The Nintendo Switch and Four Lessons about Fitness
Today is Friday, March 3, 2017, and the world is hot on the heels of the release of Nintendo’s latest gaming system: the aptly-named Nintendo Switch. The Switch promises to usher in a new age of gaming, and blurs the line between mobile devices and home consoles.
To make examples out of electronic devices that almost all of us are familiar with, the Switch is unlike any iPhone, iPad, Android, or Android phone; it is also unlike the Playstation 4 and Xbox One—both of which are dedicated home-gaming consoles. It is perhaps easiest to say that as a gaming system, the Switch exists in a class of its own.
For the first time on a worldwide scale, a major video game company has brought a console to market specifically designed to be played basically anywhere: at home on your couch facing a TV, lying done on your bed trying to stay awake, or on your morning commute just trying to pass time. If this is not the first time a company has tried to do this, it is certainly the most bold and invested attempt any company has made trying to do so.
Many are familiar with Nintendo from what can be considered its golden age. That’s the period of time in the 80’s and 90’s that saw Nintendo dominating the video game market in both home consoles and portable systems. Just think of the NES, or the Game Boy and its many iterations. This period also saw the rise of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon.
Perhaps Nintendo is part of your coming-of-age story, in which you and your buddies huddled around the TV on a weekend night to race each other in Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64. Or maybe Nintendo systems and their games have always been a memorable part of your family get-togethers during the holidays.
Today, casual users of electronics are more likely to whip out their phones for short periods of 5-10 minutes at a time for games like Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush. At home, more serious gamers are likely to fire up their Playstation or Xbox to compete with acquaintances or complete strangers over the internet in games like Madden or Call of Duty. Many game developers have shifted their focus to these mobile platforms and expanded online functionality because of this.
In the past decade or so, the marketplace and appetite for video games has definitely changed. As one Reddit user has pointed out, there seems to be a real loss in camaraderie and real-life connections when it comes to video games. People just don’t huddle around the TV to play video games together anymore.
The Switch is Nintendo’s response to these shifting times. We’ve all gotten together with friends and family to play board games, cards, or Cards Against Humanity. As you can see in the video above, Nintendo is trying to bring back the old thrills of getting together with friends and family when it comes to video games. Anywhere you go, you can take the Switch with you to have a good time.
As I see it, there are 4 lessons that we can learn from Nintendo about fitness. Coincidentally, I believe that these are also the objectives that Nintendo hopes to accomplish with the Switch.
1. Creating new experiences
As we’ve already touched on, Nintendo is looking to create an entirely new experience with the Switch. It blurs the line between home consoles and mobile devices, because it is both.
There is a growing divide between console/PC gaming at home, and mobile/portable gaming on the go. Both of these are entirely different experiences, with the first being more “hard-core,” and the second more casual. The Switch aims to fill the gap left by these two ends of the spectrum, thus providing a new experience.
As it turns out, health & fitness is also all about creating new experiences. And I’m not just talking about proper programming and making progress week in and week out to set new personal records in powerlifting or weightlifting. As fitness professionals, we certainly want to change our clients’ programming regularly so that they can continue on the path towards their fitness goals without getting bored. These sessions in and of themselves are new experiences, and training enthusiasts like myself and my colleagues salivate at the prospect of a bigger squat or a snappier clean & jerk.
Part of our job is to teach our clients to love this pursuit of fitness as much as we do. The more we can cultivate this love of fitness in our clients, the easier and more fulfilling our jobs are. But these new experiences don’t have to be exclusive to the gym. In a lot of cases, our jobs and the entire purpose of fitness and “being fit” is to prepare people for their lives outside of the gym.
Somewhere out there, a mother can finally keep up with her energetic twins as they play in the park. Somewhere out there, an aging grandfather can continue enjoying life by picking up his grandchildren with ease. Somewhere out there, a young professional has become empowered and self-confident to compete in her first powerlifting meet. Somewhere out there, a high school senior has landed an athletic scholarship and the chance to play intercollegiate baseball because of strides he made in the weightroom to boost his athleticism and skillset. These are all new experiences that we can create through health and fitness; it’s what fitness is all about.
2. Fostering camaraderie
As evident from the promotional material put out by Nintendo for their new console, the Switch is trying to bring back a lost experience that was crucial to the success of video games in the first place: playing together with friends and family. This time though, they are emphasizing doing this in person.
Anyone who has played on a sports team knows what camaraderie feels like. A team that plays well together, wins together. Having camaraderie is important in fitness, too. I’d argue that camaraderie is one of the most important and intangible parts of establishing a first-class training atmosphere. Camaraderie creates an experience that clients and potential clients want to be a part of.
Camaraderie fosters accountability and real-life connections. I’d hazard a guess, and say that this is one of the main reasons why CrossFit has been so successful. It’s something that other forms of group training or semi-private training try to capture as well: the feeling of working with or competing against one another for the same goal. Other than the fact that this type of training allows a fitness professional to work with more people (and earn more money per session), this is another oft-cited advantage of semi-private training.
3. Making games/fitness accessible for everyone
This should go without saying, but when we work with people, it is important to meet them where they currently are. For example, I would not have a 45 year-old desk jockey who has never set foot in a gym power cleaning on day one. If I do, I might never see him come back.
When it comes to proper training and retaining clients for the long haul, it is important to make fitness accessible for them at every step of the way. My 45-year-old might not be ready to power clean on day 1, but he might be ready to do so on day 365, as long as we have determined that doing so is beneficial for his fitness pursuits.
A generation ago, the question of accessibility was answered by Nintendo when it released the NES. It was also answered by Apple when it released the Mac. By making video games and computers accessible and appealing to everyone and not just hackers and hobbyists, both of these companies expanded the respective markets for their products.
We’ve seen this recently in Nintendo’s history as well: with the Wii. With the Wii, the company introduced motion controls that broke all conventional wisdom in the gaming industry at that time. Nintendo was trying to make gaming and entertainment accessible through the intuitive implementation of motion controls.
And it worked, by the way. The Wii far outsold its direct competitors, the PS3 and Xbox 360. It appealed to casual video gamers who felt left out. Ironically, it was also the most underpowered console of the bunch.
To make a parallel in a different sector of the tech industry, this is analogous to Apple introducing the very first iPhone—and the subsequent phasing out of physical keyboards and buttons on phones in favor of Multi-touch and touch screen interfaces. Heck, rumor has it that the next iPhone might not even have a home button.
Accessibility and intuition matter. And “keeping things simple” works.
Innovation is the final lesson about fitness we can learn from Nintendo, and it is at the core of what the company is trying to do with the Switch. Nintendo has long conceded the arms race against Sony and Microsoft, and has instead opted for a more existential path.
It’s tough to determine whether or not the Switch is competing with the PS4 or Xbox One, simply because I don’t believe the Switch is even trying to compete with either of them. Nintendo is trying to blaze a new trail here on the road less traveled. They are trying to stay at the forefront of the industry by boldly innovating.
So the question now is this; how are you separating yourself from the competition? How are you filling in a market niche or appealing to a population that is interested in your services? If there is anything we can learn from Nintendo, it is to be bold in innovation.
For fitness professionals, trainers, and coaches, this means that we should relentlessly seek continuing education opportunities, to never stop learning, and continue improving and refining our training approaches. This relentless drive would also serve us well in our own training pursuits. It might not be immediately evident, but constantly striving to be the best version of oneself and cultivating certain rare and valuable skills in the process might just be the path to success in the industry. By doing so, it is easier to separate from the competition and innovate boldly.
Finally–and this applies to everyone–a constant drive to improve and get better goes a very long way. What’s your motivation for training hard? What’s your purpose? Figure it out.
Critical reception to the Nintendo Switch has been warm thus far, with many outlets praising the company’s ambition and vision for the future of the gaming industry. It doesn’t hurt either that the Switch launched with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—a game that might legitimately go down as one of the best games ever. Whether or not the Nintendo Switch becomes a commercial success remains to be seen, but this does not take away from the bold objectives the company is setting out to accomplish, or the lessons it can teach us about the fitness industry, as both fitness consumers and professionals.
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.