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  • Hunter Guerard

Highest Level of Youth Ninja Warrior Competition


A change is coming to the Obstacle Academy Youth Ninja Team Program. Not a change in the format of practices, not a change in the day-to-day operations of training established by the coaches, and not a change related to the new equipment & obstacles being fabricated for the gym. This is a change that will occur in several young ninja athletes that will ripple through all the Obstacle Academy youth athletes, coaches, friends, and family. This is a change that will forever morph the attitudes and awareness of a few young ninjas and will be life altering to all those involved with the youth program. “Stuff” is about to get real. This month, we have two youth traveling to Los Angeles to compete on American Ninja Warrior Juniors - the youth spinoff of American Ninja Warrior, and several more are headed to New Mexico to compete in the youth national finals of the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA). No experience in their athletic career thus far will reverberate through their bodies and minds like the first time they set foot onto an obstacle course with equipment worth millions and witnessing a production requiring hundreds of crew members to operate. The entire concept of competition at this scale and intensity will take a giant metaphorical swing at their composure; and, it won't leave a dent. These youth ninja athletes are both capable and prepared to have dominating performances. Wanna know a secret? They have been for months -- these youth athletes have demonstrated commitment, grit, focus, and discipline to their training that frankly rivals many of the adult ninja athletes. Whether it is prime time television or the UNAA finals, the buildup to their runs will be very similar. They will go through the course rules in the same fashion they have been accustomed to over the last 10 months; they will be allowed to ask questions on specific obstacles; listen to detailed descriptions of the technicalities; and, watch demonstrations of the obstacles in action. The odds that they run first are low, so they will also likely be able to gather information from a group of athletes who run before they do. Sensitives will heighten and: everything will look and feel enormous; the reality of water underneath them will elevate their focus; the millions of dollars worth of camera, lighting, and obstacle equipment, in addition to the countless crew members, will weigh on their peripheral; the thousands of spectator eyes focused on them will be apparent; and, the idea that millions of people all over the world will watch their performance will have an outstanding conceptual gravity -- probably forever. The way the next part works is intensely personal and difficult to describe to someone who hasn't competed in this sport, but to reduce it into a digestible system, try this: lay a sheet of paper down in front of you. In the center of the paper, draw a small shape. Now, starting at the left side of the sheet, draw a choppy, distorted line, leading up to the shape you drew in the center. Make the line as violently distorted and unpredictable as you can. Next, start on the right side of the shape, and very carefully draw a straight line, from the shape, to the right side of the sheet. Done? Good, we are finished with the arts and crafts portion. Look down at the drawing you have created. You have just drawn a timeline of a ninja athlete’s competition emotions and heart rate. The shape you have drawn in the center represents the competition run. The wild, distorted line on the left is the emotional state, heart rate, anxiety, and pressure during the lead-up to the course run. The line on the right is how they'll feel directly afterward. During the lead-up, a ninja’s mind will ride a roller coaster -- often, a terrifying roller coaster. We could tell our youth they won’t be nervous, but we would frankly be short-changing our athletes if we were not completely honest about this aspect of high-level competition, and to prepare them.. I have stood on an American Ninja Warrior course 18 times so far, and guess what -- I was nervous every time. Emotions can be managed during the lead-up to a run and during a run. As athletes build their experience competing, this internal process improves with each successive competition. Let's say you're number 35. You run 35th. When the 10th runner walks up to throw their hat into the ring, you will start warming up. You're no stranger to warming up. You can't even count the amount of times you've groaned and trotted your way into the gym to speed up your heart rate. Keep warming up. Just bouncing around and breaking a sweat will work to dispel some of that nervous energy, that will come in waves. Everything you have done for the last 10 months on obstacles is enough for an amazing run. You are already physically prepared to do this, and to do it in a way that nobody but you can. You have to not only tell yourself this, but believe it as well. It isn't fair to yourself to start believing that you aren't capable -- never allow the creep of self-doubt. It isn't fair to each time you've sweat, and pushed yourself to absolute failure when nobody else was looking. The best way to do this is to find 60 seconds to disappear into a corner and kneel down. When you kneel down, start controlling your breaths and walk yourself step-by-step through the raw basics of the course you will run. Exhale slowly until you become aware of the cadence of your own heart. When your body has become relaxed, your mind will steady itself. Once your breathing and heart rate stabilize, you'll notice something powerful start to happen. The nervousness that lured you into that corner will have shifted in a brilliant way. What you have done is begin a very important process. The process of manipulating your nervous energy into excitement. Into an absolute will to slaughter the course. The change we are going to witness in our youth athletes upon their return from these enormous competitions is not something that can be manufactured or bought. There is no piece of equipment or obstacle that can be ordered or built that can replicate the impact of training side-by-side with a teammate who has stepped up and experienced what is about to happen. When these youth ninja athletes return, their mere presence in the gym will change the atmosphere of the facility, the program, and their teammates. This goes for every athlete we have compete at Obstacle Academy, and other competitions, including: at any National Ninja League qualifier, at the National Ninja League Finals, the any UNAA competition, UNAA finals, and American Ninja Warrior Juniors. This is a trajectory altering summer for the Obstacle Academy youth ninja athletes, and it's an honor to coach, teach, and train alongside every one of them.


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