B Learning and coaching the kong vault
Some of the interview themes identified in Figure 4.1 did not directly contribute to the descriptive overview or deterministic model of the kong vault, but provided background information or context to the participants own understanding of the movement. These themes and the data within may still be of interest to coaches, traceurs, or researchers interested in how the kong vault is learnt and coached, and are presently summarised in this chapter.
B.1 Learning sources
The majority of participants taught themselves the kong vault at first, with only three participants receiving any form of coaching as a beginner and one participant learning from members of their parkour community informally. All other participants first tried the movement after only seeing it on video, either as a performance or from a video tutorial on YouTube. The “Tapp Brothers” YouTube channel was the most frequently mentioned video tutorial source. However even when self-taught, all participants further developed with either community guidance or formal coached classes at a later date. Social exchange of guidance for the technique is an important part of how traceurs learn parkour movements:
It’s almost like social, like it sounds funny, but it’s almost like when you train with a group, it almost is like social cohesion, like, everybody has good tech, you know, or you try to have the right tech. And, yeah, I think that it kind of just comes from social understanding within our community. Like, it’s just kind of learned, you visually pick it up.
This social exchange most often occurs in person in local communities, but travel was also particularly referenced as an important way for a traceur to develop:
People maybe outside of your circle was, at least for me, what was the most most valuable thing, because you know, if you’re training with a community, well, the community will start to naturally kind of coalesce, and there’ll be a similar style or a similar thinking that happens in there […] Because people were training together, and they’re sharing those ideas, most of the ideas that get connected, so I think it’s super good, travelling, to learn and share like that.
Although the internet can also facilitate this wider social exchange:
You know, if a lot of people who start now just watch Instagram videos, and if you watch enough Instagram videos of people doing parkour, you can see what those techniques should look like.
B.2 Learning experiences and fear
Participants described a mixed experience of difficulty in learning the kong. Some participants took to the movement immediately, while others found it harder to learn. This disparity of experience was also reflected when discussing the learning journey of students:
I think it depends on the person and kind of your movement history. Because some people have no issue at all learning it. And some people like myself, it took me several years to kind of get used to that, because I really had a problem with diving for it and popping my hips high enough and trusting like my push would be enough.
Trouble learning the kong vault sometimes occurred because of physical difficulties—particularly for female participants as described in Section 4.4—but more often due to mental barriers. Fear of injury was a common factor, with even coaches that did not experience fear in their personal learning journeys still describing it as an issue they frequently had to deal with in students. This was attributed to the unfamiliar, head-first diving nature of the movement, which requires full commitment from the athlete:
You can’t really kind of learn the kongs slowly. I mean, you can practice jumping up onto the obstacle, sort of konging up to it, but actually doing the dive part where your legs follow through and continuing, you know, continuing the flow of movement. You can’t really do in slow motion. You have to, you have a moment of trust.
The need to trust the arms to bear full body weight may also be a new experience for a beginner:
Number one is trusting your arms to take your bodyweight while your hips are above the wall. So you’re essentially in sort of like mid-kicking-up of a handstand position. Where you’re sort of leaning over on your hands, your shoulders are level with your hands. But now you’re kind of jumping up behind you. And a lot of people are worried because if they go a little bit too far, they’re gonna feel like their head, they’re going to go head first. And obviously it’s very understandable, it’s like something that we don’t do very often, unless you’re doing handstands and things. So kind of getting used to that is difficult.
One common coping strategy was to allow only one hand to come away from the obstacle, swinging the legs around the remaining arm instead of remaining fully in the sagittal plane. Keeping a connection to the obstacle in this way provided some security against falling head-first to the floor. When looking to overcome fear in the kong vault, participants most often described learning or coaching the kong vault on an obstacle without a drop on the far side, such as a staircase or very wide block. This variation of the kong vault is sometimes named a “pop-on” or “kong-up” vault. This allows the learner to practise the kong motion, replacing their hands with their feet on the obstacle, without the risk of falling any appreciable distance. Learners can progress this movement by trying to propel themselves further and further beyond their hands until eventually they are travelling a distance that can give them confidence in their ability to clear an obstacle:
Another one I like, instead of going over a box or wall that’s thinner, is trying to work on something that’s a little bit wider and pop your feet as far as you can. Because that really works the push, and that works well for most people once they can get their feet on top of the box, and then get the feeling of the push, they’ll start to really get that and doing that before they have to worry about getting over I think helps a lot. Because then you’re less concerned about what your feet are doing because you can see, oh I’m getting them pretty far, further than the width of this little box or wall is, now that I can get over.
The kong-up drill can be performed with many regressions or progressions to aid in technique, strength, or mobility development as required, such as focusing on raising the hips or getting only a single leg onto the obstacle. The kong motion can also be drilled on the ground, but this was mentioned as more of a physical drill, aiding less with mental barriers. Once a traceur is comfortable clearing an obstacle with the kong vault—usually obtained through large amounts of repetition—further skill development then becomes a process of refinement and challenge, increasing variables such as speed, obstacle height, or dive distance.
B.3 Coach development and technique guidelines
When transitioning into coaching, nearly all participants described undergoing a necessary updating of their methods to accommodate a wider variety of learners. They would not disregard their own method of learning the kong vault entirely, but expand and improve upon it. This development occurred in exchanges with other coaches or traceurs throughout their coaching career—the “social milieu” described by Stoszkowski and Collins (2016)—but was also often simply a result of experience and experimentation:
I would say it mostly developed when I first started classes, and then it came back around more into a conversation topic when I started coaching and had to teach it again. I would watch people who were learning, I’d watch them go through the vault, and then break it down with the other people who wanted to learn.
Participants described the lack of coaching guidelines for the kong vault—and parkour in general—as a potential issue as the sport gains greater mainstream appeal. While the general parkour coaching community appears to have mostly converged on basic drills for kong vault instruction—such as the pop-on movement described in Section B.2—the finer points of technique or the exact adjustments an individual student may need to make are left to individual coach judgement:
Every so often you get like a difference of what needs to be fixed between two coaches, and one student. So say, for instance, me and one of my co-workers would be working with a student on their kong vault. And, you know, I could say, Oh, you need to go back to your progressions, you need to learn about how to get your speed or get your hips up. And then my coworker could say, No, you just need more speed, you know, sometimes it just differs on what we’re seeing how we’re seeing it.
When asked, participants were open to the idea of coaching guidelines for parkour movement being created, with the caveat that they would be guidelines, not rules. Individual variation and diverse practise mean that guidelines would not be able to encompass all learning journeys for parkour techniques fully, but could provide generic guidance to aid in ensuring student health and safety in parkour classes, particularly for less experienced coaches:
You know, I think if you’re new to coaching, or even if you’re an experienced coach but you’re just looking to draw on other resources, if you want to experiment with a new way of coaching, or maybe you’ve run into kind of a difficult point with, you know, teaching it to a certain group or a certain person, then yeah, I think that would be beneficial. I can’t see any reason that it would be a negative thing, really, except if it attempts to sort of proclaim a proper way of teaching. And that’s something that very sort of, I would be appalled at actually you know, if someone were to say, Okay, this is the way to teach, and you cannot teach it any other way. This is the proper way. That’s that goes against the entire spirit of parkour. Right, that goes against, you know, all of the all of the foundations of the discipline. So that would be very upsetting for me to see that, you know, yeah. I think just an opening. Here’s some ways to teach it. Some ideas, some practices. Yeah, that would benefit everybody.
The kong vault was mostly self-taught amongst study participants but later refined with formal or informal guidance from other traceurs. Social exchanges alongside personal experience and experimentation are believed to strongly contribute to a traceurs development of their technique and coaching styles. Mental barriers such as fear of injury are common when learning the kong, and some universal drills appear to have become established in the parkour coaching community to help combat these fears alongside physical skill development. Parkour coaches are open to the idea of coaching guidelines, provided they are intended to aid rather than prescribe coaching methods. These details provide context to the general overview of the kong vault (see Section 4.1) and deterministic model (see Section 4.2) proposed in this study, in particular in positioning the kong vault—and parkour techniques in general—as both communally defined yet intensely personal in their understanding and execution.