When we don´t let them vote for our governments but encourage them to throw double flips from 2,5m height.
At the recent “Air Wipp Challenge”(see the end of the article for more info) I witnessed the finals of the youth aged 11 – 15 and the female only (age 14+) competition. It is no secret that I am opposed to competitions for a variety of reasons but I can accept that parts of the global parkour / freerunning community like to compete and support competitions.
What I refuse to accept though and what I want to openly discuss right now is the youth format that was done in this year’s Air Wipp Challenge.
The PRESSURE on each “athlete” in a competition set up is high. There is a huge live crowd, even more people watching via live stream, cameras and the wish to perform and show what you are capable of. These ingredients form a dangerous mix. Seasoned competitors and athletes with experience handle these stressors one way or the other. I doubt that a child can do that though.
Another aspect is THE COURSE itself which consists of various obstacles, big and small gaps, drops and a few bar set ups. Faced towards the crowd like in a stadium and divided into 3 to four descending levels so every move is visible. On this course adults flip over gaps, do lache pres in 2m height and go to their physical limits in terms of distance and drops. A few moments later and in the same setup, with no known regulations, the organizers suddenly let a bunch of 11-15 year olds go crazy on that course. No doubt the youth is highly skilled BUT that´s exactly the problem. When a 11-15 year old is allowed to go all out on a double flip and has to cope with the same heights the adults have to cope with something is very wrong. Why do we assume a child in that age can take full responsibility over potential consequences of their actions IN A COMPETITION SET UP with such a high pressure?
The last concern I want to throw in is that children in that age are still growing. Exposure to high impact is bad for their health. Yet the course is the same as for the adults.
Solutions – Suggestions
Following my thoughts on the age problem the Air Wipp Challenge in my opinion neglects, I have tried to come up with suggestions on how to handle it.
- No competition in that age group at all – That would be my favorite but I am aware this won´t happen. Children performing sick moves for a big crowd is just too tempting a marketing opportunity to let go.
- Different course for this age group – Along with the third suggestion varying the course would be the most practical solution I guess. Less height on the obstacles, smaller gaps and smaller drops would make a start. Of course this will totally change the way on what is physically possible in terms of tricks and movement, but I think the main aim of a competition for the youth should not lie in expanding the boundaries of the physical possible.
- Limitations on high risk movements – In many sports there are strict regulations on the type of movement that is allowed for the youth. In Jiu Jitsu certain throws and levers are strictly forbidden till you are grown. In gymnastics certain moves have been banned at all for being too dangerous. For parkour and freerunning youth competitions we should introduce similar limitations for the sake of safety and health. I am no expert in flips and tricks, but here are 2 suggestions: no double flips and no double rotations; no jumps above a certain height, let´s say 1 metre. Radical? Not really.
The consequence of suggestion 2 and 3 is that the focus of the judging shifts. From indirectly rewarding high risk behaviour to actively supporting the other judgement criterias like flow and execution. And that´s what we should teach as well. First land your tricks nicely, chain them together, and then start increasing difficulty. That´s the message behind this.
It sounds stupid to demand certain regulations when we always propagate the freedom of parkour and freerunning, but please don´t forget: when you decide to support competition there are rules that go along with it. Competition means rules, rules are a limitation to total freedom (of movement) let alone for the only reason that this movement has to be judged. So regulations are the logical consequence.
The age problem extends btw. from the youth format into the female only format where competitors aged 14+ are allowed. Also: the adult men’s format starts age 16. The question raised in my head was why we don´t expect our youth to make the right decision when voting for our governments but trust them with making the right decision in a high pressure competition environment?
The AirWippChallenge is a annual parkour and freerunning competition currently taking place in Helsingborg Sweden. The youth competition might not take place for the first time, but it is the first time I witnessed it.