As parkour coaches each of us has the potential to influence hundreds of students positively and prepare the soil in which a whole future generation will grow – if we act in harmony with our coaching vision.
This article is for students and teachers who want to make use of their full potential. It includes some gems about how visionary coaches or mentors influence our way of training and life greatly.
Covering what a common training scenario today looks like; why communities ten years ago were entirely different and sharing examples of great visions – all these points will help you to find your reason why you coach or train.
To the question ‘why do you teach?’ you may respond with ‘because I want to pass on the great benefits that my training has brought to me’. This is but giving a description of what you’re doing, not why you do it. This also means you’re missing out on one of the greatest potentials as a coach: to inspire others to take action toward a common goal.
You May Know What You Do – But Do you Know Why You Do It?
Take a minute and imagine this setting:
Sunday morning, 10am. A dozen sporty people gather in a gym facility.Obstacles, small ledges, walls and soft boxes take up most of the space. Not moving but chatting, the sportsmen are still engaged in casual conversation with each other. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.
The chatter slowly recedes when a lean silhouette with patient but determined footsteps enters the threshold. This prompts the attendees to start adjusting their pants and tightening their shoes. That silhouette, the instructor for the Sunday morning lesson, is you, is me, and 90% of the parkour coaches I know.
You welcome everyone to the training and ask if everyone is doing fine. Your calm demeanor is evidence of years of training. ‘Any recent injuries? Any medical conditions?’ you ask, ‘No? Okay, let’s get started.’
After waking everyone up with light jogging and some active stretches you proceed to quadrupedal movements, precision jump basics and simple landing-techniques. You advance to a repeated explanation of the never-to-master parkour roll and guide everyone in basic runs over the cushioned obstacles.
Following that is some upper and lower body strength training woven into team games. Finally some stretching in the group accompanied by a repetitive lecture with constructive training tips. Then, everyone parts ways and meets again one week later.
That seems like a fair exchange to some: money in return for technical knowledge and redundant instructions. But it isn’t. You took away your student’s opportunity to discover a greater goal in life, parkour being the vessel and your vision serving as roadmap.
It’s in your capability – and some would say your responsibility – to make sure that parkour is more than a mere commodity for your students.
Community is Different Today
Times have changed, and that’s good. But if we want to keep believing parkour is more than a sport, we have to act in harmony with our belief.
It was difficult to get started in parkour back in the early days because it took a fair amount of commitment to find a dedicated group of practitioners. And because of the shared social awkwardness of practicing rolls in sandpits next to toddlers due to the lack of gyms and crash mats, a pretty strong sense of community was established quickly.
Today it takes a google search and ten dollars to sign up for a trial class in which most don’t even bother learning other people’s names, because they simply want to learn some impressive moves they have seen on TV.
It’s easy for you, as a coach who wants to satisfy your students’ needs, to settle for teaching in either of the extremes:
A) a rigid training protocol that guarantees quick results and produces capable movers
B) open, mostly unstructured lessons where students explore freely but have little guidance and structure.
Both models have to face serious challenges. Either your training will have too much emphasis on a merely physical practice, leaving not much space for individual and personal growth – or your classes won’t offer enough structure and unifying challenges to form a strong bond between the practitioners which is key to keep them motivated and in a state of fluent progression.
The lack of a strong vision and not having focus on building a healthy community will not allow for the student’s holistic growth. Your student is very unlikely to become an advocate for movement practice if he doesn’t have a deeper vision – or a framework that helps to define his why.
A traceur who tells his friends why it is important to become a truehearted warrior of the urban age is much more likely to win over some friends for a practice together than one who only speaks about how thrilling (‘dangerous’) it is to jump from roof to roof.
To be strong to be useful frames more than just physical strengths without purpose; or a free mind without intention.
How to Lead your Students – without Managing them.
Every coach can easily course-correct once he reached right understanding of leadership.
Leading as coach means giving a vision, a purpose, a common goal for training parkour together – it means pointing towards one direction and giving others the chance to join in. While making sure to create a safe environment in which students can experiment and fail together without losing sight of the common goal.
Your constructive framework for physical and emotional safety consists of:
teaching principles about risk-assessment and safe training for physical safety and progress –
and creating an emotionally secure space with freedom for mistakes and no room for oppressors or discrimination.
Set rules for your students which prohibit them from trying out dangerous movements above their skill level. Not jumping from anything above head height before you’ve approved their landing technique is just one incentive you could set.
Encouraging your students to share their struggles with each other and letting them face failures together will help them to get more confident as a group and explorative as individuals.
Yet it is your vision that will be heart and fuel for each lesson.
For yourself and for your students. It’s what gives meaning to, and is at the core of your intentions. It is that, which allows your students to creatively achieve results that you wouldn’t have dreamed of.
You will be left in awe when you see how much willpower a five year old can have, trying to scale a wall over and over again until he succeeds. He is not repeatedly trying because it is particularly fun to go for the tenth attempt with slowly dropping energy-levels and less explosive power in each step.
In other words, it’s not the what that drives him. It’s the why.
Your student may wants to be recognized, or maybe he is fighting for the group because you told him, if he succeeds, everyone is allowed to play for five more minutes. Maybe he really wants to be the next ‘Ninja Warrior’ one day and has yet to master the warped wall. Usually we’re working hardest, when we have a really good reason to.
This is also why ‘passing on the great benefits that my training has brought to me’ is not exactly a coaching vision. It’s intangible and your students can’t really grasp what you mean when they start out.
Parkour can’t be taught, but it can be discovered! – as Max Henry had phrased it for his latest project The Parkour Road Map: A Guide to the World of Parkour
Rather than giving an unclear description about a certain set of skills usually including ‘self-awareness’, ‘enhanced willpower and physical strength to help others’ – tell your students why you think the skills you are teaching are crucial in today’s world. Phrase it in a setting that can be imagined in the physical world.
Equip them with an image of the future drawn by a traceur or freerunner and suddenly they will understand why they are in the battlefield (read: freerunning gym).
Start with the end in mind – the vision comes first.
Only once your vision is set, you actually start crafting training plans – because then you can plan exercises and lessons according to the bigger picture.
Imagine your deepest intrinsic goal is to build the next generation of efficient elite movers (the fire- and policemen of the future) because your aunt died in a fire and none of the firemen was able to vault through the collapsing building to save her. But you never took time to reflect your past, to actually understand your calling and to draft out your vision so that you can communicate your ideas accurately. .
All your greatest aspirations are stuck somewhere in your subconscious and even though you feel ‘called to do something’ within parkour, you can’t quite put your finger on it.
In your classes every now and then, mostly for the lack of a greater goal and to keep your students busy doing something, you are teaching cartwheels and include longer periods of static stretching at the end of each class. This will certainly help them make their cartwheels look pretty – but it surely won’t help them to become fearless warriors for a greater cause.
Starting with the end in mind lifts your productivity to a whole new level as this TEDx talk conveys.
Efficient leadership empowers, it doesn’t control.
Efficient leadership includes having a convincing vision that people can relate to and see themselves in. A great example is the “I have a dream”-speech from 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King. His vision for freedom and equality was so clear and compelling, it literally changed the world.
Ideally your vision feels very personal for you, but it leaves enough room or potential for others to see themselves in it. Then students can understand and relate to your vision, without having to change themselves for you.
So How do I Find My Vision?
Finding your ‘why’ usually doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many attempts and drafts. It will change over time. It’s a process – and you will learn a lot about yourself along the way, because it forces you to self-reflect and re-assess ‘why’ you do what you do.
Your vision defines the optimal desired future state – a mental picture of what you want to achieve over time. It functions as your ‘north star’ [as this article explains in detail].
It will tie into your strengths and passion and you will have a strong personal reason to accomplish it. And it’s often so grand, it makes your shiver in excitement.
To get started, look for other people’s visions that you can identify with. Then meet your friends and draft out a couple of possible visions for each of you.
Find Great Examples and Engage
Many of us are in that spot where we don’t just know our very own unique purpose, complementing all our skills and aspirations – and there is nothing wrong with it. It is most likely a prerequisite to first look into what other people are standing for, before we can find our own calling.
Ask yourself: “With whose message do I resonate most?
What is it that I really care about?
What am I truly passionate about?”
Is it movement? Is it your family? Is it giving a platform to young artists? Or maybe it is gender equality in Parkour? Look out for inspiring individuals who are already making a difference in your field of interest. Maybe you can support them in a way that they haven’t thought of yet. Just ask them!
Two Examples for a parkour coach’s vision:
- To eliminate all public misconceptions about parkour – to assure that no child worldwide gets severely hurt from a parkour related accident ever again.
The mission (read: action plan) tied to this vision focuses on educational work for official bodies like elementary- and high schools to teach methods of personal risk-assessment and safe training paradigms. But it also means being highly active in the media to erase common misconceptions. Maybe it includes doing research on the roots of parkour and writing a book about it to reach out to more people.
The second example for a parkour coach’s vision:
- To build and guide a family like community for the most highly talented movers so they can inspire others through movement in all nations.
This type of mission is more focused towards scouting exceptional talents and forming a well-paid performance team, to travel the world and inspire other people. Because the community aspect is emphasised every member would have to be treated with exceptional care and require the coach to persist on strong values and principles.
Both visions are totally different from each other, but clearly dictate what the coach will, and what he won’t do.
For your own vision:
Lay out what your desired future state looks like that resonates with your most idealistic wishes.
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior has stated is as clearly as “I have a dream that […] little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Be clear. Make it imaginable. It’s your belief that has the chance to make a difference.
‘Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Defining a Vision Creates Accountability to Our Goals and Allows Others to Help
Once you found a vision (or your vision found you) and you start telling people about it, you are much more likely to act in alignment to your greater goals, because other people will notice when you are incongruent and hold you accountable for it.
If you now know why you want to coach – or be a professional athlete – or build supportive communities, then tell others about your ‘why’.
This will not only inspire them, but they may find they can help you to get closer to your goals.
People are often willing to help, but they don’t know you need some. We tend to be good at creating an image of ours that that is strong, independent and accomplished. But few things are more bonding and fulfilling than exchanging genuine help, free of charge.
What if My Student Seeks for Another Vision Than Mine?
This is a valid concern, yet simple to solve. Let’s look at an example:
“Coach Hunter’s vision is to live in a world where, whenever someone is in danger, there are capable movers around to reach and help.
His trainings consist of 5-hour sessions on 7 days a week and he is mainly facilitating exhausting conditioning exercises and frightening ascend/descend practices with people who are willing to put their life on the line for a stranger, most likely policemen, firemen or soldiers.
The overweight teenager who just wants to get into low-level acrobatic movements might not feel compelled by coach Hunter’s vision at all.
As coach Hunter has made up his mind about whom he wants to teach in alignment with his vision, long before the situation happened, the choice comes easy to him.
He recommends his friend’s classes who is a freerunner with a capoeira background and a heart for kids. The former competitors don’t have to fear competition anymore and neither have to be afraid to lose any of their clients.
Their visions are so clear and the teachings align with it, that both draw tons of committed students to their practice.
Aligning our Visions allows us to become stronger regional, national and international Communities
If we as coaches become aware of our vision and take time to learn and understand other coach’s visions, we can refer students or mentees to our colleagues or ‘competitors’ who have a more suitable vision for the practitioner and who can help more efficiently.
On the other hand forming partnerships with people who have very similar visions and ideas allows us to share resources and to work interdependently for the shared goal.
We increase the overall efficiency of teaching parkour, can cover more specific needs and instead of competing with other traceurs of freerunners we form alliances, which make it easier to reach out to governments, promote parkour to school boards or to set up big-scale events.
Ultimately we know that we’re fighting for the same cause and really shouldn’t worry about competing in our own ranks – it’s about reaching out to more people with greater efficiency, building strong communities and helping students to find their individual way through parkour and movement.
Urban Freeflow’s Vision
As much as the last paragraph explains what we wish for the global community, we want to share our individual vision with you as well. Our present team of four strongly believes in these values – and we’re hoping some of you feel compelled to join this cause.
A world where taking care of others first is the norm, so everyone can discover his or her true, inherent self-worth.
We want to help in building and supporting strong, value and principle based parkour communities globally by sharing knowledge and resources, finding synergies and giving identity to the individual practitioner.
Our vision and mission derive from the belief that unconditional care for others and contributing to a greater cause are the strongest actions that we can take to attain fulfillment. Before one can care unconditionally though, one has to be aware of his or her inherent self-worth.
Self-worth is the sense of value or worth that we have as a person for ourselves. Often we take our sense personal values from how others see us and compare ourselves to highly competitive performance indicators.
But the right knowledge of being perfect as one is, lacking nothing and having the capability to care for others first without expecting anything in return can only stem from the feeling of being cared for unconditionally – never of reaching external goals or being bound by someone else’s metrics.
Not many in today’s world are brought up under unconditional love, which we can’t and shouldn’t blame anyone for. But it’s our chance to do something about it.
We can build communities in which we care about our friends’ well being first.
Are You With Us?
As Urban Freeflow is For the community, we would like to hear your thoughts on the direction that we are taking – and ask you to hold us accountable if our actions don’t align with our vision.
We will provide more content on ‘how to build strong communities’ for you, what that means and why it is important in the future. And we would like to make more helpful knowledge on and around parkour accessible so that we as global community can avoid repeating mistakes of the past – but we will need Your help for it.
Urban Freeflow is meant to reflect the totality of the community’s knowledge and wisdom. And we want to make use of the potential synergies in our own community –not compete with each other.
I want to thank Edwin Lim who has taken the time to speak with me over these matters and inspired me to write this article from a different perspective than I first had in mind. It’s so important to build friendships that align with our sense of purpose – and to take advice where it is due.
And thanks to Crystal Lim who has helped me in structuring my thoughts – and my sometimes awkward grammar. :)