After recently giving a talk on Inclusive Practice at the Art of Retreat, I agreed to release the material in a series of short blogs.
The blog will be split into a number of sections:
- Definitions of Inclusive Practice
- Why Be Inclusive?
- Inclusive Practices for the Budding Parkour Business
- Inclusive Practices for the Budding Parkour Coach
These will be most easily read in order, but each will also stand alone as individual posts.
Inclusive Practices for the Budding Parkour Business
An inclusive practice is a practice that recognises diversity and makes sure everyone is able to access that practice and fully engage with it regardless of background or circumstance.
But, as we saw in the first chapter. Parkour seems to be a practice that promotes equality. Which we define as treating everyone the same. In the second chapter we explored why we should be inclusive. Coaching environments which include more people sanitise the unique Parkour experience. But they help more people get involved in Parkour and help athletes who wish to progress their training further.
This chapter will explore some very practical advice for the budding Parkour business about being more inclusive.
Which class is the best class?
What motivates us to put on one class instead of another? Sitting in the complete absence of information, we will create the class we would like to attend. Probably some form of outdoor Parkour class that captures the spirit of Parkour, or an indoor class that focuses on the conditioning we know we are meant to do. We might spot a niche linked to our own lives and try and fill it. Such as an over 50s class. Or a class for those from deprived backgrounds – or a class for those with mental health issues.
Once we get some feedback from customers, we begin to configure our classes towards the demographics we regularly encounter and to meet the demands you have. We begin to specialise. Delivering Parkour classes for say, performers, or young children, or advanced classes or beginners classes.
There is however another way for us to begin developing classes. Which is to identify groups who could benefit from our Parkour classes and then tailor our messaging and marketing towards them. In essence, instead of asking people to enter our world, we enter theirs.
I remember one of my first encounters with this phenomenon. Which was with women’s only Parkour classes. I was quite against the idea of a single gender class as I believed it created division and it was better to try and bring more women into our mixed classes. I was setting up classes how I felt they were best presented. In essence, I believed in treating everyone the same.
Eventually, after some poking I began to realise, perhaps I wasn’t best placed to make the call about getting women into Parkour. I became open to the idea that this demographic of people had different needs from my own and that I should work to directly advertise towards them.
Taking a lot of inspiration from the women in our community, we crafted a slightly shorter class, that was run entirely by women and that had a social event running after the class every week. We advertised directly towards women and relied heavily on word of mouth.
And suddenly, (or unsurprisingly) the class was very busy! Our women’s only class was our busiest regular class for about 2 months straight. It made me look bad!
Back In The Game
Regular Parkour classes
The feedback we continuously get is that women feel like the class is ‘meant’ for them. This class is advertised at them. So they feel significantly more motivated to attend the class as a result. They are happy to directly contact the coaches running it and discuss their worries or fears about coming to class.
Almost always, when we choose to enter someone else’s world, we discover that they communicate differently. Whether that’s a different form of social media, using different words to describe things or offering them different fitness goals. Should they lose weight? Build Muscle? Burn Fat? Is it Functional Movement? Or play? What hashtags do they follow? Do they know what a hashtag is?
Tailoring Parkour to appeal to a diverse group of people requires us to change how we market parkour and how we talk about Parkour and even how we deliver Parkour classes.
The first point of contact for all of our students is our advertising. This could be our flyers, our websites, our social media and such, but it is also word of mouth, the language our students use, our reputation, our media presence and every other conceivable route that could be taken for people to hear about our classes.
As an example, we regularly entirely remove the word Parkour from our advertising when advertising towards older age groups. Sometimes it is appropriate. Sometimes it is not. But it’s worth noting that it’s possible to advertise without this word. Especially when advertising towards groups who might be discouraged from getting involved when they hear the word ‘Parkour’.
It leads to a wonderful story associated with a women I teach who is in her 50s. She came along to one of our ‘Back in the Game’ classes. Which is our program for the older generation. it was at the recommendation of her friends. She then went into the office the next day telling everyone she had been to a Parkour class and how excellent it was. Her young employees – confused – began showing her some youtube videos. She came back with a thousand interested questions about Parkour and what it meant and what the connection was between this class she came to and this thing she had seen on youtube.
It’s made funnier by the 70+ women who overheard this discussion (in class!), has been attending for years and then told me I shouldn’t do that Parkour thing as it’s far too dangerous.
It’s important to remember that Parkour has an external reputation – that you can’t control. And that you have to exist within this reputation. You can do everything appropriately, never engage with roof culture, spread a message of safety and respectful training practice – but associating with the word Parkour means that we associate with the collective understanding of Parkour and that you have to work within that. And it’s not a bad thing. Parkour is cool. Running the standard Parkour classes gets you clients. These clients are the backbone of your business and provide the next generation of practitioners. These people come to our classes in droves and provide the stability to our businesses that allow us to do the outreach work, help the underprivileged groups and expand. Our sport is incredibly popular amongst 10 year old boys and they have as much right to dream of performing amazing stunts as anyone else. You certainly shouldn’t ignore them. Or take them for granted.
With those competing ideas -the young boys and everyone else – how should we approach advertising?
The simple answer is in as varied a way as possible. Buzzwords are painfully important here. For instance, if you are going into schools, take the time to learn about the curriculum used in your local area. Learn the language they use and the outcomes they are looking for. If a school is specifically interested in ‘facilitating play’ then we should talk about the various ways in which Parkour coaching can help to facilitate play. If the school is worried about safe movement, we talk about risk assessment in Parkour and learning about controlled risk. And we should do this with pride and belief. The truth is that Parkour classes have many different positive outcomes that they can achieve and it isn’t untruthful to make sure you mention the outcomes that appeal most to your target audience.
Fliers and posters
It’s best to have more than one flier. And each one should be tempered to the audience you are trying to reach.
- A happy smiling child flier full of class date on one flier is perfect for parents who may be turned off by any suggestion of big stunts or danger
- Photos of flips and tricks, or impressive jumps help to attract younger practitioners. But you have to be careful to temper expectations. When the 8 year old discovers they cant backflip off the top bar at their first lesson they will be unreasonably upset.
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Pop Psychology: People are attracted to people that look like them. If you want an older audience at class, you need to create fliers including people with grey hair doing things that meet their expectations of what is possible. As silly as a lot of positive discrimination advertising sounds – it works. You get more Muslim girls into Parkour by creating a flier with a group of girls wearing headscarves and advertising at the local mosque. You attract trans people to your classes by creating a bright and loud trans friendly online space – and then start pushing your message into local LGBTQ hotspots. Speak the language of each small group and they will feel like you are speaking to them. Even better: Find people within those communities who are interested in your message and work with them. Word of mouth will always be one of the strongest methods of bringing people into your classes.
For the purposes of a general Parkour coaching – we can think about Movement as being a single line. In actual fact it’s a complex web with various connections to different movements, styles and people with a range of different abilities approaching it with unique life experiences.
But lets keep it simple for a moment.
If we imagine there being a scale – at the bottom end is someone who is injured or broken to such a great extent that they need thorough rehabilitation from a physiotherapist or such. At the other end, we have elite level athletes operating at the top end of human potential. In between we have every single person in between.
A regular parkour class – as taught around the world right now, probably has the potential to reach about half of this line. We could maybe put on a beginner Parkour class, which could appeal to a slightly more beginner group, but wouldn’t reach much further down the line. We could also begin to run more advanced classes, we call ours the exploration class – but I’ve heard it called many things. Advanced, Creative Movement, Experienced – it tends to be a class that focuses more on concepts and less on teaching individual movements. Moving beyond this we are moving into individual athlete development. We move into a world of training programs and personalised training. Classes are no longer completely appropriate for this sort of training though.
But at the bottom end there is a huge gap. Perhaps at the very bottom we have physiotherapy and medical systems. But to take a couch potato with little exposure to good movement practice. Someone who is overweight or recovering from chronic injury – there really isn’t a class or program that the majority of organisations offer that will help guide these people through the world of movement to the point where they would be physically competent enough to join in regular sporting activities without significant risk of injury.
At Access Parkour, noticing this gap was one of our first steps towards providing inclusive Parkour training. We wanted to provide a method of getting absolutely anyone into Parkour – and make sure there was a path for those with no movement background at all and they were supported throughout their development into fit and strong athletes. We call this the ‘Back in the Game’ class. Put simply, we removed a lot of the dynamic elements from Parkour and created a program that focused on fixing the bits that are broken or stiff within the majority of the population. We think that we can take anyone outside of the red area and help them move upwards along this line. No matter what state they are in.
Photos by: Andy Day – RDVXII
I should take a moment to talk about this last red area. At the very end of the spectrum. There is a point at which people are broken to the extent to which they need surgery and/or rehabilitation from professionals. We recognise that there are people that need professional help before they are perhaps capable of attending a class environment. In order to help people in this situation, we work with a therapist who specialises in helping those with sport injuries and many of our students regularly work with her when they are injured and in return, we regularly see her clients appearing at our classes. It’s an amazing thing to watch someone move through therapy, into our BIG classes and then transition into our regular Outdoor Parkour classes.
When teaching different clients it can challenge our capabilities as coaches. It challenges us to learn about the needs of people from different walks of life or perspectives from you and can help improve your coaching ability. Pushing you to learn about anatomy and physiology. Stretching and mobility or strength development programs. Being an inclusive coach is harder. But that’s not a reason not to do it. And as a business owner, it’s not obtuse to think of inclusive practice as a way of gaining more clients. Which can make you more money. And don’t we all wish we had a little bit more cash?
Chapter 4 will explore some practical examples of inclusive practice
for within the classroom.