Kate Miller is a high school physics teacher in Arlington, VA. She has been with American Parkour for 6 years: for five of those she has helped run the DC Area Women’s Meet Ups which have inspired similar groups across the country to help make parkour more diverse and inviting. Before finding Parkour ,Kate did gymnastics for 20 years, 5 of which were Club Gymnastics at the University of Michigan, which coincidentally has one of the biggest and longest running College Parkour clubs in the country.
What was the most difficult part of transitioning from Gymnastics to Parkour?
Besides learning that I don’t have to point my toes? Who am I kidding? I still do.
I love gymnastics – it holds a special place in my heart. It was such a big part of my childhood and young adulthood. It presented me with physical and mental challenges, required discipline, and above all, it was a lot of fun! In that regard, gymnastics and parkour are quite similar.
The most difficult part of transitioning from gymnastics to parkour was the lack of structure in movement. In gymnastics, I had choreographed routines rehearsed until perfection, whereas parkour often requires you to “go with the flow,” be creative, and link together a variety of movements that make sense for that particular space. This was extremely hard for me to learn, and for a while I would find myself planning out my parkour movements…to a fault! In recent years though, I’ve started to embrace the turn-your-brain-off-and-just-see-what-comes-out mentality. It can actually be really freeing to not know what’s coming next!
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do for APK?
The thing I love most about APK is the community, near and far.
I’m privileged to be part of the DC Area Women’s Parkour community, leading monthly Women’s Meetups alongside some of my closest friends. I can’t believe we’ve been doing Women’s Meetups for five years now! I have watched this community grow from a few interested women to a consistent group of strong, confident traceuses. I’m constantly humbled and inspired by the supportive, inclusive environment I feel when training with my ladies.
Perhaps the most rewarding part I get to play as a leader of Women’s Meetups is to bring a woman who is trying parkour for the first time into our community. Watching her try new things and discover that her abilities exceed her fears is always a gratifying experience.
My hope is that the work APK does inspires more people, men and women alike, to give parkour a try. They might just fall in love with it like I did.
What are some of the areas for improvement you see in parkour coaching based on your experience as a teacher?
I’ve been fortunate to have some really amazing coaches throughout my training. One thing that the best coaches do, in my opinion, is create a culture of inclusivity. There are some really obvious ways of building a welcoming environment, like asking students to pair up with a different partner for various exercises, and there are also more subtle attitude shifts that can aid in this goal.
One of the core beliefs in both my professional life and my parkour training is working toward a “growth mindset.” In education, Carol Dweck’s work on mindset theory and Jo Boaler’s focus on mathematical mindsets have led the way. A person with a growth mindset would believe “with time and effort I can do this,” in contrast to a person with a fixed mindset who might believe “I don’t think I’m talented enough to ever do this.”
In my classroom, when I hear fixed mindset phrases, I ask students to change their words to reflect a growth mindset. For example, a student says “I’ll never be as smart as him” and I ask them to reword to “I’m going to find out what he’s doing and try it.” Or a student says “I can’t do physics” and I ask them to reword to “I’m going to train my brain to do physics and with time and effort I’ll get it.” It’s crazy how such a simple exercise of changing the words students use to describe physics can end up changing their beliefs toward physics, which ultimately allows them to be successful at something they once thought was too hard.
It’s sometimes surprising to me how easy it is for me as a teacher to catch a fixed mindset and redirect it to a growth mindset, yet how difficult it can be as a parkour student to truly embrace a growth mindset. I catch myself saying “I’ll never be able to do that wall run” when I really should be saying “I need to practice my wall runs so one day I can do that one too!”
I would encourage parkour coaches (and students) to become familiar with established ways to encourage, model, and embrace growth mindset in themselves and in others. I truly believe this is the key to a more inclusive physics classroom and parkour community.
What is a change in the world that you want to see Parkour be a part of?
In my opinion, there are three things we as humans should do: 1) be nice to each other, 2) be nice to ourselves, and 3) be nice to our environment. I think parkour has great potential to help us fulfill all three.
When training, remember that you’re a part of a community. Introduce yourself to newbies, help them if they ask, make them feel included. It is your responsibility to help them feel comfortable in trying something new.
When you start comparing yourself to others or get stuck learning a new skill, cut yourself some slack and remind yourself you’ll get there eventually. Practice a growth mindset and embrace the learning process as a valuable experience.
And finally, remember to respect the space in which you train. Pick up some trash to leave the place cleaner than when you got there. Be respectful of muggles, not everyone has the urge to jump on everything in sight.