Australian Ninja Warrior is the hit show of 2017, with the finale episode of the gruelling physical competition drawing an average national TV audience of 3.1 million.
And the success of the international TV show is inspiring a new batch of junior ninja warriors.
YMCA’s Caringbah centre was the first in Sydney to open a “Ninja Gym” for kids as young as three who have their sights set on one day becoming a ninja warrior.
Every Wednesday morning, 20 youngsters aged three to five turn up wearing singlets and head bands, and are ready to run, fly, and throw themselves around the gym — just like they’ve seen on television.
YMCA’s “Ninja Gym” is set to launch in four other centres around Sydney; Penrith, Epping, St Ives and Bankstown.
It will allow kids to try a modified version of the different disciplines of gymnastics, parkour, martial arts and cross training used in the proper Ninja courses. They also get to try the infamous wall run that defeated so many of the TV show’s contestants.
YMCA NSW gymnastics co-ordinator Pip Corbett says the program was piloted in February after she met an American trainer who had started a kids’ ninja program that was “taking off” overseas.
“The owner of a gym club over in America told me about the new program for kids’ ninja warrior courses, and I took the inspiration from her,” Corbett says.
“All major gymnastics clubs in Sydney would be in the process of trying to put something together for kids, everyone will be jumping on the bandwagon with this one. I would love to see an actual Kids’ Ninja Warrior on television one day.”
Corbett says kids in the YMCA program have watched the show at home with their families before pestering their parents to let them join a local gym, because “DIY lounge room courses” weren’t cutting it.
“These kids have seen the show and said to their parents, ‘This is what I want to do’, and they can relate to it because it’s all jumping, crashing and climbing. And actually bringing them into a gymnastics facility where it’s safe with proper equipment and qualified instructors is the way to do it.
“The boys come dressed in little headbands and shirts — a lot of them think they are superheroes.
“We’ve got a flying fox, a zip line they can go down, monkey bars, obstacle courses and we are teaching them to run up a wall. We’ve made our own wall, they are getting a start and trying to high-five a target. There is a cargo net, rock wall and other basic gymnastic skills.”
Nine head of lifestyle Helen McCabe says the show’s popularity is due in part to the inspiring stories of contestants — from the country’s best rock climbers and firefighters to sporting veterans and the hearing-impaired.
“It has been the inspirational stories that have done well … viewers have wanted to know what level of physical training goes into being an Australian Ninja Warrior,” she says.
Since the show aired, social media has exploded with videos from parents who have created miniature ninja courses in backyards, incorporating trampolines and slippery dips.
Sky Zone Miranda and Sky High Indoor Trampoline Park in Bankstown also offer ninja training courses for kids, teens and adults.
Social researcher Claire Madden says in this “screen age” generation where kids are surrounded by technology, it’s fantastic to see a television show have such a positive influence.
She says letting children watch a show such as Ninja Warrior, which promotes physical activity and champions individual battles, is beneficial. She puts the show’s success down to the focus on contestant’s personal stories; their tales of overcoming adversity and illness to conquer the course. That, in turn, is inspiring and relatable to young people.
“A show like Ninja Warrior, that is known for how inspiring it is, for seeing people overcome great physical obstacles, if kids are consuming content that encourages them to be resilient and overcome challenges in the offline space, that will be more beneficial than other things on offer,” Ms Madden says.
The 3-5-year-old children partaking in the young Ninja Gym programs are part of “Generation Alpha”, born from 2010 onwards. Ms Madden says it is this age group which will cultivate healthy, active habits from being inspired by a show like Ninja Warriors.
“Anything that brings balance to a generation that by default is largely digital, will be positive for the kids, especially if that’s fitness, exercise, energy and well-being.”
Mums Lucy Lee and Tamara Caddick put their sons into the YMCA ninja classes after they watched the show and wouldn’t stop talking about when they could “beat the Wall”.
“Sebastian loves Ninja Gym, he burns lots of energy and looks forward to it every week,” Ms Lee says.
Ms Caddick adds: “Oliver’s favourite part of Ninja Gym is the zip line. He likes his friends in his class and the fact all of the coaches are really friendly and interactive. I love how active it is, and Oliver asks every morning if it’s ninja day.”
Originally published as Ninja Warrior craze driving kids up the wall...Read more