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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I love the idea, I agree
Cool, but not all guys especially girls like parkour. And i know that you can do it safetly, but is always more risky than normal random activities.
I actually would disagree on it being more risky than normal random activities. Contact sports in general I find to have a higher injury rate than parkour. I think this article claims that parkour is only replacing gymnastic curriculum in schools rather than adding parkour as another curriculum to take out more school budgets.
I guess everyone can try parkour, although its not for everyone. For me personally, I have find myself to be more resilient to injuries from knowing how to recover from them. There isn’t an all size fit all model in parkour so it can be adapted and individualize for each individual compared to gymnastics.
Thanks for the comment. One thing I like to think about is that how training parkour can actually make you more safe in your day-to-day activities. Someone who has practiced jumping and moving quickly is more prepared to dodge an oncoming vehicle than someone who has not, right?
there are less deaths in parkour than in soccer. parkour is VERY safe. when learning parkour, you normally are scared, therefore you are more cautious and more concentrated. you think through everything that you will do, and it might take a couple of hours to do a single move (hard/ look dangerous). but once you know the move, you can now do it safely and can be very happy. in gymnastics, there probably is a coach that tells you exactly what to do, and then you feel safe meaning you aren’t as worried about injuries. also doing stunts on mats/foam pits you don’t feel anything when you do the move wrong. on ground, if you do something wrong it will hurt, so you will have to change your technique. now im not saying you shouldn’t use mats, mats are VERY usefull when learning scary/dangerous moves like flips (i know its freerunning but who doesn’t want to be able to do flips??). but when you are a begginner you probably wont be doing any crazy stuff, so its better on ground.
Thanks for this article. As a sports medicine physician I echo your sentiments exactly. I see many injuries in young athletes that could have been prevented if they had maintained better mobility and agility which parkour teaches. This along with standing desks are very important to the health of our youth. By the way falls are the leading cause of death in those over 65 now. Just one more reason to have better stronger movement from a younger age.
So true. Wouldn’t it be cool to do a long range study of injury rates in older adults who had been taught safe falling techniques when they were younger?
This will likely just turn parkour into a franchise, and will see a predictable decrease in the quality of teaching (especially in the more philosophical aspects*). They won’t be employing hundreds of traceurs with 6-10+ years exp, but giving existing PE coaches a crash course instruction. Just like any franchise, imho, that is a recipe for disappointment and may actually do long term damage to what we value in parkour. Simply put, it won’t be parkour, but rather some other movnat type exercise adapted to obstacles.
*can you imagine a public school PE coach currently attempting to foster anti-competitive spirit, environmental consciousness, and civic responsibility among grade schoolers?
Point taken. There is definitely an ethos to training parkour that could be hard to pass on in a structured school setting. I still think the movement strategies taught in parkour would be more beneficial than the approach taught by formal gymnastics.
Agreed. It’s important that as a community, we actively push our ethos so that when the younger generations (like these middle schoolers) decide to get more into the parkour community, they are greeted with a constructive and ethical atmosphere.
I could not agree more. As a career clinical exercise physiologist now involved in applied physiology research, we have learned the value of quality movement in managing and preventing numerous chronic conditions. Improving strength, mobility, balance, and core stability are essential to enhancing movement efficiency and decreasing fall risk. Parkour training principles can/must be adapted to the individual’s needs and capabilities, and as an admirer of gymnastics, I have to comment that at most any age (unlike gymnastics) a level of parkour can be introduced to help improve movement efficiency. I started parkour about 8 years ago and have to admit that now into my 60’s I am able to move better than I have in years.
That is so cool, Guy! You are an inspiration. Do you have any video of your training that you would be willing to share? I’m sure many people would love to see you in action.
That is such a cool idea plus it makes complete sense in every way.
Definitely. We need to get the word out.
Thanks for this post! I am a mom to young kids and googled “parkour vs gymnastics” to determine which one would be a better primer for their future athletic and/or dance careers (even if by ‘career’ I just mean enjoyment).
This sealed the deal for me; we are going to give parkour a shot.
I’m glad it was helpful, Tracey! I definitely wish parkour had been around for formal training when I was younger. I’m sure I would have been spared a handful of injuries. Take care, Ben
I am a High school sports teacher with 16 years experience in London, Canada, New Zealand and now Sweden.
i am looking to introduce a unit of work based around parkour instead of gymnastics as i believe it will engage the students more and teaches more valuable movement skills.
Do you know where i could get some lesson ideas from please?
Hi Luke – I would try to reach out to APK, or American Parkour directly, as they might be able to share some school lesson plans.
I delivered this unit and it was really good, the students were really involved. I found some excellent resources i could share if you are interested.
Also we are taking the same unit out into the woods this term.
Should be fun.
By the way i have taught in london for 8 years , new zealand for 8 years, canada for a short term and am now teaching in Gothenburg.
Would be good to share resources and ideas maybe?
Ka kite anu
Yes – I’d love to see what additional resources you have. Please keep me in mind. Cheers, Ben
Very helpful article. I’ve recently started some parkour classes for kids, teenagers and adults in our community from Romania, and i really look to understand, become more conscious of the processes that are in working in the background in order to design good quality classes. Your info and your perspective are exactly what i need. Thanks!
Romania is lucky to have you Andrei – thanks for the feedback!