brick wall up for a lot of people at a certain point. There comes a certain point where only ones who are good enough to get to the next team advance, and that takes away so many opportunities for people who enjoy it, but just don’t fit into this crazy system we have of competitive youth sports.

Michael Shipper (14:23):

Yes. So I would actually now venture into, now that we’re sort of talking about the competitive nature of sports, for many of the families that we work with, that leads into the adaptive piece. And that’s mainly the reason why families seek us out, is because they find that the organized sports approach is not necessarily the best approach for their kid. They’re looking for a program that can make sports fun, and engaging, and creative, and imaginative, and they’re looking for someone who really has an understanding for, “Well, my child, when we’re trying something new, how do they tolerate or engage in that new and novel activity?”


For many of our kids, being in large groups can be overwhelming. It can make them feel anxious, having to follow multi-step directions, comparing themselves to their peers. “Well, I can’t run as fast, or throw as far, or catch the ball. I scored on the wrong goal. Did I get the point? Why am I losing at this point? Why is the other team winning?” So many of these aspects of game theory are very abstract ideas to many kids who are trying to get involved in sports. And for that reason, we remove all of those things from the games and activities that we create for the athletes that we’re working with. And in doing so, we’re creating structure, we’re creating routine, we’re creating consistency, we’re developing emotional behavior, and improving upon many of those social and emotional skills that I think families look for when they’re joining an organized sport.

Lindsay Guentzel (16:20):

I’m wondering if you can touch a little bit on that shift in the mindset of trying to move away from the comparison game. It is very hard. It’s not something that is just isolated to kids. I think it is something that is set in all of us. I know that if I go to a gym class, it doesn’t matter if the person next to me is an Olympic runner. I’m comparing my time to them, because that’s what we do as humans. So what are some of the things that you guys do on a day-to-day basis with the people you’re working with to really drive in that mindset that it’s about personal growth, and that’s where the moments of pure joy actually come from, but you have to be able to get into that little pocket?

Michael Shipper (17:00):

Yes, and the way that we get our kiddos into that pocket, the families into that pocket, is getting them to really come on board with our philosophy. That’s really where it starts. Developing rapport with the athlete, developing rapport with the family is super important. Understanding their needs and their goals, and then tying that in with our concepts and philosophies, is the first biggest step that we take. And one of the ways that we do this, and we teach this to the families that we work with, is one of the biggest concepts that we use is the concept of inclusion. And this is one of the ways where we can really sort of remove that barrier of comparison.


If you can find out what an individual is passionate about, what they love, what they’re interested in, and figure out a way to tie the game into their passion, we no longer have to worry about comparing who’s faster, who’s stronger, who can throw further. Because now we’re in this world of play, and through play, we can use our imagination and creativity, and build upon those areas that we might be deficient in, and quickly improve upon them without having to worry about using specific skills right away.


So just to give you an example, I have a 10-year-old that I work with who loves everything Marvel. We’re talking Hulk, Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther. You name it, that’s what he is interested in. The parents really wanted to get him involved in things like soccer and baseball, and build up the skills to a point in which he could be a participant in these group activities. So utilizing those characters, and knowing what his passion was, I created baseball around those characters. So rather than using, let’s say, a small baseball, I used a beach ball. I went big, right? Because this little boy that I was working with, his gross motor skills, fine motor skills were not necessarily up to par with his peers. So rather than going small, and using, let’s say, a baseball or a tennis ball, and throwing it to him, and trying to have him catch it, I used a beach ball.


And in doing so, we could do things like Thor hammer smashes. So learning how to hit the ball, we’re using our hand, and we’re turning it into a fist, and we’re smashing the beach ball as it comes our way. We’re running around the bases like Spider-Man. So the spot markers that I have on the floor are building tops, and he has to run and jump from building top to building top.


So these are just a few ideas of how to incorporate sports, and just general movement, and fitness, and getting rid of the idea of, “This person is better than me. They can run faster than me.” And really putting the focus on play. And when we do that, you can really find that kids will pick up on movement much quicker, and skills much quicker.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:31):

I have a special young athlete in my life. He is a snowboarder, and one of the things that I find so admirable about him at the age he’s at is that every day, he goes to a competition, and he gets done, and he compares his performance to all of the things that were happening that day. The type of snow they had, the weather, how he was feeling. And it just reminded me, it’s so hard for us, I think, to separate day-to-day, and competition to competition, and that it’s going to be different.


And so I’m wondering how you kind of work through some of those frustrations that might come, when you get somebody who comes, and they’re Hulk smashing the beach ball across the field, and then two days later, that same momentum or energy isn’t there, and you can kind of see the wheels turning, that they’re going, “Oh, I’m not good at this any longer.” And again, I go back, this is not isolated to just kids. This is very much something that I think all humans deal with, is we forget that sometimes we are starting over at a different place than we ended the last time we were there.

Michael Shipper (21:35):

So one of the things that we do at Empowered Sports & Fitness to work on some of those social and emotional aspects is we inject a social thinking curriculum into the activities that we’re doing. And this social thinking curriculum allows our athletes to be engaged not just physically, but emotionally, and it allows them to figure out where they are at any given point in time.


So just to give you an example, there are what are referred to as zones of regulation. There is the green zone, there’s the yellow zone, there’s the blue zone, and there is the red zone.


So we always want to try and be in the green zone. That’s the optimal place to be, because that’s when we have our focused eyes, our listening ears, a focused body. We’re not worried about anything else that’s going on. We’re just focusing on the task at hand, and having a good time, and following the directions that we’ve been given. So that’s the green zone.


You also have the yellow zone. The yellow zone, we find sometimes our kids get a little silly, or a little excited, and it’s figuring out, “How do we regulate our bodies to get back to the green zone when we’re having one of those silly moments or excited moments?”


We have blue moments sometimes. We’ll have kids come into the space where maybe they didn’t have such a great day at school, and they’re feeling kind of down, feeling kind of upset because of something that happened at recess, something that happened in the classroom, something that the teacher said to them. And it’s really not necessarily having to jump right into a game, but talking through those emotions, and asking the athlete, “Hey, what zone are we in right now? Because we kind of seem like we’re a little upset, we’re a little sad. What’s going on?”


And then finally, you have the red zone. And this happens sometimes as well, where we get an athlete who comes into the space, and they’re feeling angry, they’re feeling frustrated, or that even happens during the games that we’re playing, because something unexpected happened in the game, something that they weren’t anticipating.


So being able to tie in these social and emotional components through play, I think allows our athletes really to be able to get in touch with the emotional side, so that they can really begin to generalize, outside of the lessons that they’re learning with us, and take that into the classroom, take that with them to a social function, whether it is an afterschool activity, a summer camp, a birthday party, being out on the playground and interacting with other kids. That’s all a part of the adaptive piece.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:34):

So we are talking about the three areas that you look at when you’re working with an athlete. We started with physical. We moved to adaptive. Now let’s talk about the cognitive part of all of this.

Michael Shipper (24:45):

So cognitively, when we meet an athlete for the first time, we’re trying to get an understanding for how they process information best. We all learn differently. Some of us are better visual learners than we are auditory processors. Some of us do better with hands-on and demonstration, and some of us do better with one step direction, versus multi-step directions. So our job as coaches is really twofold. One, it’s being a teacher. As a teacher, it’s problem solving. It’s planting seeds. Helping our athletes to grow and improve upon certain things like cultivating their cognitive abilities, nurturing their behavioral abilities, and then promoting that physical aspect to what they’re doing. And then as a coach, we’re trying to get results, and that’s what we’re doing from a cognitive point of view for our athletes.

Lindsay Guentzel (25:55):

I think this is the one that stands out for me the most when I look back at my experience in sports and organized sports growing up. And it’s one of the reasons why I think I liked dance so much. So I grew up doing studio dance, tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical. Besides the costumes, which were definitely a driving factor in my love of dance, I think a part of it was you learned the steps, and then you just had to practice the steps over and over again. And it wasn’t doing drills or learning plays.


And I think in the moment when I was in sports, I can think basketball was a big one. You always had drills you were doing, or you were practicing plays. And in the middle of the game, you were expected to remember what, like, “Purple cup. Play purple cup.” And in that moment, your brain is trying to go, “Well, what is purple cup?” And I could never understand why some people had an easier time at it than me. Obviously now, hindsight is a lovely little thing, but it’s hard for kids when they feel like they aren’t getting it, and they don’t know why. And again, we go back to not all coaches are created equal, and not all coaches understand that their athletes are created equal.

Michael Shipper (27:04):

So just piggybacking off what you’re saying right now, when we work with our kids, and we’re creating programs, and helping them to master movement, we do it through a method of guided discovery. What most people are unaware of is when we’re just, let’s say, playing soccer, all right? There is so much going on movement-wise that we just don’t take into consideration.


There are three main things. There’s something called stationary movement. So that is things like pushing, pulling, squatting. That has to do with everything including our joints, and our limbs, and the center mass of our bodies, and our balance. Then there’s locomotive. So that’s the manipulation of our joints in our body. That’s running, jumping, jogging, galloping, making sure that our body is aware of where it is in space. And then finally, there’s manipulation. That’s throwing, catching hitting. There’s just so much going on for any one person to have to process through their sensory system, which is why we utilize this guided discovery. We can learn about things like fast, slow, big, small, and incorporate those, and fine tune those, and allow kids the time to develop the specific movements that are required, let’s say, in sports. So in doing that, they can be creative. They can use their imagination. There is no right. There is no wrong. It’s almost interpretive in a sense. So that’s something that we like to utilize with the athletes that we work with.

Lindsay Guentzel (29:02):

I teased our pre-interview chat, which is perfect, because I can just throw it to you. In our call, you mentioned how you view movement as a tree. And I need you to explain this to me again, because I remember in the moment, I wrote it down and was like, “We have to get to this.” So movement as a tree, as told by Michael Shipper.

Michael Shipper (29:24):

Movement is the big tree. Everything else, the branches, the leaves, I would consider those things sport-specific skills. So in order to get better at those skills, we have to help our children develop the information that their body is processing. And that is what the root of the tree is all about. We’re trying to build a strong foundation of movement, and an understanding for movement, by exposing our athletes to all the different senses, to all the different kinds of movement. And in doing that, they can be competent and confident in the variety of movement that we throw their way.


So unfortunately, I think as a society, we get so hung up and so focused on the smaller aspects, the details, the branches and the leaves, the sports, because of what comes along with those things. And that’s primarily the social and emotional aspect. “Well, if my kid’s not participating in a group, then he’s not making friends. If my kid’s not participating in a sport, they’re not learning how to follow directions, take turns, sharing. They’re not regulating their behaviors.” And that is something that we have to sometimes regress before we can progress. We’ve got to take a few steps backwards in order to take two or three steps forward. And that’s what I mean by focusing on movement as more of the tree, rather than the branches and the leaves.

Lindsay Guentzel (31:09):

It’s a trope for sure, and it’s pretty much in every kind of coming of age movie or television show. The father who is the star athlete wants their son to follow in their footsteps, and the son, for whatever reason, whether they have no interest in sports, or they don’t have the talent, and it’s this tug of war of passing along the legacy. And I’m wondering, from your experience and your expertise, how you look at how that plays a role in how we’re setting kids up to essentially fail at something before they even get started, or are even able to find something that they enjoy.

Michael Shipper (31:46):

That actually happens a lot. We have families that when they were in school, both high school and at a collegiate level, they played sports, and having kids that are not as athletically gifted or in tune with being a part of a sports program is something that we definitely have conversations with our families about. Additionally, we’ll have times where we have siblings, and the younger sibling is more athletic than the older sibling, and this can lead to frustrations not only for the older sibling, but for the parents themselves.


And I have to ask sometimes the parents to just take a pause, and have them answer one question for me. And that is, “While they were in so-and-so program, how was your child’s confidence? What did you notice?” And a lot of times they’ll explain to me that they noticed that their child’s confidence plummets, and it does because it’s just not a good fit for their learning process. It’s best for them to sometimes be in a program, again, where the competition, where the winning, the losing, the having to score and make the winning touchdown, or the final point of the game, is not the best situation for their child. Being in a program where they can come in, and be themselves, and have someone who understands how they think, how they like to do certain things, that’s a great option, a great beginning, a place to essentially start over. And when we can sort of repair and build that confidence, then we can sort of go back to the discussion of, “Okay, what other programs can we try and get your kiddo into aside from Empowered Sports & Fitness?”

Lindsay Guentzel (33:55):

I want to ask, so right now, the DSM puts ADHD diagnoses into three categories: Hyperactive, inattentive, and combined type. I think a lot of kids who fall into the hyperactive area get pushed into sports, or get pushed into activities to run their energy down, to take care of the bursts, that is probably what pushed them to be assessed for ADHD in the first place. On the inattentive side, using myself even as an example, it was never enough to keep my attention. I was always wandering. How do you work with these two separate things? And you kind of mentioned it a little bit with the young boy you’re working with. You fit what is his interest in that moment. But is it harder to get started with a kid who falls into the inattentive side?

Michael Shipper (34:43):

Honestly, not really for me. Because I guess I have the experience, and I’m working with it every day, it’s not as difficult as you think, especially when you’re utilizing that concept of inclusion.


One of the tools that I do utilize with an athlete is a check-in system. So for kids that are hyperactive or inattentive, having structure as a part of play is also key. So having a check-in system of where after we play one game, rather than 10 games, I’m able to ask that athlete, “Hey, during that game, did we have focused eyes?” “Yeah, we did.” And being accountable for our actions and our behaviors, and being able to check that off on the board. “Did we have listening ears?” Sometimes I’ll get an answer of yes, but then I’ll be like, “Really? Did we have listening ears? The game was to run down and shoot the ball into the basket, but we ran over, and kicked the ball, and knocked over something else. Were those the rules of the game?” And holding them accountable can really begin to help kids to, again, internally check in with themselves and really learn, “Oh, this is what I was supposed to be doing.” And then finally, the last part of the check-in is, “Did we have a focused body, a safe body as we were participating?”


So I find building in structure to play is super helpful for kids that are either inattentive or hyperactive.

Lindsay Guentzel (36:20):

I imagine there’s a lot of people listening who have no idea someone with your expertise exists. So how do people tend to find you? Are they seeking you out on their own, because they’re noticing that what they have their child in at the moment isn’t working? Is it being recommended at school? Set up some ideas of how parents could be reaching out to someone in their own area who could help them the way that you’re helping the families you work with.

Michael Shipper (36:44):

So a lot of the families that find us, find us through the schools. They find us through specialists, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists. They find us through their pediatricians. So those are examples of people to turn to, to find out if there are specialists in their area, in their communities, that have a different take on how to create sports and fitness programs that are fun and engaging for their kids. And then also a lot of it just comes through word of mouth. So when one family finds out they have a kiddo in the same classroom, and they say, “Hey, go check out Coach Mike at Empowered Sports & Fitness.”

Lindsay Guentzel (37:34):

It’s clear you’re very passionate about what you do, but I want to give you a minute to share why the work you’re doing matters, and what you see on a day-to-day basis that makes this method and this idea of how to build up a child, what makes it so important.

Michael Shipper (37:55):

I do what I do, this is my reason why. This is sort of my mission and my passion. A very long time ago, I had a teacher who asked me, “What is your IQ?” And I had no idea what my IQ was. And when they explained to me the differences between IQ and IQ, it was a complete game changer for me.


So most people, when they ask you what your IQ is, they’re looking for your intelligent quotient, right? “How smart are you? How do you solve math problems?” Your English skills, your writing skills, your problem solving skills. What they introduced to me that day was, “What is your emotional qualities, your internal qualities?” That is where your strengths, that is where your power and your confidence comes from. And when I started focusing on those things, I realized I had lots of strengths and a lot to offer to everyone that I came into contact with.


And that is something that drives me every day, is to help the athletes that we work with to focus on their internal qualities, their emotional qualities, and not worry about what other people have to say about them. And the reason for that is, when you can build up someone else’s confidence and give them that ability to tune out what others are saying, and what others are thinking, then they have the ability to focus on what’s important to them, and not worry about what others feel is important for them. So that is really something that drives me every day to come in and work with the kiddos that we work with.

Lindsay Guentzel (39:54):

And I’m going to bring it back around to my last question, which I mentioned at the beginning we were going to put a pin in. When you think back at your time at this school where inclusion was such a focus, do you feel that what you were able to see, and kind of the growth you were able to see, not only for yourself, but for the people around you, and those opportunities, and kind of this even playing field that really opened so many people up to new experiences, did that play a role in building your version of IQ?

Michael Shipper (40:26):

Yes. And one of the greatest lessons that I learned from the school that I went to, Eagle Hill, was to become my own self-advocate. That asking for help was the greatest thing that you could do. Never to be ashamed of asking for help. And that’s exactly, I think, what the families that we work with are doing with us. They’re asking us for help, and we are providing them with a very unique opportunity for their kiddos, and for everything that I learned growing up, I can provide those kids that we work with on a daily basis with the same lessons, and ideas, and concepts that they can take with them now throughout their life. Because it was so impactful for me, that is my hope and wishes for the families that we work with.

Lindsay Guentzel (41:19):

Michael, this was such a pleasure. As I said, it is so clear you are so passionate about what you’re doing, and I hope there is a Michael Shipper in every city across the country. If you would like to learn more about the incredible work that Michael is doing, you can head over to their website. It’s empoweredsportsandfitness.com, and that’s all one word. Empoweredsportsandfitness.com. And of course, like always, we’ve shared the link to that in our show notes.


Thank you so much, not just for the work you’re doing, but for sharing your expertise with us here. As I said in the beginning, even if you don’t have kids, there’s so much that Michael shared that we can all take into our day-to-day lives, to be more inclusive and encouraging, not just to the people around us, but to ourselves. That little self-growth. So Michael, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Michael Shipper (42:11):

Thank you, Lindsay. It’s been a great pleasure and honor to be on your show today. Thank you.

Lindsay Guentzel (42:21):

One thing that stood out for me from my chat with Michael, and actually connects back to last week’s episode with occupational therapist Ally Koss, is the idea of using guided discovery to help a person find a type of movement that works for them. And while Michael uses this method mostly with kids, it’s without a doubt something people of all ages can embrace. I mean, you know what rock climbing is, but if you’ve never tried rock climbing or explored the movements that go along with that activity, you’ll never know if it’s something that makes your body feel good. And that discovery can happen at any age.


With guided discovery, there are three types of movement: Stationary, things like pushing, pulling, squatting, all things to do with our joints, and our limbs, and the center of our bodies, our balance. Then there’s locomotive. The manipulation of our joints. Running, jumping, skipping, being aware of where your body is in space. And finally, there’s manipulation. Think throwing, catching, hitting.


As Michael pointed out, all of that can be a lot for the body sensory system to take on. So using guided discovery to help a person understand how certain movements make their body feel is a great way to start the process of introducing a person to exercise, and helping a person who might be stuck in a rut get them back up and moving. It really does feel like the perfect episode to be heading into summer with, with so many activities about to get underway. And I also love Michael’s underlying message on the importance of embracing play, regardless of your age. That’s something we all need to be reminded of, summer vacation ahead of us or not.


Thank you so much for hanging out with us this week. Remember, an easy way to support the show is to leave us some love online, whether that means giving us the good old rate, review, subscribe, or by sharing us with your social networks, maybe a favorite episode, or a story you really connected with from our first Refocused together last year. And we’ve made it easier for you to show us that love. You can head to the show notes to find a direct link to share a review on your favorite streaming platform right now.


Refocused is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy. To learn how they can help you on your journey, head to adhdonline.com.


A huge thanks to our managing editor, Sarah Platanitis, who does so much work behind the scenes for Refocused. It’s the stuff that you rarely see, but it keeps us on track and moving forward, and she is, without a doubt, the voice of reason that I need pretty much every single day. Our coordinating producer, Phil Rodeman, who came out of retirement to give podcast life a go. He is the tech wizard who never makes me feel silly for not knowing how anything works, and it’s been so great to see him grow as a producer over these last few months. Al Chaplin is our go-to for all things social. Their instincts are always on point, and I’m so grateful for their creativity and tenacity when it comes to building Refocused Pod’s social media presence. A big thanks to Mason Nelly over at Dexia in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for all of his help in getting our videos ready to share with you guys.


Refocused couldn’t happen without my partners turned friends at ADHD Online. High fives and hugs to the ones I bug the most, Keith Boswell, Claudia Gotti, Melanie Mile, Suzanne Spruett, Tricia Merchant-Dunny, and the entire team at Mantabi Health.


Our show art is created by Sissy Yee of Berlin Gray, and our music was created by Louie Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020, at the age of 39. Our sound engineers are the incredible duo at EXR Sounds and Vision, Eric and Amanda Romani. Links to all of the partners we work with are available in the show notes.


To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online @RefocusedPod, as well as @LindsayGuentzel, and you can email the show directly, [email protected]. That’s [email protected]. Take care of yourselves, and please, in an effort to reduce the unbelievable amount of stress we all carry around with us unnecessarily each and every day, be a little kinder to yourself this week.

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