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The American Ninja Warrior Mind Game

Important advice from Kevin Bull on how to prep for the course.

Editor’s Note: This article was written and shared with us by Case Lawrence, the CEO of CircusTrix.

We often focus on physical preparation for major life events. For a big test, bring extra #2 pencils and a sweater; for an athletic endeavor, drink plenty of water and stretch beforehand. What many of us neglect is significant mental preparation—a vital part of any endeavor, especially one that is physically demanding.

According to author and performance psychologist James E. Loehr, “Coaches and athletes indicate that 50 percent of performance is mental, and that the concept of being mentally-tough is one of the most important characteristics that an athlete can possess.” If at least half of an athlete’s success is determined by mental strength, it’s important to understand what goes into that aspect of preparation.

To give you an inside look at what an American Ninja Warrior does to mentally prepare for the obstacles on the hit show, I spoke with Kevin Bull, American Ninja Warrior finalist, obstacle athlete, and CircusTrix partner, about his routine.

“There are tons of distractions and difficulties on the show. Bright lights, cameras, staff, an unusual nighttime production schedule, and limited prior experience on most of the obstacles all contribute to the mental stress,” Bull said. “The mental game for American Ninja Warrior is the most difficult part of preparation.”

For those who recently applied to compete this year, or for those who are planning on it in the future, Bull shares the following tips for hopeful American Ninja Warrior competitors:

1. Focus on the situation, not yourself.

“One of the most common problems new ninjas face is mistakenly believing that the moment in the spotlight is all about them,” Bull said. Bull recognizes that it’s exciting to make it onto the course and normal to focus on that achievement. However, when the course is as difficult as the ones on the show, it’s important to think outside yourself so you can handle the situation and complete the course.

2. Compete with a cause.

It helps to have a cause that you see as bigger than yourself to keep everything in perspective. “You see this with the many ninjas who run for causes such as loved ones, religious beliefs, lifestyle choices, pets, etc.” Bull said. “What’s important is that when you step onto the starting platform, you escape your thoughts, forget all of your hopes and desires, forget your fears and concerns, and think of yourself as a tool for that cause and beating the course.”

3. Find a mantra.

Bull’s mantra is this: “My opponent is training hard and not quitting, so I better step it up.” To stay motivated in the off season, he thinks about what the other competitors are doing to train. “I love competition. I think that it breeds respect and admiration for the accomplishments of others as well as bringing out the best in yourself,” Bull said. Whatever your mantra is—a thought, quote, verse, or lyric—keep it in the back of your mind always. It can remind you what you’re capable of and calm your nerves.

4. Think about the fans.

When faced with doubt, fear or hesitation, it all goes back to the mental game of thinking outside oneself. “Personally I like to think about the fans who watch the show and what kind of a run they want to see,” Bull said. “This has led me to try the higher risk runs and maneuvers that have been some of my more memorable moments on the course.”

Bull has seen positive results from these tricks, but he’s definitely not the only American Ninja Warrior to employ them. Jessie Graff, American Ninja Warrior favorite and professional stuntwoman, competes with an important cause in mind: “breaking gender stereotypes and becoming a positive female role model.Isaac Caldiero practiced meditation and positive affirmation to stay focused. Kacy Catanzaro has learned to think outside herself and just “focus on the course.

The courses aren’t easy and the task can seem daunting. But with the right attitude, proper physical preparation and the above tips, you have a good chance of completing the courses and experiencing an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

“The feeling that comes from completing a course on American Ninja Warrior is like the slaying of a dragon,” Bull said. “The course is bigger than any one of us, and completing it comes with an intense rush of joy and relief.”

Season 9 of American Ninja Warrior will return in Spring/Summer 2017.

-Written by Case Lawrence, CEO of CircusTrix