Wow, do I love the American Ninja Warrior show!

Hundreds of “warriors” navigate through a variety of obstacles designed to test the athletes’ ingenuity, endurance, strength and balance. Viewing the obstacles, I find myself contorting my face in disbelief, thinking, sometimes aloud, “Are you kidding me? Who even thought of that? There’s no way!” When the would-be champions fail to negotiate an obstacle, I’m crushed, sharing the disappointment of the athlete and their supporters. When one succeeds, especially on a particularly challenging obstacle, I cheer out loud in celebration and perform imaginary high-fives.

For me, it’s an edge of your seat, emotional roller coaster.

Why is it so compelling? Here’s my take.

Many of the competitors are not full-time athletes. They have careers outside this challenge. They fit their training and competition into their lives. That reflects true passion for their pursuit, and discipline worthy of respect.

It’s a real long shot to complete all the stages. The show has been on for seven years and only a couple people have completed it. There’s a certain purity and integrity to such a challenge. There’s no watering it down so somebody wins every year. That means when it happens and someone climbs to the top of the final stage of Mount Midoriyama, it’s really something.

For some of the athletes, right off the bat it seems there’s no way they’re going to make it. Often my prediction bears itself out and they fail on an obstacle, sometimes real early on. Other times my prediction proves false, and they complete all the stage’s obstacles. In my view, for these people, either result is a success. What the odds say will be defeat, they stare in the eye and press on. In doing so they redefine defeat in result to mean success through pursuit of something they care about.

These warriors face these obstacles knowing that the odds are against them, and they say, “I’m in.” They’re inspirational.

All that’s great and impressive. I think there’s one more wonderful aspect to the show, perhaps the best part.

What I always notice that warms my heart is the way the contestants support each other, even as they compete with one another. When one competitor completes all the obstacles, the rest cheer and congratulate them. When a competitor loses their grip or misses their mark, the rest seem to genuinely feel bad for that person.

There is genuine empathy, encouragement, hope and happiness among all the competitors for each competitor.

Last year, I was watching with my Mom and she really summed it up well. She said, “Isn’t it funny how they can be so happy for someone they don’t even really know.”

I don’t watch much television. The little I do see sure seems to be different than American Ninja Warrior in this regard. Whether it’s some news show with a couple or more pundits “debating” some issue, or whether it’s a show about whether a couple should move or fix up their house, or whether it’s some candidates standing on a stage and participating in what is supposed to be political “discourse,” what I most often see and hear are people putting one another down.

Each person seeks to “win” by making the other person “lose.” The approach seems to focus on ignoring, or even ridiculing, ideas and contributions offered in good faith in a heartfelt manner if those offerings differ at all between the parties. Mostly what I see and hear are people who let the concepts of “either this or that” and “not” and “but” dominate their thinking and their conduct. Rarely do I observe empathy, acknowledgement or basic respect for the other person and their ideas and beliefs.

This thinking and behavior are particularly frustrating and misguided because the best answer or idea or choice often lies somewhere in between the extremes.

Even when one approach can be shown to be clearly better, there’s still room for some empathy and acknowledgement for the other person, and some nobility on the part of the person who prevails on the merits.

I just don’t see it very often.

And that’s why I enjoy seeing the men and women who participate on American Ninja Warrior behave so admirably.

They demonstrate the attributes of working very hard and doing your best to succeed and respecting and acknowledging that others are doing the same and are worthy of respect and consideration. They demonstrate having and expressing empathy. They model that it’s good to want anyone pursuing a legitimate end in a good faith manner to do well. They display security and confidence in themselves without belittling or disrespecting others. They recognize and celebrate another’s pursuit of an objective even when that person fails in achieving it, and perhaps especially when that person fails in achieving it.

They see the good in others and genuinely want others to do well, too. They think and act with an “and” mindset rather than an “or,” “not” or “but” mindset.

When considered from that perspective, all these warriors are winners. And, there’s much to model in what we see from these men and women as they pursue their own dreams, and encourage others to pursue theirs.


Ask yourself:


Like these Ninjas, do I recognize the performance and celebrate the success of others?


Do I conduct myself with honor and nobility when working with others, particularly in challenging situations that may be full of different viewpoints and perspectives?


How can I make sure I maintain an “and” mindset that fosters collaboration and contributions from others, rather than an “or,” “not” or “but” mindset.


© 2016 Rob Otte


Rob Otte is a teacher, speaker, writer and coach. He is the Director of Corporate Training and Development for Roehl Transport, Inc. in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Roehl Transport is a freight transportation and logistics company employing 2,500 people. You may contact Rob at otte.rob@gmail.com.


Thoughts for the Week:


Accept me at my strongest, support me at my weakest. –Unknown


Support your friend, even if you don’t support their situation. –Unknown


Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destinations. C.S. Lewis


Don’t focus on your enemies and haters, focus on the people that love and support you because those are the people that matter most. – Unknown


I am not a victim, I am victorious!- Joel Osteen