October 13 creeps closer, bringing with it the much anticipated debut of American Ninja Warrior Junior. Apparently we haven’t been the only ones blown away by what young athletes have been accomplishing in competitions, or just sharing on social media. Universal Kids and A.Smith and Co, the production company behind American Ninja Warrior, decided it’s time for these kids to have their very own platform!
We stopped by the set to find out more about the upcoming show. Let’s dig into what we learned! (You’re not wrong if you think the location in the above trailer looks familiar. American Ninja Warrior Jr was filmed on the exact same location as Team Ninja Warrior season two.)
First off, if you need a refresher, here’s a breakdown on the basics of the show:
American Ninja Warrior Junior celebrates real kids taking on the iconic course with dedication and skill. Nearly 200 boy and girl Junior Ninjas from across the U.S. will face off on the same Head to Head courses in three age brackets: 9 & 10, 11 & 12, and 13 & 14 year olds. The courses will feature iconic Ninja Warrior obstacles, including Sonic Swing, Tic Toc, Spin Cycle, and the Warped Wall. Each age bracket will be mentored by All Star Ninja Mentors and three final winners (one per age bracket) will be crowned the first ever American Ninja Warrior Junior Champions
The All Star Mentors include Kevin Bull, Drew Drechsel, Natalie Duran, Meagan Martin, Najee Richardson, and Barclay Stockett.
We were on set for the day the 13 and 14 year olds ran the course. They were coached by Meagan Martin and Kevin Bull, allowing us to snag their thoughts on what was happening.
The course features six obstacles that have been scaled down for the various age groups. But make no mistake, these are still REAL obstacles with plenty of room for error. In the video above Executive Producer and Director Kent Weed walks you through one of the course set ups.
- Archer Steps
- Tick Toc
- Devil Steps (for the 13-14 year olds)
- Floating Tiles
- Floating Shelf Grab
- Warped Wall
The Warped Wall is 13 feet to the top, and will be completed at that height but the 13-14 year olds. The unique wall is equipped with two pocket levels which will provide assistance to the other age groups. 9-10 year olds have a pocket at 10 feet. 11-12 year olds have a pocket at 11.5 feet.
Even Kevin Bull was taken aback when he first looked at the course. “When I saw the course I thought, ‘Wow, this is a Ninja course.’ I thought they might pull a few punches but I don’t think they did. I think this is the real thing.”
Meagan Martin added that although it would be tough, it was laid out in such a way as to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. “When I saw this course I thought immediately that we were going to see a lot of extremely fast times. That’s exactly what happened. It’s been so cool watching them on the course. These obstacles are perfect for them to go fast on.”
“When I first heard they were going to do Ninja Warrior Junior I was so excited!” Meagan shared. “I feel like that’s the question I get asked all the time from kids and I work with a lot of kids. The minute I heard it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be amazing!”
We can’t express enough what these young athletes are capable of without some major spoilers. You’re just going to have to trust us that your mind is going to explode.
“I was impressed by the overall athleticism of this pool of competitors. These kids have obviously been training. They take it just as seriously as we do,” Kevin said. “What’s really impressive is the consistency that these kids are able to bring. They are hitting their peak performances and they are doing it multiple times over and over again. That’s always very impressive.”
We spoke with Meagan after the day’s runs were over. She was still visibly riled up by the runs she’d witnessed. “The level of competition was insane. I expected that. There’s so many kids who watch American Ninja Warrior and Ninja gyms popping up all over the country. I was prepared to see some talented kids out here and I think I was right.”
The competitors had quite a valuable resource in their All-Star mentors. It’s not every day that not only do you compete on a version of your favorite show, but you get advice from your heroes. We asked Kevin and Meagan what they found themselves telling their age group.
“The advice that we ended up giving to this age group was basically the same advice that we give to ourselves. They’re doing the same thing we’re doing,” Kevin described. “The gaps may be a little smaller, but in essence it’s the same. It’s all about not doubting yourself. It’s about staying positive. It’s about running your race and giving it all you’ve got.”
Meagan echoed the sentiment. “I thought, for that age group especially, the most important thing is to keep your mind calm. Calm the nerves in general. They were so talented. They have all the skills to do all the obstacles. It was more about just keeping their head in the game.”
The end result were runs and moments the veteran American Ninja Warriors won’t soon forget.
“There’s been some fantastic memories. Obviously some of the close races have been the best. We’ve seen a lot of races that are just neck and neck the whole way,” Kevin said, before quickly jumping to a more emotional tone.
“There’s a little girl who was struggling with some confidence issues at the beginning. We all get nerves and it was affecting her a lot. I watched her pull herself out of that and come through a deliver an amazing performance.”
Meagan also reveled in the successes the kids found on the course. “Some of my favorite moments were watching kids overcome obstacles they’d fallen on in previous runs. That was probably the most exciting thing. I also liked the tenacity I saw from the kids. Just the focus in general. The visualization.”
How does it relate to American Ninja Warrior... Senior?
“I feel like in five years I’ll definitely be rooting them on in American Ninja Warrior. I don’t know if I’ll still be doing it. I’m not getting any younger! Maybe! Who knows,” Meagan told us.
“Hopefully we don’t have to start calling it senior!” Kevin laughed. But he does see this show as a pipeline of talent to the NBC broadcast. “I think there’s no doubt that these kids are going to make it in the big time American Ninja Warrior. I think they’re going to be there with us and we’re going to get to race the same kids you’re seeing today in a few years.”
The connection wasn’t lost on the newest member of the Ninja Warrior family either. Olympic gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez is the show’s sideline host, adding her energy to Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila’s.
“I am definitely a fan of American Ninja Warrior! I think the show is amazing and it symbolizes strength,” Laurie said.
“Between the two shows, I definitely think the course for American Ninja Warrior is tougher than the course for American Ninja Warrior Junior. Simply because it is adults who are training for this. However, I think the kids could handle the adult one.”
Laurie is no stranger to the pressures of competition. That perspective allows her to value the efforts put forth by these young athletes.
“Watching these kids compete was actually pretty nerve-wracking. As they’re going, you can tell their eyes are on the prize and they want to go as fast as they can. As an athlete I know what it is to train for something you’re passionate about. I want to come and support them.”
Are you ready to the support the Ninja Warrior Juniors? The show will debut on Saturday, October 13 at 7pm on Universal Kids. You can find out if you get that channel by using this tool. Universal Kids is also available On Demand and through an app.