How to Run a Non-Competitive Parkour Event
Run a Parkour Event
Understanding the options you have when managing a parkour event can have benefits for both the client and the community. In recent years parkour has grown massively and will continue to do so. Whether you regard it as a sport, an art form, lifestyle, philosophy, performance skill or all of the aforementioned we have benefited as a community by finding more than one way to share it. As a result, we ultimately receive it in many different ways too.
Often these come in two categories;
- Activities that primarily benefit the participant – jams, classes, seminars, and gatherings.
- Activities that primarily benefit the viewer – computer games, tv, performances, and competitions.
When approached to run a parkour competition we began by contacting community leaders for feedback. Expectantly we quickly found that running a competition would be extremely divisive and needed to come up with a solution. We decided to attempt including every activity in category 1 and the live elements from category 2. Our goal was to create something that would benefit the community, satisfy an audience and fulfill our client’s aims.
These requirements gave us three distinct challenges;
- Running a parkour event for an audience without making it competitive.
- Creating a spectator event that benefits the community.
- Presenting classes and jams to a crowd.
Parkour Speed Runs
A speed run is an event that is about pure efficiency. Tantalizing even for traceurs on the traditional side of the spectrum it presents a beautifully clear challenge – get from A to B to C and so on as fast as you can. The measurement used to test your efficiency is time and that time is compared to others in order to decide who the winner is. However, it is not the measurement that makes it a competition it’s the comparison. In order to remove the competitive element of the event, we chose to shift that comparison to something more useful.
Here is how we did it;
- The route was completed in groups as a relay. When one finished the next person went and so on until the whole group had finished.
- Each groups time was added and everyone went again. The challenge was to beat the combined times.
- Between attempts, groups would be told there group time and individually there own time. It was then the group/individuals choice whether or not to share that.
This method worked really well from both a participant and spectator perspective. Each group was interacted with differently. For the audience, our MC was instructed to focus on athlete Saskia Neville – Saskia set the route and provided a display run for the audience to understand the challenge. Then after the first attempt from each group they were asked to shift the focus to the challenge of beating the overall time. The group runs would last around 2-3 minutes apiece with 5 athletes completing the run in each group. This was a good length which worked well for our audience.
The participants were able to get behind each other and provided a nice platform for people to get on a stage for the first time. They wouldn’t have to do it alone and they were doing it for the group rather than themselves. Techniques were shared, everyone cheered on each other and practitioners who may not have had the chance to do the speed run in front of an audience (due to anti-competition views) were able to participate.
Community Parkour Jam
A community jam in many ways is performative by nature. From the behaviors we display to the techniques we drill a jam is laden with performance potential. If we did a durational performance (a show lasting many hours) though it may have only appealed to other traceurs or performance art enthusiasts. The variables we needed to work with to make this section enjoyable to an audience was staging, intensity and time.
The stage was designed to include as much space for movement as possible whilst maintaining clear sightlines for the viewer and the jam was broken up throughout the day in shorter intense bursts. These bursts were 3 x 30-minute sessions throughout the day with the odd 10-minute one thrown in for good measure during an event transition. Each burst was high energy which was really enjoyable to watch as well as participate in.
What was really special was how well the jam sections communicated to the audience aspects of the practice that is otherwise rarely shared during live parkour performances. They got to see someone break a jump, fall and get back up, group learning and how everyone’s achievements are celebrated. Regardless of the level when you see someone try something, again and again, you share in the elation they feel when they get it.
Parkour Competition Runs
We started off by renaming this event to performance runs rather than competition runs. Using the word performance communicated a lot of aspects of what makes competitions so exciting without the competitive elements. The participants wouldn’t be going up against each other but it was clear to them that the run was a chance for them to show what they can do and try new ideas.
Similarly to what was done with the speed runs, we invited an athlete to open section. Pip Anderson went first in order to demonstrate to the audience along with the MC what was coming next. From there the rest of the athletes had the chance to do a run of there own.
- Runs can last anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes.
- You can do it on your own or at the same time as someone else.
- There are no categories, anyone can enter.
The mix included traceurs who had competed before and traceurs who would never enter a competition. As a result, we got to see a huge variety of styles and stages of development.
Parkour Chase Tag
Out of all the events we subverted for the event tag gave us the most difficulties. Initially, we wanted to make it team vs team, as it felt as far as we could go pacify the competitive elements. Our idea was that we could focus on creating a more chilled atmosphere by having people play against each other at random.
In the rules set were;
- Each team has a set time to catch as many as the can on the opposite team.
- Those caught during the time are eliminated.
- The game ends when everyone from one team is eliminated.
Although this is clearly still competitive we combated this by giving everyone at least 2-3 games. So odds were they got the chance to be part of both outcomes and the sheer volume of matches made who was the winner or the loser less of a thing.
Compared to the other sections of the day tag took a lot of on the spot tweaking to get right. At first, we used way too many people on each team. Then we had to keep on reducing the time to until we hit the sweet spot (10 seconds). Our best match format we found through trial and error was;
- 2 v 2
- Rock paper scissors to decide who starts as chaser or evader.
- 10 seconds before reset and role swap.
- The game ends when everyone from one team is eliminated.
It was fun but also a bit hectic at times. If any of you reading were at the event or have ideas on how we can improve this let us know. Careful though during our research we found that some people have taken steps to trademark and put patents on the tag… but that tin of worms requires another day and another blog.
More and more we are seeing weekend-long jams, competitions and training experiences overtake structured training days/weekends. We decided that those who would benefit the most from would be people who came to watch the event. During our class section, we taught over 100 people with the vast majority having never done parkour before.
The children would be watched by their parents – some joined in. Others would be cheered on by there mates. Some simply took the chance to stand back and watch a session before having the courage to step up and give it a go. What felt like it was going to be a very flat section for an audience ended up being the most enjoyable part of the day for some – particularly families. Coming at the mid-point of the day it also gave an opportunity for the audience to invest more in the activity before watching the live performance which came after.
We had a team of athletes perform twice throughout the event, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The morning performance set the tone for the day; motivating the participants, inspiring audience members to give parkour a go and providing a spectacle. The afternoon performance provided a spark of energy and excitement for everyone.
The benefits of having a live performance include entertaining the crowd, inspiring future traceurs and setting aspirations for some already practicing. To be honest all the benefits are really clear for everyone but the performers themselves.
What is in it for them?
Why would they do it?
The answer to this varies greatly from event to event but when you treat your performers right you can benefit them and the wider community greatly.
How you do this is to pay your athletes to do things and not to win. For this event, our partners have approached us with a prize pool we could use to entice athletes along. They were very receptive to the communities needs and instead let us use the money to pay athletes to demonstrate, coach and perform – with leftover money used to support others travel.
It is integral to consider what influence extrinsic rewards have on an athlete’s performance in any given sport and where they are located in reference to intrinsic rewards. Thus, rightly so, parkour practitioners ought to have concern regarding competition solely on the basis of extrinsic rewards. - Philosophy of Sport: International Perspectives – Alun Hardman and Carwyn Jones
The options available to elite athletes to generate income is limited. So when we took away the competitive aspect we looked at other ways to provide work opportunities for the athletes. A community event should be about supporting members from entry-level to elite practitioner.
Don’t Say No to Running a Parkour Competition
At least, not at first. Say yes, sit down with the client, understand there aims and propose alternatives that will benefit the community more without undermining their objectives. You can always back out if that doesn’t work or pass the job onto someone else. Unfortunately, when it comes to parkour, a precedent has been set by other urban sports – skateboarding, BMX, rollerblading, etc.
If you consider that the clients may be coming from an outside perspective – likely influenced by competitions in other urban sports and the fact they are the prevalent choice for spectacle – you begin to sympathize with the fact they may just not know any better. Outright dismissing these options cause these events to end up in the wrong hands.
Sometimes we have to become part of what is dominant in culture in order to change it.
It is our opinion at Ukemi that non-competitive events benefit the community more. They are more inclusive and can carry the same work opportunities that a competitive event can have. At the end of the day though no one owns movement, you can do whatever the fuck you wanna do.