Parkour v Gymnastics. Is there space for both in PE?

I love gymnastics! I loved participating in club level gymnastics as a kid, I loved it in PE lessons as a child in primary and secondary and it’s always one of my favourite sports to watch internationally. I appreciate the different components of fitness used during the different gymnastics events and am in total awe at the complexities of the routines. To me it defines what the Olympics are about and is a reminder (if we need one) at how amazing the human body is.

However, despite all of this, Some students hate it. It is their biggest nightmare during a PE lesson. It is too scary; they are on show and for many they hate the frilly bits that gymnastics has. And it seems for many PE teachers it’s a frightening sport to teach. It comes with risks and they do not like the feeling of losing control.

I am fortunate as a whole school PE teacher to have the opportunity to teach Early Years through to upper secondary. With my gymnastics units I find they work best if the early years students focus on fundamental movement skills and KS1 and KS2 focus on more traditional gymnastics. There is limited apparatus in my school so I focus on developing sequences through methods of travel, ways of jumping, rolling and balancing. I like to progress individual work to pair work and use opportunities for peer assessment and basic video analysis. With my KS2 students I also like to link to acrogym and challenge students using group balances.

However as students move into KS3 and KS4 I do find that the group of students who are excited to do gymnastics becomes much smaller. Students are more self conscious and less interested in the techniques of gymnastics. They want to take risks and get busy but do not seem to like the traditional gymnastics approach.

I read a recent article about the history of gymnastics recently which outlines the changes over the years between gymnastics and parkour and the influence of the military and it seems these sports are continuing to evolve.

Gymnastics Article

With my older students I have increased my emphasis on parkour and freestyle gymnastics. What’s the difference? Personally I think not much but taught well can be presented quite differently to captivate the interest of so many more. It still uses many of the components of fitness, strength, balance, speed. It captures creativity which for me is the most satisfying part of any movement unit, seeing how the student interprets the task whether it be dance, gymnastics, parkour or yoga for example. It still uses apparatus but can be done anywhere. My parkour lessons can be outside or inside and we use whichever equipment is available.

I focus on specific parkour techniques such as the slap landing and safety roll. Both transferable skills to other sports and skills that anyone can start to learn and then progress further. Vaulting is a big part of parkour and I find the students enjoy the challenge. They are able to create sequences also.

So am I on one side or the other, gymnastics or parkour? For me there is a place for both and I intend to keep both in my PE lessons as part of movement units. I like that students can develop slightly different skills from both but define themselves and the sports separately.

Useful Parkour links

Safety Roll

Safety vault

Slap landing

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