In the early stages of training, the focus is on creating general athleticism, coordination, and proprioception (awareness of the limbs in space and how much force those limbs produce). A big theme underlying this stage of training is to make it fun, promoting greater engagement and the desire to continue to participate in physical activity. Recent research done by Strafford et al. suggests that the sport of parkour—defined as an athletic acrobatic sport where practitioners explore their action capabilities—can be used as a “donor sport” to develop general athleticism that can ultimately transfer to team sports.The sport of parkour can be used as a ‘donor sport’ to develop general athleticism that can ultimately transfer to team sports, says @JuanCTPerez. Click To Tweet
Parkour typically brings to mind flips, jumping off buildings, and things of that sort; when simply defined, however, we see that there are many useful skills that athletes can develop from the activity. Breaking down the sport, parkour typically includes movements such as running, climbing, jumping, bipedal or unipedal landing, hanging, vaulting, balancing, stepping, hurdling, quadrupedal movement, and rolling. In addition, it requires and develops coordination, timing, balance, agility, spatial awareness, muscular strength (by navigating environments with gaps), obstacles, different surfaces, and inclines.
In addition to the development of general athleticism, parkour-based movements can assist in reducing the rate of injuries. Athletes are frequently put in awkward positions on the playing field, either due to an unstable surface or a perturbation from another athlete or another complication; those who do not know how to adjust their bodies to mitigate the external environment are at a huge disadvantage. One practical example is a soccer player being knocked down on the pitch and not having the knowledge of how to roll out of it so as to decrease the force on their joints and body; another would be a football player who instinctively tries to catch himself from a fall with an outstretched arm and instead sprains or even breaks his wrist.
Equipment and Implementation
This will look different depending on each coach’s unique training environment, but for those in a gym setting, you can utilize mats, boxes, hurdles, monkey bars, or foam pits if you are lucky enough to have access to those. The framework used to design the program for youth may seem intimidating, but it is similar to the framework used for creating any program. You can emphasize certain skills over a variety of movements and layer them on top of one another to create a full spectrum of movement patterns.
For example, one category might be movements on the ground: bear crawls, rolls, tumbles, cartwheels, crab walks, handstands, etc. Youth athletes in a program could do this category for a certain block of time or use the movement to accomplish a specific goal (races, relays, tag, obstacle courses). After this allotted block of time, the next goal would follow with the next set of movements, and so on—with the coach being careful to promote and develop movements in whatever sequence fits the environment. Other skills that you could implement are a range of throws and catches; the possibilities are limited only by the coach’s experience and imagination.While parkour may be used most effectively for younger athletes, aspects of this mode of training can also be used to de-load or as part of a warm-up in older athletes, says @JuanCTPerez. Click To Tweet
While parkour may be used most effectively for younger athletes, aspects of this mode of training can also be used to de-load or as part of a warm-up in older athletes, promoting general movement qualities that they may have missed in their time as a youth athlete. Or, it may just provide some fun.
Structuring a Parkour-Based Program
When designing a parkour-based program, one method is to work your way from simple, ground-based movements to movements of a more complex nature. Another way to categorize and progress is based on age group and chronological age. The groupings referred to in this article are based off of Canada’s long-term athletic development (LTAD) approach, designed by Canadian “Sport for Life.”
- Active Start: males and females, ages 0-6
- Fundamentals: males 6-9 and females 6-8
- Learn to Train: males 9-12 and females 8-11
- Train to Train: males 12-16 and females 11-15
- Train to Compete: males 16-23 and females 15-21
- Train to Win: males 19+/- and females 18 +/-
- Active for Life: enter at any age
While these categories are helpful in organizing age groups and training levels, you should use them more as a guideline then a rule of thumb. No one will understand a situation better than the coaches who are directly involved in it.
Sample Program for Learn to Train: Males 9-12 and Females 8-11
Athletes would devote 5-10 minutes to each category, as directed by the coach and depending on skill level:
- Crawling patterns—bear crawl, crab walk, monkey walk. Start with forward crawling and progress to backward and sideways crawling. Introduce an objective or obstacle course to make it play-/game-based. (Carry a foam roller on your back from one end to the other without letting it fall or crawl under hurdles and around cones).
- Tumbling. Somersaults, left shoulder rolls, right shoulder rolls, back rolls. Athletes can progress to cartwheels, roundoffs, backbends, etc. You can also include handstands and handstand walks in this segment.
- Balancing. On battle ropes laid out, using lines on floor, progress to game-based (such as line tag).
- Jumping (two-foot takeoff to two-foot landing). Jumps can be on the ground using different colored disc cones as markers (jump from lily pad to lily pad). Progress to takeoff/landing from low plyo boxes, then to higher plyo boxes.
- Hopping (one-foot takeoff to landing on same leg). Hops can be on the ground using different colored disc cones as markers (hop from lily pad to lily pad). Progress to takeoff/landing from low plyo boxes, then to higher plyo boxes.
- Leaping (takeoff from one leg, land on opposite leg). Leaps can be on the ground using different colored disc cones as markers (hop from lily pad to lily pad). Progress to takeoff/landing from low plyo boxes, then to higher plyo boxes.
- Diving (two-foot and one-foot takeoff, landing on stomach). Diving into a foam pit or onto high jump mats. Can progress to diving catches.
- Vaulting (jumping over an obstacle with assistance from hands). Start with shorter objects, progressing to taller objects. Can introduce games and tag variations.
Once the students/athletes are comfortable with these activities, you can progress them. One example is through variations of “Follow the Leader,” and you can introduce additionally uneven surfaces if the environment safely allows. All movements can be done in a gym environment with what you have available, so long as you are able to progress athletes in a manner that allows for adaptation and learning.
As mentioned previously, you can also use these activities for older athletes in a similar manner. Coaches would likely be able to progress them more rapidly depending on the foundation of each athlete—they may have missed some of these learning patterns early on.
Another strategy would be to spend an allotted amount of time on foundational skills, while spending the rest on more sport-focused methods. For example, a soccer coach could spend 30 minutes of an hour-long session on foundational skills, and the other 30 on soccer skill work.
Outcome-Based vs. Process-Based
Outcome-based and process-based coaching are two styles that are useful in varying scenarios. Outcome-based coaching refers to the outcome of the activity, whereas process-based refers to the technical components involved in the movement. Outcome-based and process-based coaching can be illustrated with any of the above listed categories but can most easily be demonstrated with crawling patterns and diving.
While each of those two movements has a technical structure that can be implemented (which would be the process-based style of coaching) for younger kids who are learning to move, we may want to stick with a more outcome-based style. The technical structure is what coaches are likely most used to—it can be an easier model to follow for some because it provides much more order and reference points so as to “check” movements. In a technical (process-based) structure for a bear crawl, an athlete may start on hands and knees. From that position, they would raise the knees off the ground while simultaneously keeping the back flat and butt down. To initiate the crawling motion, they would move the contralateral hand and foot at the same time. The technical model for diving would also follow a similar teaching pattern.
In an outcome-based approach, we would give the athlete a general instruction for crawling; for bear crawling specifically, we could simply instruct the kids to get from one end of the space to the other while walking on all fours. We can continue to repeat this in different iterations, and have kids try to do the same activity but accomplish a different goal, such as to complete the activity the fastest or perhaps carry a foam roller on their backs. This puts a different emphasis on the movement but allows freedom for the youth to explore what works and what doesn’t. This also will not require great amounts of their attention span (as overtaxing that may be detrimental to the session overall).
For diving, the outcome-based instruction would be similar. We would illustrate the objective of the activity, such as diving and catching a ball. We could then have the young athlete try repetitions but make each rep different. This would again encourage the athlete to explore the ranges of their movement and ultimately discover the most efficient patterns on their own.
Parkour as a Donor Sport
While improving at parkour is not the focus of training, it can be used as an effective donor sport for other team or individual sports. The novelty, versatility, scalability, and shared skills involved make this style of training fun for the participant and very useful for the practitioner.Another skill that is not explicitly mentioned, but parkour aptly develops, is force gradation. Simply stated, this is the skill of ‘fine touch’ or how much force should be exerted in a movement. Click To Tweet
Another skill that is not explicitly mentioned, but parkour aptly develops, is force gradation. Simply stated, this is the skill of “fine touch” or how much force should be exerted in a movement. By having to judge distances and jump to, from, and over different sized objects, the development of visuomotor control will be almost impossible to avoid. Ultimately, implementing parkour will augment the process of developing general athleticism, coordination, and proprioception while promoting greater engagement and the desire to continue to participate in physical activity long term, en route to creating more robust athletes.
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