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 Coach
An inclusive practice is a practice that recognizes 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.
In this chapter, we will look at some very practical tips for coaches looking to make their Parkour practice more inclusive.
I’m conscious that inclusive practice in the classroom is a vast and complicated topic. Different coaching styles can find different techniques to be effective and the important thing is to always adapt your coaching to your students.
Being ‘student led’ is difficult – as it forces you to adapt to meet the needs of your pupils. Most coaches tend to have a preferred tool kit they use that works for most of their students and can struggle when they find students who don’t excel using their normal techniques.
It’s important to see these situations as learning experiences. Whenever you come across someone who isn’t learning using your normal coaching toolkit, use it as an opportunity to experiment. Students can tell if a coach is getting frustrated because they can’t get something. If you instead become animated and excited at the idea of finding a new way of teaching an old movement, it communicates a much more positive experience to the student.
Gerlev International gathering in Denmark 2014
As a general rule, I encourage my coaches to always take full responsibility for when a student does not respond well to their coaching. I think this is a mentally refreshing attitude to take. It is up to us to meet the learning needs of our students. If we fail – well that’s ok – let’s try again. But blaming a student for not engaging well with your class isn’t healthy for the coaches and provides an easy excuse for the coach not to reflect and improve.
Let’s look at a few hands-on techniques you can use to try and meet the different needs of your students.
Preferred learning styles
Up until relatively recently, it was presumed that people had different learning styles and that it was a unique aspect of individuals that they preferred to learn through one of Audio, Visual, Read/Write and Kinesthetic.
The latest research throws all that out of the window. While people certainly have preferences, everyone can learn through all of these different styles and variety trumps preferences every time. The lesson to be taken away from here is simple. When teaching a movement to someone, make sure to demonstrate it, explain it, show it from many angles and let them practice it. Depending on your audience, you can even try and let them write it down. The more ways your students have to interact with a movement the more likely they all are going to get it. A poor coach simply repeats the same idea more slowly if a student doesn’t get it. A more experienced coach will attempt to change the methods they use to demonstrate the movement. And keep at it until the idea clicks.
Using Gateway techniques can help different students to progress at different rates safely. This is simple to do: Simply show the most basic movement and place a condition on allowing the students to progress. For instance: Once you have shown me a step through vault where your leading leg touches the ground before you back leg comes off, you can progress onto the lazy.
This process keeps the flow of the class going, making the students aware of what aspects of the movement you are valuing and also keeps everyone’s expectations clear. This is a good example of student-led learning. We are not expecting the same things of each student in the class. And we need to make that clear to them. We only expect them to progress to this movement if the previous one is performed adequately.
Progression vs Regression
I’ve had some wonderful arguments with people about this one.
Always introduce the most basic movement first. The most basic movement is the first movement you expect of the least experienced member of the class. And you expect them to be able to do it almost immediately. You can then begin showing progressions beyond this point. Using gateways to explain when they should move on.
A lot of coaches tend to show a more advanced movement first and then work back through the regressions. It is common to, for instance, say ‘Today we are going to work on cat leaps’ and then smash out a huge cat leap to impress the class.
This is disheartening for newer people and creates an unreasonable expectation of what they ‘should’ be capable of. It tends to discourage those who are less confident. Conversely, showing the most basic move first doesn’t affect the more experienced members of the class. In fact – it doesn’t hurt to make even the most experienced attendees refresh the basics regularly. They should know fine well you will move forward and challenge them in time.
Which leads nicely to the last idea. You do not need to introduce all of your exercises to the entire group. As a general rule, work up from the least to the most experienced members of the class. Demonstrate the initial movements to the entire class, then let them begin practicing. You can then move onto the more advanced pupils, offering techniques or ideas to make it more difficult for them individually.
For instance, I will show the group a slow step through on a low wall. But let the class know that the more experienced members can go and work on the rails if they like. Once I have checked in with the less experienced members and corrected form, I will move onto the more advanced group at the rails and challenge them further based on my outcomes for the class. I may make them work at height, or make them try more difficult vaults, or ask them to create routes.
By using these techniques, I can prioritise the individual learning needs of the beginners while still meeting the needs of the more experienced members of the group. Gatewaying allows the different members of the group to progress at different rates.
It allows everyone in the class to progress at different rates without creating unreasonable expectations for the less experienced members of the class while also not unreasonably delaying the more experienced member’s progression.
Ph: @Andy Day – RDV XII
Finally, you do not need to spend the same amount of time with each person in the class: You should be able to identify that some students prefer to just get on with it; while others join small groups; others desperately need a bit more attention and help; others again simply want to socialise with you and ask you questions. Managing a complicated environment and learning to respond to each student’s individual needs without unduly interfering with the rest of the class is difficult and requires years of practice to learn to get the most out of your classes and students. But being aware that all of these things are relevant is the first stage to improving.
Parkour, while being a physical art is not normally taught in terms of movements. You would normally teach it in terms of its aspects or values. Identifying themes or concepts that you would like to impart or improve on.
These can range from the very practical to the more abstract. A short list of themes we work with is below:
- Foot Placement
- Goal Oriented
- Conditioning health/fitness
- Positive mental attitude
- Non-competitive physical space
- Being Strong to be Useful
- To Be and to Last
Now with these themes, I’m going to outline two main areas where we have a lot of experience but may not fit the ‘standard’ Parkour class model you are used to seeing. We’ll talk about what themes we use to guide us in how we build the classes so that they are as beneficial as possible to our students.
Infirm and injured
While working with those who are injured or those who have not exercised in many years, we, first of all, have to recognise that many of the standard parkour movements are not appropriate for this group. We must regress our thinking towards such simple ideas as: getting up and down off the floor. Making sure we have full and functional range of motion in each joint and using movement patterns that address the sedentary lifestyle we see in the majority of the adult population.
First of all, we have to remove any movements that involve any sort of dynamic motion. Our immediate goal here becomes conditioning these bodies to become stronger and more capable. We are looking to help these people become stronger to be useful. And we are helping them to be and to last. Practically, we are interested in teaching control of their bodies and balance.
This process is also a little slower. We really don’t want to create risk. And since there are rarely any immediate fitness goals, we are conditioning for quality of life. We can take our time. Build up strength over years and focus on enjoyment and meeting their social needs. Often an issue not regularly addressed in older groups.
Personally, I split these classes into three parts: Hip mobility and squatting; Upper body mobilisation and hanging and full body core engagement and balance. We teach one of these three themes a week. It is regular and everyone knows what to expect when they come in.
I slowly begin to challenge them over time. Introducing a couple of parkour movements or a little puzzle occasionally. Just enough to create positive perceptions of parkour and movement while focusing on their needs,
Working with young children is a very active research topic at Access Parkour and the barrier we come across here is a very classic one. Young children rarely have the capacity to understand complex concepts and so must be introduced to things slowly.
I’m going to primarily discuss 5-8 year olds here. But the concepts apply from around 3 – 12 years.
When working with this group our primary focus is on providing a healthy and rounded physical education and instilling good values into the children. When designing the physical content we think about things in terms of childhood games like hopscotch, floor is lava and follow the leader. We consider which values we can impart and which physical skills are required to make each game safe.
Rather than focusing on teaching children to be and to last or to be strong, we need to work on much simpler concepts. We find generally this group must learn: Safe movement, risk assessment, and honesty.
- Safe movement is a very mechanical affair. Making sure the children learn to move properly gives them a huge advantage as they grow up. Learning to use healthy movement patterns early helps them avoid a host of injuries later in life.
- We need children to grow up to have a healthy relationship with risk. Children who are brought up without being able to take risks can grow up to be either risk-averse or reckless. Teaching children that taking small risks is ok lets us discuss how to judge risk and mitigate it. Discussing risk is a great way to help children understand why rules exist and why they must be followed. We’ve found classrooms are much easier to handle when children understand why they must follow the rules and how risks can increase if you don’t follow the rules. It also helps us keep discipline under control. Shouting at children does little to help them flourish in an environment. Whereas using each discipline issue as an opportunity to discuss risk and let the child explain their feelings can lead to happier children who misbehave less frequently.
- Honesty connects strongly with risk. And touches on highly competitive physical spaces. It is an accident of society that nearly all physical spaces children encounter are competitive or have a competitive angle to them. Since the outcome of a physical space is to ‘win’ we regularly find children cheat in an attempt to ‘win’. This can include: Breaking the rules of a game; Jumping the queue or lying about the number of reps they have performed. It can also extend to behaviour like performing movements with poor form and not paying attention to the rules of the game. Parkour sits in a relatively unique point in our culture in that it is a very physical space where the aim is not to ‘win’ or to in some way outdo others. This gives us a great opportunity to help the children learn to be honest with their intent and behaviour by encouraging them to ask themselves why they are engaging with the class and what they hope to achieve.
When working with children we ask three questions: Is the class safe?; Did the children all engage with the class content; Did we achieved our outcomes? If the class is safe and engaging, the children will return. It’s much more important for the children to develop a positive relationship with physical spaces than it is for them to sort out their kong technique a couple weeks faster.
From this discussion the main take away I’d like us all to have is that it doesn’t need to exactly fit your idea of Parkour in order for us to teach it. In order for Parkour coaching to become more inclusive, we must adapt what we offer to the individual learning needs of the students we teach. It makes our businesses more versatile, and it allows us to reach many people who perhaps wouldn’t normally engage with a Parkour class.
At its core, inclusive practice is about providing pathways into Parkour. The wider we can cast the net – the more people we can bring into the Parkour community. By reaching out to groups who are not able to engage with a normal Parkour class we can create a larger, more diverse community full of people with different viewpoints and ideas. This can only be a good thing for our discipline.