American Ninja Warrior Is My Five Year Old’s Favorite Show and Why That’s Okay


My five year old running down the hall outside my bedroom and loudly yelling nonsense words are how I wake up a lot of these summer days.

Our family discovered American Ninja Warrior on a fluke a few month’s ago.  At first, it was honestly comedy for us.  After the baby went to bed, it was something Mom and Dad could do with our five year old for a little while before bed at the end of some long days.  It was occasional, but now, it’s become destination TV.  Have you watched it?


First of all, it’s not passive television.  Our boy sets up his own obstacle courses for his stuffed animals around the living room or play room, dashing from floor cushion to sofa to train table.  He makes these awesome sound effects and his eyes get big every time one of the competitors succeed.  An errand at the post office this morning became joyful when waiting in line, the boy realized his imagination was all that he needed to turn the metal bars separating lanes of bored and waiting adults into some new obstacle called the “Line Changing Bars.”

In many ways, ANW is like the Olympics, but without the national bravado and parade of flags.  The TV formula is the same, with human interest stories of the competitors featured as intros before they run the course.  We learn about teachers who train in their off hours, coaches of special needs kids, youth ministers, brothers, cousins, fathers and sons, immigrants, “rednecks,” cops, moms — folks of all stripes who do this crazy thing because they can.

My son seems to enjoy the stories as much as the competition.

As his mom, I love that he sees all kinds competing for the same elusive thing — a victory at Mt. Midoriyama.  There are itsy bitsy teeny weeny little women who fare better than the six foot plus musclemen.  There are scrawny skate punks who get further than the more traditional athlete because they are lithe and flexible and scrappy.


Sadly, our son has not been blessed with parents who are natural athletes or will push the team sport thing.  Dad is 5’8′ and I’m 5’5″.  It’s a fair guess that our oldest son, like his folks, will not tower over his classmates.  At five years old, he has a growing awareness that he is often one of the smallest in his class.  He has a growing self-consciousness about this that breaks my heart, cause there are some things you can protect your kiddos from, and others you can’t.

While our boy has mad confidence where books, facts, figures, and trivia are concerned (man, is he his parents’ child), I see tiny little cracks asserting themselves in his self-esteem.  When he is not self-conscious, he runs and jumps and climbs and plays physically just as he always has, but when he’s in a new situation, or meeting new kiddos, when he has a reason to compare himself to other kids, he will sometimes shut down without trying some new physical challenge.

That kind of sucks.

I want a different kind of childhood for my son than I had myself.  I was a scared little field mouse, hanging back rather than participating.  I didn’t conquer the big slide until I was 8 or 9.  I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 11 or 12.  Sheesh.  It wasn’t any fun watching my friends ride off into the sunset on those summer evenings while I sulked at my inadequacies and ineptitude.

Life if so much more fun when you live it, you know?  Slides are better when you have wax paper under your bum and land in a heap of wood chips, thrilled with the ride you just had.  Bikes are way more cool when you are standing tall, pedaling those pedals as fast as your feet will carry you, the wind on your face.


I also love how intently my son will engage with the show.  He is cheering these folks on, caring whether or not they will finish the course.  When they stumble, lose their grip, fall in a pool of water that feels an awful lot like wet humiliation, he sends them encouragement, “That’s okay, Guy! You’ll do it next time!”  He is mesmerized.

And the empathy he shows and sportsmanship he is learning about is something this mother kvells over.  Watching these amazing folks give it their best, falter, but still smile is the stuff of parenting dreams.  Not everybody wins, and failing doesn’t make you a loser.

America's Next Top Ninja Warrior.
America’s Next Top Ninja Warrior.

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