National Ninja League Finals: Best in the Nation
Ninja Warrior is a sport growing at an aggressive pace that combines balance, agility, precision footwork, tenacity, spacial awareness, gymnastic movement, efficient use of energy, fearless dynamic movements, upper body strength, and explosive speed. Athletes train themselves ragged on every movement concept, devote significant time and energy to studying movements and obstacles, and practice with the most severe dedication they can emotionally and physically sustain...
And that's the easy part.
A few weeks ago, Obstacle Academy Youth Ninja Team athletes traveled to the National Ninja League Finals to compete against the top youth ninja athletes in their respective age brackets from all over the country. In order to even be allowed to compete in this event, athletes had to have placed in the top 3 in a regional National Ninja League qualifying course during the regular season. Obstacle Academy proudly had 13 of our young ninjas make the cut, and 11 made the trip to Michigan to take on the largest single American Ninja Warrior competition to ever exist.
Over 1,000 spectators.
Dozens of obstacles they have never seen.
The event began on a Friday night with open gym time for the athletes to get comfortable with the environment. The youngest athletes are only 6 years old, and the oldest are 17. The hosting gym, The Edge Training Center, did an amazing job breaking the open gym into age-appropriate sections for the young ninjas to get acquainted with the feel of the obstacles, and the competitive atmosphere.
The competition began early Saturday morning with Stage 1. The first of the 3 Stages is historically a speed course. A speed course is typically a string of easy-to-medium difficulty obstacles, but with a strict time limit to push the ninjas to move at an intensely competitive pace. The time limit forces the ninjas to attack the course with confidence and commit while under pressure. In order to move on to stage 2, the competitor must complete the course within the time limit. Fail on an obstacle, or run out of time, and the athlete is finished. Out of most talented athletes in the entire nation, two Obstacle Academy Youth Ninja Team athletes placed 4th, on Stage 1.
Stage 2 changes the pace of the competition in a cutthroat way. The movements are much more challenging, the course is longer, and the time limit remains. The two Obstacle Academy ninjas who completed stage 1 entered stage 2 with the same gritty, competitive nature that they always do. Although they did not complete stage 2, they knew the course was within their skill-set, and walked away with their heads held high. The ninjas who fell in stage 1 also walked away like champions. That's what makes them great athletes, that's what makes them great teammates, and that's what makes them outstanding and inspirational.
From the perspective of the athletes who competed in the National Finals, they made a mistake in a competition and didn't win; that's the way they see the event. It was a competition, and they didn't win. To the rest of the competitive world, the 1,000+ spectators, their friends, family, coaches, and the tens of thousands of online viewers, they were among the best in the nation at a sport that requires a mind-blowing amount of work, discipline, and talent. They may not grasp the fact that their heroes they see on tv actually tune in to the event online and watch. They don't grasp the fact that among thousands of competitors throughout the season, they stepped up and fought their way into the largest, and most competitive event in Ninja Warrior history. They don't understand that they are muscling the future of a sport into a brand new league. They may not understand that they are truly the future of this incredible athletic form; they are a generation rising!
Now for the hard part.
Physically, athletes can train and work their way into fighting trim. An athlete can practice all the concepts of movement necessary to succeed on obstacle courses and refine every movement. Alone, at home, in the gym, or with friends. But, can they travel as a preteen and stand in front of thousands of spectators and peers, and cameras that are live-steaming to likely thousands more around the globe, and attempt the most physically challenging event of your life? Can they breathe through the intense pressure of the expectations of themselves, friends, family, coaches, and thousands of strangers? How about after sitting on an airplane, or in a car for 10 hours? Will the nerves throw their balance off early in the course? Will their hands tremble - making grip-intensive obstacle sequences almost impossible? Will their heart jump when the announcer boasts their name into a microphone for thousands to hear and adjust their gaze to the athlete? Will the audience expect them to succeed? Will they expect them to fail?
The Obstacle Academy Youth Ninja Team athletes stepped up to the pressure, and left with their heads held high. When they returned, we saw something very different in them. We saw them pushing themselves in a way they never have. This inspired their teammates, and their athletic scores have never been higher. The way they tear through courses has changed completely. These young athletes are competitive at a national level and just put their peers and the world on notice.
We know every athlete individually. We have come to understand them emotionally, we catch their senses of humor and friendship, and are in-tune with their physical abilities. Each one is as important as the next, and we will continue to work as hard as we can to grow with them throughout their athletic career. Next season we expect each and every one of them to compete at a level this high, and from what we see, they are well on their way. The future of the emerging sport of ninja warrior shines bright – illuminated by this next generation of ninja athletes rising.