Our kids are lucky. The variety and accessibility of sports and activities has grown substantially in the past 20 years. While there are some kids who stick with one or two sports, many are trying out all kinds of fun pastimes like archery, rock climbing, dodge ball and organized foam sword fighting (yes, really).
Recently, my nine-year-old son began taking ninja warrior classes. Based on the hugely popular television show, "American Ninja Warrior," children spend an hour climbing, running, jumping and scaling all sorts of obstacles.
For my little monkey, this is heaven. He's always seen the world as his personal jungle gym. Just last week I caught him hanging off the gutter of an elementary school, so I like the idea of him climbing in a safe space for an hour a week. He's getting stronger, faster and becoming more agile.
Ninja classes hold his interest more than any sport he's participated in, and it's not just because the gym is run by Drew Drechsel, a warrior the kids have watched on TV.
There Are No Winners or Losers1 of 6
While there are some ninja teams and competitions, most of the children who participate do so at a non-competitive level. Each week, my son's goal is to do more push-ups and pull-ups than the week before, and to climb closer to the top of the Warped Wall. The goal isn't to win, but to achieve a new personal best.
It's Packed With Crazy Challenges2 of 6
The obstacles are ever-changing, so each experience is a new challenge. Our gym needed to put in bleachers because so many parents stick around to watch the classes. I'm not sure I'll ever tire of seeing my boy swing on a trapeze or shimmy up a steel I-beam. The program is popular with grown-ups, too, and there are evening classes for adult ninjas.
It Uses Different Muscles and Improves Hand-Eye Coordination3 of 6
My son may go from hopping from one half wall to another in one circuit, to climbing a rock wall in the next. There are always warm-ups at the beginning and cool downs at the end, but their little bodies need to be ready for anything in the middle.
It Brings Boys Back to Gymnastics4 of 6
Gymnastics classes have a decent number of boys in them at the younger levels, but as kids get older, the number of boys involved in gymnastics decreases. Ninja warrior classes are full of boys and girls, and they're balancing, swinging and stretching, just like they did in those early gymnastics classes.
You Don't Have To Be a Gifted Athlete5 of 6
Non-traditional sports like ninja warrior classes are great for kids who may lack the skill or focus for traditional team sports. My easily distracted son may lose focus on the ballfield, but he's on-point at ninja class.
For many families, ninja warrior classes help kids appreciate the benefits of exercise while building self-esteem—which is, of course, the ultimate goal of many parents. But it also doesn't hurt they can pretend they're on television while they're racing through the obstacles.