Physical Education: Contrasting Schools with Parkour

   Picture this, It’s 9th grade gym class. Sweat drips down your forehead as you glance around the room, eyes darting between the other 20 children that look like they would give anything to be anywhere else.  You peel yourself off the gym floor for another set of suicide runs. You think to yourself ‘I hate P.E’. The ear piercing shriek of a gym whistle, and off you go. Is this really the the best form of Physical Education? Physical education is handled differently in every state, county, and school in the U.S, but some themes remain pertinent. For the sake of consistency, throughout this article, we will be specifically referencing PA state standards for HPE (Health and Physical Education). Pennsylvania divides their HPE standards into 5 categories, 3 of which are primarily based on traditional classroom learning about sexual, emotional, and overall health. The other 2 categories are “Physical Activity”, and “Concepts, Principles and Strategies of Movement”, when we refer to the text as a whole, we’re really only referring to the final two sections. You can view the PA “Academic Standards for Health, Safety, and Physical Education” available online here: http://static.pdesas.org/content/documents/Academic_Standards_for_Health_Safety_and_Physical_Education.pdf
The current P.E system in the U.S is ineffective, and could benefit considerably from the introduction of parkour as a base of it’s curriculum.

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   The most striking thing when looking across the PA HPE documents, is the overwhelming presence of verbs such as “Explain”, “Describe”, “Analyze”, and “Evaluate”, contrasted with the severe lack of “Demonstrate”, “Perform”, or anything actually involving physical movement. According to PA state law, children are required to complete 120 hours of health + PE, throughout high school. After running some quick numbers that brings us to about 10 MINUTES per school day, and only 2/5ths of the curriculum is actually focused on any sort of physical activity. The CDC recommends at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity for high school age children.. “Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior).” (CDC, 2018).  Most experts would agree that our current system of P.E is thoroughly flawed, and does not effectively fight obesity, heart disease, and other issues related to lack of exercise.

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   Parkour is infamously known as a high-energy sport with an incredibly high physical skill ceiling, this skill ceiling is nearly unmatched, with the exception of a couple sports including rock climbing. But parkour isn’t just about the elite athletes who soar around on rooftops, far from it actually. Parkour is about creativity, expression, technique, and discipline. Parkour is practiced at ground level, and is only taken to heights after years of training. Basic parkour focuses on safe failing, basic proprioception, and simple athletic motions with little impact. With parkour being a relatively new sport, very few scientific studies have been conducted, but as for the data that has been gathered, most experts agree that parkour is safer than many mainstream sports, especially American Football. Because of the individual aspect of parkour, it is only as dangerous as you make it. With other team and contact sports, you’re often putting your wellbeing in the hands of strangers,. This is an intimidating idea for many people, and can immediately dissuade individuals from participating in traditional physical activity.

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   With an intensely high skill cap, parkour is often times presented by mainstream media as an inherently dangerous discipline, so parkour can be a little intimidating to traditional education structures, such as schools. Luckily we already have some wonderful examples of how successful parkour can be in a school environment. The premiere example is Parkour Generations UK. In 2005 Parkour Generations introduced a program that brings parkour into London primary and secondary schools in a cost effective and safe program that maintains parkour values. The year after this program was introduced, a study was run in the area correlating the introduction of the program and a 39% drop in youth crimes. The year after, a follow up study was done and showed a 69% drop in youth crimes. Along with a drop in crime rate, children who participated in the program showed greatly increased grades, and school attendance. While this may not immediately make sense, giving kids who may not be inclined to traditional school, something to look forward to in their school day is a great incentive to participate in school.

   The U.S schools P.E system is thought of by many professionals as highly ineffective, and underwhelming. It needs a rework, and why not parkour? Parkour is a young sport, that's highly popular  among teenagers and children. Even as we speak FIG (Federation Internationale Gymnastique) is making a desperate, and ill-founded attempt at claiming parkour, because of its incredible popularity, contrasted with gymnastics exponentially decreasing enrollments. Parkour programs in school have been shown to decrease youth crime rates in the immediate area, and increase school attendance and grades. Parkour tends to be much safer than many traditional sports, when practiced properly, and what better way to guarantee safe training methods, then teaching it in schools!