UNAA Finals: Performance & Character
As a ninja coach, you think that you have complete control over your athletes. You decide what obstacles they train on, how they condition - you even control their behavior. On competition day, you hear the rules and see the course. You dictate the athletes’ warm up, their course planning, and their preparation. Then the whistle blows, and your athlete’s run begins. At that moment you must trust that they have listened to and absorbed everything you’ve taught them. At that moment, you have no control.
UNAA Championships - Day 1:
Obstacle Academy arrived at La Cueva High School for the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA) World Finals with confidence. While we knew what we were capable of, we were relatively unknown. Being such a new program, we had yet to prove ourselves on such a large stage. Up first we had our three 7-9-year-old athletes: Ellis, Addie, and Graham. One year ago, they had never stepped foot in a Ninja gym, but on this day, they were standing amongst the best youth ninja warriors in the world. We sat through the rules of the course and began strategizing as a team. As odd as it sounds, being unknown was exactly what we needed. We had every moment to ourselves, and we capitalized on it. Ellis was our first athlete, positioned about halfway through the run order. He stood at the starting line, staring at a course that had yet to be beaten. As he began his run, you could see the nerves in his movements. Ellis was moving quickly and intelligently. Though, halfway through the course was a balance beam obstacle that slowed him down and eroded his course time advantage. With time no longer on his side, he sprinted into the back half of the course. He gritted out every obstacle from there and before you knew it, Ellis was the first finisher, with only 3 seconds to spare! Suddenly, people started to pay attention to us. Next was Addie, one of our quieter athletes. After seeing her teammate Ellis finish the course, she knew she could do the same. She went in with more confidence than we’ve ever seen. She made it all the way to the last obstacle, and just before she could dismount, she slipped off. Addie was the first female competitor to make it that far. And again, people noticed. To end the day, we had Graham. He flew in to Albuquerque that afternoon. Graham is one of our more confident athletes, but with the high expectations set by his fellow teammates, he looked more nervous than typical. Graham’s whistle went off and he started his run - he went fast. He made it to the last obstacle with over a minute and a half to spare, but just like his teammate Addie, his grip gave out and his run ended. We wrapped up the first day of preliminaries with Addie in 3rd, Ellis in 4th, and Graham in 6th. All of them well above the top 10 cutoff to qualify for the final event.
UNAA Championships - Day 2:
The second day of the competition was for the 10-13-year-old athletes. Our Competitive Team athlete, Paris, walked in feeling confident after watching her younger teammates have success the day prior. We went through the rules of her course. Paris was late in the run order and was able to watch many competent athletes conquer each obstacle. We saw the beta laid out and we adjusted accordingly. When Paris was up to run she was calm and relaxed. Everyone there knew what her teammates had done the day before. While no one there knew what to expect from Paris, we did. Paris finished the course with the 5th fastest time, qualifying for the finals with her teammates.
UNAA Championships - Day 3:
Just like the first two days, Obstacle Academy walked into La Cueva High School as team. Only this time it was very different. People knew who we were. Up first were the 7-9-year-olds. Their course was very similar, but at the end was a rope climb. We sat through the rules. The judges asked each coach how many athletes they had before they began. Every coach had the same answer: one. When the judge came to us we said three, all heads turned, and all mouths dropped. We proved that we were the real deal, but we weren’t about to stop there. We did everything the same as we did our first day. We strategized and planned out the course, we warmed up well, and we prepared ourselves. Our first athlete was Addie. She watched as the other female athletes took their time through the course, hoping for a podium finish. Normally Addie would do the same, but on that day, she wanted more. Addie wanted to win. She bounded through the course and found herself far ahead of every other athlete on time. Sadly, just before finishing the obstacle that would have put her on top of that podium, Addie slipped off. She sat and watched as the rest of the athletes took their time, only to fall on the next obstacle, one that we know she could have conquered. Next up was Graham, and once again he was nervous. Every athlete before him was defeated by the course. He started the course with explosivity in his movement. Being one of the shorter athletes there, we knew he needed to move and commit to the obstacles. Every obstacle Graham completed gathered more and more attention. Before you knew it, Graham was the first athlete to get to the rope climb. He had the entire audience on its feet! Graham started that gruesome rope climb with less than 10 seconds left on the clock. Not a single person knew how, but he finished with 0.91 seconds left on the clock! The gym erupted with cheers of excitement. It was an unbelievable moment for our team, but unlike other gyms, we had more athletes to come. Ellis was up next, and with Graham still being the only finisher, he knew how hard the course was going to be. Ellis began his run with near perfect movement, and just like his teammate Graham, Ellis found himself staring up the rope climb. The gym was once again on its feet, screaming for him to beat the course, and that’s just what he did. At that moment Ellis and Graham were in 1st and 2nd place, at the world finals. Every coach and athlete watched in awe as our team accomplished what everyone else thought was impossible; and we did it twice. Our last athlete was Paris, in the 10-13-year-old group. Paris was feeling very confident on the course, and it showed. She completed the first half of the course in near perfect fashion. The back half of the course was built for her, but unfortunately one last balance obstacle stood in her way. While it would take her out of the competition, it did not take away her pride. She knew what our team had accomplished that day, and she knew that’s what was important. We would end the final day of the World Finals with Ellis in 2nd, Graham in 3rd, Addie in 4th, and Paris in 7th in their respective age groups.
Obstacle Academy’s success did not end there - every coach, athlete, judge, parent, and volunteer at the event came up to congratulate us. We received compliment after compliment for the success of our youth program. But the best compliments had nothing to do with the hardware we took home - everyone thanked us for the level of respect, discipline, and humbleness that we showed on the course and at the event. After our success we didn’t walk around and gloat. We cheered on the other competitors, even the one who knocked us down from the top of the podium. It was a moment that we do not take lightly, and one that we will never forget.
As a coach, I learned that I never really had control over the athletes. Whether it had to do with their training, behavior, or course preparation - they weren’t listening to me because they had to, but because they chose to. Success in coaching doesn’t come from results. It comes from earning your athlete’s trust. When you earn their trust, you’re able to guide them to success. Coach Hunter and I are so proud of all that our athletes have accomplished over this last year. And while it’s great to receive the recognition that we did, we didn’t earn it in New Mexico; we earned it in the countless hours spent in practice at Obstacle Academy. The coaches, athletes, management, and parents of Obstacle Academy have made countless sacrifices to accomplish what we just did. The success of the program did not come from the results this weekend, but by the trust that our athlete’s and their parents have placed on us. Thank you.