Life Lessons from American Ninja Warrior

The other day my 8-year old came home from summer camp asking me to buy him weights so he could build up his muscles. The look on my face must have confused him so he quickly explained that “everyone” was making fun of him because he didn’t have strong muscles. What 8-year old does? Then he proceeded to flex his little arms to show me. I had to hide my laughter. I’m not quite sure at what age it is appropriate for boys or girls to start working on their physical appearance but I’m pretty sure it’s not before they lose all their teeth, at least in America.

I know exactly where this all came from. Three words: American Ninja Warrior. Last summer, while helping my mom recover from her knee replacement surgery, my son got hooked on the Ninjas. Thanks to on-demand, even though the season was over, he was able to watch all the shows again and again and again. And so it continues this season. He knows the names of all the obstacles on the different courses, each city the competition is being held and of course, names of most of the Ninjas participating. His absolute favorite is female Ninja Kacy Catanzaro, a 5-foot gymnast from Atlanta. She’s freakishly strong and made it all the way to the finals last year, a first for a female. I think he has a crush.

I’m not sure what fascinates him about this competition, especially since he’s not a competitive kid by nature. It might be all the flashy obstacles like the floating steps, salmon ladder, wedge, roulette alley, invisible ladder and warped wall; or just watching the speed and agility of the Ninjas as they go through the course, especially the females. To explain how much compassion this little guy has, when one of the participants gets super close to finishing and loses his or her footing and falls into the water, more often than not he starts to cry saying he feels badly for them because they worked so hard. Once he sees they’re not crying he recovers but it got to be exhausting at one point since everyone was falling into the water!

At the start of this season’s competition I read a great article in the Wall Street Journal about the growing popularity of American Ninja Warrior and why audiences of all ages love it so much. With the exception of the crazy physical strength so many of the Ninjas possess, each of these individuals are normal, everyday people who just have a passion to start and finish something. What a concept – and what a great life lesson to teach our kids.

But back to my son, the one who thinks he’s not strong enough for his age in comparison to other kids his age. I bought him 3-pound weights and his dad and I are teaching him how to properly use them. (I would hate to have to explain why my 8-year old all of sudden needed rotator cuff surgery.) I’ve also used this huge opportunity to reinforce the importance of eating more protein by explaining that strong muscles are never grown from French fries and pasta. We’ve been hanging out on playgrounds with built-in obstacle courses and he’s started climbing ropes to build that upper body strength too.

Have no fears; I’m not training him for an upcoming competition. The only thing I’m doing is using his fascination with American Ninja Warrior to teach the importance of getting exercise, eating well, and setting goals to go after and conquer whatever you want – all life lessons he’ll use way beyond building muscles at the age of 8.

I’d love to hear any life lessons you’re teaching your children from sporting programs and competitions so please feel free to share them with me!

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