The 2016 school year marks an important milestone for the history of physical education. Earlier this summer, American Parkour announced that parkour would replace gymnastics in Washington DC middle schools.
That is huge news!
From its debut on French televisions 20 years ago, to becoming a taxpayer-funded PE class, the sport has gained immense respect.
If we are lucky, more school districts will begin to embrace the positive benefits of formal parkour instruction.
Unfortunately, with modern school districts so cash-strapped, that means that for parkour to be brought in, something has to be let go.
As Mark Toorock, the founder of American Parkour, demonstrated with his achievement in DC, replacing gymnastics with parkour makes great sense.
For the record, I want you to know that is not a statement I make lightly.
I started training gymnastics in elementary school, and I went on to compete in high school. Gymnastics is near to my heart.
Yet, having practiced parkour since 2010, I am confident that the time has come to make the break with gymnastics.
Parkour builds movement generalists, not specialists
Early sport specialization is not good for children. Kids that are pushed to specialize before puberty have higher injury rates, burnout, and miss the joy of exploring the full spectrum of their movement potential.
Gymnastics is the epitome of specialization
Its movements must be performed on regulated obstacles, like parallel bars, 4-inch wide balance beams, and spring-loaded vault boards.
Ask a gymnast to demonstrate his or her routine outside of a gymnasium, and you will be met with bewilderment. It cannot be done.
Parkour, on the other hand, centers on overall movement competence. Proper jumping, landing, sprinting, and climbing mechanics, are core competencies in a parkour class. Those skills allow a child to easily transition to other sports over a lifetime. They also engrain the movement patterns to help avoid injury.
Safety and real world usefulness
Why do we waste time teaching kids things that aren’t helpful in the real world? We teach trigonometry, instead of how to stay out of debt. We teach state capitals, instead of solutions to modern problems.
The same applies to gymnastics.
I value the proprioception and kinesthetic awareness that gymnastics gave me as a child. There was a definite benefit there. Luckily, parkour develops the same thing.
More importantly, it teaches movement solutions that have a real world application.
Take the case of a parkour roll versus a gymnastics roll.
It is inevitable that we all fall down. It seems like I to do it more than most people. In fact, I had two major falls over the past year when running with my dog.
How do you think I recovered?
The concrete sidewalks in my neighborhood aren’t forgiving. Doing a gymnastics roll across my head and neck would have been a disaster. Both times, I tucked a shoulder, did a parkour roll, and popped up to my feet without getting hurt.
That is just one example.
As the research comes in, it is becoming clear that parkour skills have other important benefits. For example, the forefoot landing taught in parkour yields less loading and more joint protection than other landing strategies.
If we are going to take the time and effort to provide physical education to our children, don’t you think it makes sense to teach them the most useful skills?
Accessibility, not elitism
Parkour is a sport of the streets, and for the streets. It costs nothing to start balancing on rails or vaulting the benches of your local park. After mastering the basics, you are free to pursue your abilities to whatever level your passion takes you.
That is not the case with gymnastics. Sure, kids can be taught a few fundamentals with a bare bones set-up. However, if they want to explore the sport further, you better get ready to open your pocketbook.
Gymnastics is expensive!
It might not be up there with golf or polo, but to pursue it at an elite level will eat into your disposable income. Consider the infrastructure that goes into a gymnastics gym. The spring floor, the tumbling track, the bars — all of it consumes a ton of square footage. The equipment itself is not cheap either. Gym owners have to price their services accordingly.
That situation is the antithesis of parkour.
Login to Facebook or do a Google search. If you live in a medium-sized city, the chances are high that there is a coach who is leading an outdoor parkour class somewhere near you.
Like jogging, it is immediately accessible to able-bodied citizens.
By the way, did you hear that the USA women’s Olympic gymnastics team uniforms cost $1200 a piece? How crazy is that?
Bottom line, there are a variety of reasons why parkour should replace gymnastics in our school systems. In our quest to develop healthy athletes and well-rounded children, we should use the best training tools available. Right now, parkour is top of the list.
If you are a fellow convert, do what you can to help bring parkour to your community. Be an advocate. Speak out about its benefits. Support those organizations that are making a change.
Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment about you or your child’s experience with either parkour or gymnastics. It is time we brought this discussion to a wider audience.
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