Building Up Boys: A Response to “Can American Ninja Warrior Save Men’s Gymnastics?”

A couple of months ago, a piece was written then published on Deadspin entitled “Can American Ninja Warrior Save Men’s Gymnastics?” This is, NinjaZone CEO and Founder, Casey Wright’s response.

I’m Casey Wright, founder of the NinjaZone. I’m super sorry we were out of fidget spinners.

Those fidget spinners were fun, but actually, represent a big reason why NinjaZone has had such an impact on the amount of new little boys entering our country’s gymnastics gyms – and it has nothing to do with traditional boys gymnastics programs. Here at NinjaZone, we have over 250 gymnastics, cheer, and dance clubs who have adopted our program, each with an average of 250 Ninjas per club per year. That’s LOTS of little boys. It’s lots of little Ninjas.

But why?

The problem with boys

At large, the needs of little boys are not being met. They’re not being met at school, at home, and now not even in sports. Parents and coaches alike have become so regimented in competition, training, scores, and keeping up with their neighbors’ kids, that they’ve forgotten to take a good look at what a little guy needs.

According to studies, boys’ brains simply function differently than girls meaning that movement, confidence, and ultimately, success are interconnected. A little boy needs that fidget spinner because the chemistry of his brain simply demands it — and as a society, we aren’t giving boys enough time to…well, fidget.

From my experience as a coach and a mother, I’ve seen first hand the results of the feminization of education and gymnastics. Get a group of six-year-olds together and  I can pretty much guarantee that the boys are more likely to be the ones bouncing off the walls. They’re also the ones that are more likely to be put on medicine for hyperactivity, more likely not to pass the standardized test, and more likely to end up on a couch playing video games when they’re 14 because they’ve been burned out of sports due to crappy volunteer coaches and the complete lack of progressional teaching systems.

But they aren’t the problem. We are. They want to bounce off the walls? So, let them.

Movement sports are the foundation to the future

Whether it be NinjaSport, Ninja Warrior, Parkour, Tricking, or any other “movement sport,” everyone should get over the territorialism and embrace the fact that we can help our nation’s children, and the grassroots of ALL sports, and overall health and fitness, by simply by meeting the needs of our children. That was the intention when I painted the vision for NinjaZone & Ninja Sport.

I’m a gymnastics industry veteran through and through, and I see how beneficial the “fundamentals” of the sport are to all movement. For 20 years, I thought I was teaching flips and twists, and driving towards titles and scholarships. What I was actually doing as a gymnastics coach was building confidence.

Gymnastics teaches kids, from a very early age, that it’s okay to do things out of your comfort zone. My gymnastics gym was 95% girls. Our country’s boys just aren’t getting that same encouragement…especially now, when they need it the most!

Parkour has done an amazing thing by bringing back the “discovery” of movement in the way it has. Funny thing, my 68-year-old-former-gymnast father watched a parkour video and immediately recognized a “cool move” as a standard gymnastics vault. He also commented that he used to jump from rooftop to rooftop in the city as a kid. Parkour is gymnastics at its roots. What Parkour showed me was that guys thought it was cool to flip. It also showed me that discovering your own body is a whole heck of a lot more fun than being critiqued every two seconds by a coach.

Five year olds don’t follow fads and trends

I’m sure it’s easy to assume that the NinjaZone was simply a smart way to make a few bucks off one TV show’s’ popularity. That would’ve been much easier than the truth.

Contrarily, I had only seen the show once in 2013, and didn’t bank on it even being around. I thought it would be another American Gladiators and a flash in the pan. What I do know, is that 5 year olds don’t lie, and they also don’t follow trends. They’ll tell you what they love…and they love NinjaZone! NinjaZone is a fusion of gymnastics, parkour, obstacle training and martial arts for a reason. It’s meant to meet the needs of all children, designed with the following foundations:

  • Discipline and a progressive level system from martial arts
  • Strength and agility from obstacle course training
  • Discovery and creativity from parkour
  • Confidence building, intermittent feedback, and progressions from gymnastics

It’s all about the relationship

What I also have seen in my time as a 2nd generation gymnastics club owner is that bounce houses, jungle gyms, and even trampoline parks, have a shelf life. That is because they lack purpose, variety, and the coaching relationship. Don’t get me wrong, the new Ninja equipment is awesome. It looks cool, it’s super fun and challenging (for a while), but then what? Do it faster? That’s fine for a teen or an adult, but our gymnastics businesses wouldn’t survive without our grassroots programming. Without the SPORT. The skills, the progressions, and the WINS that you have to have before throwing an aesthetically pleasing $10,000 piece of equipment in your gym.

It worries me to no end that club owners in our space would take for granted the talent, passion, and skill that our gymnastics community has, and not use it! The fact that they would build what essentially is the “next bounce house” and give up the opportunity to truly make a deep contribution to well-being of our next generation is concerning. We know fundamental movement better than any group on the planet.

Looking at the bigger picture

Through our 250 licensed gym club community, we learned quickly how important the programming is. We learned quickly that kids running around in a circle and up and down a wall without a PLAN, is a house of cards.

I think it’s awesome that American Ninja Warrior and the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation have given us this opportunity. Cheerleading gave us this opportunity 20 years ago, and many of us turned our noses up to it (me included). This time around, it’s so much bigger than rebranding and re-marketing men’s gymnastics. It’s about making it cool for boys to flip again, as well as climb, traverse, swing, jump and conquer! Call it whatever you want. It’s great for them, and it’s great for us as a gymnastics industry. So, let them be a Ninja. Ninjas can be anything.  

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