If you have a child or teen interested in parkour and freerunning, you might be concerned that it is dangerous, hyper-competitive, and a sport for loners. And what about bullying? Parkour/freerunning is considered an extreme sport, and bullying is a serious problem in many sports. So the parkour and freerunning culture must include extreme hazing, right?
An experience I had recently might shed some light on the issue. I recently attended a parkour competition at which a 12 year-old freerunner with very little competition experience entered the teen/adult event. If you or your child is involved in a typical organized sport, you might be picturing older athletes shunning the new kid for not knowing his place. Or maybe you are imagining the older athletes doing their best to humiliate him by doing some crazy stunts in front of him. So what kind of cruel and dangerous hazing did go down at that parkour/freerunning competition?
What actually happened might surprise you. The teens and professional athletes introduced themselves to the new kid while they were warming up before the competition. They cheered loudly for him during his run. And athletes of all ages had a great time together at the jam after the comp was over. The parkour/freerunning culture seems to bring out the best in its athletes, and it is the norm to see more experienced freerunners going out of their way to encourage those getting started.
“The original meaning of the word ‘competition’ is ‘to strive together. We think that motto exemplifies what competition should be,” explains David Thompson, Co-Founder of International Parkour Federation (IPF) and World Freerunning Parkour Federation (WFPF). Athletes compete against themselves, encourage each other, and act more like kids at the park than pros battling for awards, prize money, and prestige.
Thompson sees this played out at the IPF and WFPF events that he and Co-Founder Victor Bevine put on each year. “The feeling of watching an athlete competing in the speed run who might not be doing it as fast or easily as some of the competitors, but is getting overwhelming support from the participants and other spectators in the form of cheers and encouragement, is what this is all about. It happens all the time and it gives me the ‘good chills.’”
IPF works to, “create an awareness of something ‘bigger’ than all of us,” at the events they sponsor, says Thompson. Since Thompson and Bevine created the non-profit IPF in 2014, they have been helping countries set up their own governing bodies for parkour and freerunning, providing parkour educational opportunities, and offering speaker panels at events to bring athletes together and give them the means to share their experiences and inspire one another.
“I got to see friends and parkour family from around the world, and train with them and laugh with them and learn from them,” says legally blind parkour athlete, Payton Hanna [on his YouTube video about his experiences at 2017 WFPF Jump-Off] … That’s what can make a mediocre experience into an amazing one, and I had an amazing experience because of the people involved with the WFPF and the people at the competition. It means a lot to me, and I can’t wait to go back next year.”
Freerunning and Parkour cultures run counter to both the “soft sports” in which everyone gets a trophy for showing up, as well as the cut-throat cultures where taking second place is considered losing. As Ryan Doyle (@Ryan_Doyle), Director of RAD Productions, two-time Freerunning World Champion, and founding athlete of WFPF puts it, “The attitude of competitors at freerunning competitions is that of expressing art on a canvas; it is ‘Man Versus the Course.’”
Pro freerunner and coach Christopher Hollingsworth (@parkourchris) was involved in parkour before there were competitions. “When I found parkour, suddenly, there was no ‘winning’ because competitions weren’t around yet. So the main feeling of accomplishment came from individuals challenging themselves. After competitions [were introduced], I carried with me the value of challenging myself. Because of this, regardless of my placement, I feel as though I am always ‘winning’ as long as I am challenging myself.”
“Your biggest competition is yourself,” points out Chris Bogdanski (@sofloblue), a freerunner, stuntman, coach, model and actor. “You can build yourself up or tear yourself down depending on how you view failing. Everyone fails, but a ‘fail’ is never ‘failure’ as long as you understand what happened and learn from it.”
Seasoned competitors all seem to have personal goals they are trying to achieve, so not placing or winning an event is disappointing, but not devastating. They have other goals they are hoping to achieve.
“Competitions are a glimpse of what you are capable of at that moment in those conditions. They are not a reflection of your overall ability or the absolute best you are capable of,” explains Christopher Hollingsworth. “You can really get disappointed if you expect to be able to land the double twist you know you can do at the gym, if you don’t land it in the competition. But if you have the goal of doing your best, you have control over that. For me, I know I can always do my best, even if that ‘best’ changes from day to day. When you try your best, there is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Corbin Reinhardt (@Corbin_Reinhardt), professional freerunner on Team Tempest, puts it this way — “There is always a different mindset between practice and competition. The competition-mindset is something that you definitely need to train as a separate thing because it is a skill in itself.”
Pros and Nerves
However, just because the parkour/freerunning community is a supportive one doesn’t mean that competitions aren’t stressful, especially to those new to competitions.
Pro freerunner on Team Tempest and stunt double for X-Men and other projects, Jesse La Flair (@jesselaflair) that, “I think I still get as nervous about not living up to my own expectations as I did back when I was first competing in school fitness and wrestling. In freerunning, I learned it is preparing for the unexpected that calms my nerves.”
Luke Petrey (@lukepetreypk),YGT team member and pro freerunner, explains that, “I was absolutely terrified at my first parkour comp” at 14 years old. “I remember shaking with fear from the time I was planning my run, all the way up until I started my run.” His advice? “First of all, have some fun beforehand to get your mind off things. Smiling and acting confident will automatically make you feel more confident. And relax — close your eyes and breathe.”
Parker Taylor (@parkourtaylor), another YGT team member, says that, “I was really nervous before my first freerunning competition when I was 15, and I have since learned that keeping your cool will do you better. I make sure my body is in good condition and I make sure I’m calm. I recently participated in a national competition in Colorado. I didn’t place, but I kept thinking about just doing my best, and ended up doing everything I wanted to personally.”
On the other hand, some nerves might be helpful. Ryan Doyle talks about balancing nerves and calmness, needing both to do his best. “My ritual consists of a banana with a can of Red Bull for both physical and mental energy. In reality, I don’t calm my nerves. It’s not like you need to stay calm for this type of event, bouncing ‘round an obstacle course, throwing yourself off heights onto concrete using moves that were only invented this summer. Your levels have to be up.
“I may look in control, but I wouldn’t say I am calm on tournament days. Feeling nervous is normal in front of an audience or a camera. I’ll get worried the day I don’t [feel nervous.] We can use this nervous energy. It can make us perform roughly 15% better, or 15% worse.”
Competitions, while anxiety-inducing, have more upside than down. In fact, conquering one’s fear of failing, and mastering one’s nerves in order to perform well at a comp, is an important rite of passage for serious athletes. For most athletes, there is a strong desire to see where they stack up against others who share their passion for their sport. And knowing they are going to compete helps keep their skills sharp and gives their training a purpose with a deadline.
“Competition is a way to sharpen your ability to be nervous and still perform at a high level,” explains Corbin Reinhardt. Payton Hanna, adds, “I like competing, and even if I don’t do well or place, it’s something that motivates me and gives me a goal to train towards and I know I’m going to enjoy the experience and be better for it.”
Other benefits of competitions, jams and other events, are to learn new tricks, make new friends, and to enjoy yourself. Dominique Lewis (@domitrick) is a world traveler, coach and judge in tumbling and tricking. His best advice is, “Just have fun. No matter how large the competition is, don’t lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place. If you truly have a passion for something, it should be fun, not stressful or scary. Of course the end goal is to win, but how satisfying is winning when you’re miserable leading up to it? So enjoy the time before the competition, remember that everyone else is in the same boat, and make some friends and have fun!”
Whether you prefer approaching a competition with a zen-like calm like Parker Taylor and Luke Petrey, or feeling hyped after a banana and a Red Bull like Doyle, experiment with what gives you the opportunity to perform at your best. Reach out to encourage someone who seems more nervous than you. And make it a point to learn from your experiences the same way you learn from practicing your tricks and runs. Use what happens as information for the next time, make adjustments, and try again.
There are different ways to describe being in “flow.” Whether you try to turn off your inner dialogue or focus on having fun, entering a state of “flow” is what gives you the timeless feeling that is a healthy addiction. Parkour/freerunning offers athletes of all ages and abilities the opportunity to lose themselves in activities that make them mentally and physically stronger and more creative. And they will form lasting friendships with others while in a merit-based culture where excellence is rewarded and encouraged.
So for those who question what type of culture the parkour/freerunning community offers your son or daughter, or if you are new to the sport and are intimidated at the thought of competing, I think you’ll find that at its core, the parkour/freerunning community is one in which sportsmanship is the norm, athletes strive for excellence, and it’s a lot of fun.
Here are some tips from professional freerunners about how to overcome your fears when competing. They also offer some perspective and insight into how to challenge yourself while still having fun and forming lasting friendships.
“Preparation is the key to success. Competitions are not usually won by virtue of just one day. It is the days and weeks and months leading up to the big day that determines the outcome. I usually design a line for the competition and then go through it and find the moments where I might over-rotate or under-rotate, and make a plan ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D,’ etc.”
“One thing I did to help calm the nerves and not let the adrenaline get out of hand before a track meet or an acrobatic competition was to surround myself with friends who were competing with me or against me. I found that isolating myself and staying away from others led to overthinking things and worrying about how well I would do, which made me more stressed.”
“Don’t worry about doing well in a competition. It isn’t a reflection of who you are or what you are capable of. If you enjoy yourself and genuinely have fun doing your runs, then you will naturally do the absolute best you could in that moment. Instead of going into the competition with an expectation, like that you will take first place, go in with a value. For me, that value is that I will always do my best. My best may change from day to day, but I know I can always do it. If you know you tried your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
— Christopher Hollingsworth (@parkourchris) Professional Freerunner and online parkour coach
“Competition is 70% mental. Work on not only getting comfortable physically with what you will be doing, but make sure you are comfortable mentally. [For example,] have some fun beforehand. Take your mind off the competition at some point.”
Christopher Hollingsworth- WFPF “Jump Off” Mandalay Bay 2017- sanctioned by IPF
“How much you exercise your talent is up to you, and how much you let fear and anxiety get in the way of living up to your potential is up to you, as well. Try and set those things holding you back aside, and just do your best. No matter the outcome, I believe that you will be happy with yourself for doing your best.”
— Parker Taylor, (@parkourtaylor) 16 year-old professional freerunner and member of Team YGT (You Got This) based in Utah. YGT sells clothing and their athletes compete across the world. Parker currently lives in San Antonio, TX. YGT instagram, YGT YouTube.
Chris Bogdanski enjoys competitions, but, “there are moments before a big move where it’s natural to feel nervous. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. Then I either take a knee or look up at the sky and kiss my lucky necklace that’s meant to protect me.”
— Chris Bogdanski (@sofloblue), freerunner, stuntman, coach, model and actor.
“You never know who is going to win these physical-ability events, but the first competition that we all win is when we decide to enter in the first place. If you are good enough to wonder if you should compete, you should do it! You will always get something out of it; you will always grow as a person.”
— Ryan Doyle (@Ryan_Doyle), Director of RAD Productions and founding athlete of WFPF
“Don’t obsess about being perfect.You can pick apart your run afterwards, and you will always find a way to say you weren’t perfect. But try to be solid. We don’t always train doing full runs. We practice each part of our run and don’t necessarily put it together. Putting in a competition-style, longer run is harder on your body. By the end of your run in a competition, you might not have any energy left.”
One Last Thing
Please also look up IPF & WFPF online to learn more about the incredible work they are doing. David Thompson and Victor Bevine are making it possible for more countries to set up their own national governing bodies to grow parkour in their region of the world. They also offer assistance to existing gyms to add parkour, train their parkour instructors, be eligible for insurance, help those who want to start their own gym, etc. Check out the exciting projects they are working on at WFPF.com and www.internationalparkourfederation.com including “Peace Through Parkour.”
Their Mission Statement speaks to their support of a healthy freerunning/parkour culture:
“…We [WFPF] strive to faithfully bring this philosophy of movement to the growing numbers of young people who believe that through camaraderie, self-expression and service to others, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome.”
— from WFPF Mission Statement
About WFPF and IPF
WFPF works with athletes to coach and advise them on teaching accreditation, insurance and sponsorship. They also work with sporting bodies in countries to set up official WFPF accredited Academies. WPFP is the only federation offering products, services, content and competition experience at both grassroots and global championship levels.</div>
IPF is the non profit, global, governing body who works directly with sports councils and ministries to create National Parkour Governing Bodies [NGB’]. Critically IPF work with NGBs to facilitate recognition of parkour at a National Olympic Committees (NOC) level – and ultimately the International Olympic Committee (IOC).</div>
Together, both global federations are united in their common goal to open up and cultivate existing Parkour movements around the world. Both federations work hand in hand in mentoring and supporting, often financially, individual athletes, academies or fledgling ‘jams.