080. Nikkie Zanevsky: Coaching, inclusivity, and empathy

Episode summary

Nikki 250

When she first learned about parkour back in '06, Nikkie Zanevsky never dreamed it would lead to her quitting her day job and starting her own movement company. Nikkie sits down to reflect on her approach to coaching, structuring classes, and creating an experience for her students. She shares her own methods of learning and growing, and how it impacts her coaching. Nikkie shares her insights on success, inclusivity and gender in parkour, and the importance of starting before you’re ready.

Home and origin

Jersey City vs NYC, what feels like home. Moving very close, continuing community in Jersey City. Favorite part of the city: grit and dirt, Angela Lee Ducksworth book, Grit , inspired by constant movement of the city. Began training parkour in NYC while in college; learning to see opportunity in the amazing architecture in NYC. Fortunate to begin training and playing in NYC.

Parkour and age

Barriers to training for older adults; more psychological / mental barriers for older folks. What people feel they are “allowed” to do. Indoor space for social comfort, field trips outdoors. Watching people’s imaginations ignite with possibility, connecting indoor learning to outdoor spaces. Wildly Fit meant to create an inclusive space for learning parkour for all ages and abilities. Learning from other’s challenges.

Coaching, skills, and knowledge

Giving people what they want, and showing what she thinks they need. Learning from the fitness industry, trying classes, keeping the beginner mindset. Dance as fun and anxiety provoking, learning from her experiences to create a better environment. Incorporating various modalities into her classes, Parkour, mobility, MovNat, Fighting Monkey, etc. Converting experience into material for classes. Distilling to bullet points; how her brain works. What to avoid, how to structure… Writing down notes, coaching journal, reading through. Recurring lessons help to keep things fresh. Recommendation: Take classes outside of parkour; there’s tons to learn, structure, methods, gaining experience, learning people’s general expectations etc


Anecdote; African dance, enjoys learning it, but isn’t good at it. Feeling self conscious when dancing in front of people, trying to sit it out… one fellow student shaming her because of it. But Nikkie was already at her limit; we never know where people are coming from, don’t assume. Make people feel comfortable and welcome


Empathy is at the core of her coaching, but thinks of it as pretending to be other people, understanding where they’re coming from. Formative assessment (from education theory) a way to understand where your students are at. Constant check ins throughout class. Movement and empathy, self empathy. Noticing things, and then acting on them; Parkour teaches empathy through facing failure, at the core of the practice. Preparing students for experiencing failure, a universal experience.

Notes and ways of thinking

Growth mindset and her complicated experience with it. Fear of failure as a kid, initial exposure to education system. Feeling like she has to be prepared, sometimes over prepared. Wanting students to be okay with failure and learn from it, but struggling with that herself. Planning the whole class on an index card, must fit, and keep it with her. Notes to give her the feeling of being prepared. Meta conversation of creating experiences, reading individual people’s needs and making them comfortable.

Coaching and creating experience

Noticing when you do various things, what is the impact on your students? Guiding vs telling, positive language in feedback (“Try this”, rather than “don’t do that”). Words matter, how are you talking with your students? Checking in with each student, how you greet your class. Differences in coaching different groups of people (age, gender, etc) Kids are more interested in answering questions than adults. Adult fear of looking silly, using that in her adult classes. Her classes as experiences, what did people come away with? Adjusting class based on who comes (whether it’s what people like, or helping people to stretch and grow). Coaching to activate everyone in the space, getting them to have fun and collaborate, set them up for success.

Personas and recharging

Something people get wrong about you? Confidence and extraversion; “Turns on” for a big group, her persona is game on, but she’s terrified ahead of time. Power poses TEDx talk by Amy Cuddy. Working with kids and getting into her “cartoon” persona, letting that out, feeling herself… but exhausting. Still somewhere between being an introvert and extravert… need to recharge. Does so by spending time with her pup. But energy replenishment depends; from coaching just by lying down, but mental work by moving.


Prepped for this! Different people for different kinds of success. Business: Justin Taylor and Angel Griffin of Firestorm Freerunning. Ryan Ford and Alan Tran: Ryan for following through and actually achieving exactly what he planned to, having tons of grit. Alan as a quiet, behind-the-scenes leader, of Enso, Art of Retreat, etc. He helps to raise others to positions of leadership, and is a very humble leader.

Inclusivity in parkour

She’s a female practitioner, coach, and business owner, but hasn’t been vocal about it. Her change in attitude around women’s specific events, and how the positives far outweigh the negatives. Fully in support of them. She herself as a coach tends to draw in a more mixed group, gender, age, and race, so hasn’t created any women’s events in her own community. Simply beginner jams instead, creating community and making connections. Events that are beginner friendly and representing all groups, American Rendezvous and Parkour Summit.

Women’s experiences

Comfortable in a training environment. Most horror stories from outside the parkour community. Uncomfortable comments about appearance, being to bulky, or pointing out shin-juries. Presumably a common experience, and potentially a barrier to women training parkour. Other comments, unhelpful compliments from men, can be sleazy. Horror story; street fair stalker, pretended to be interested in parkour in order to get to Nikkie. Ended up needing to go to court to end harassment. Have empathy and be mindful of what women experience, and women, it’s key to push back immediately.

Starting before you’re ready

You’ll never feel ready to start; Just begin when you have enough to begin. You can always ramp up, but don’t get the cert and then never use it. If you know more or can share something with the person/class you’re working with, it’s valuable. Saying “yes” to opportunities when people approach you, and having champions who will help you to do that, advocate for you. Unready vs being fearful, recognizing the difference.


In her 20s, recurring low back issues. Learned importance of daily movement patterns; Learning about the Alexander Technique, helps with posture. Noticing your bodies quirks, how you sit, walk, etc. Strength training also played a role in her recovery. Learning how to work with load to help with safety.

3 words

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Craig: And of course the final question is three words to describe your practice.

Nikki: So number one is longevity. I like this phrase that I once heard, which is, be good to your future self. I really like that because before I heard that I never thought about another me when I’m 70. It’s hard to connect to something that seems far away, but now that I think about it when I’m doing something and I’m not sure if I can do a movement, I think, okay, it doesn’t have to be today. I’m going to be training for the rest of my life so I can wait until tomorrow. I can just take my time to get better at it.

Nikki: Number two is playfulness and this is where my experience with fighting monkey, games, and all kinds of activities that create experiences come in. I think if you could be smiling and laughing while you’re learning something, you’re going to be more likely to remember that thing. I don’t know if there are studies on that.

Craig: [crosstalk 01:23:15] there are. There very well may be.

Nikki: Probably. I know it just makes it more enjoyable for me to teach and I think more enjoyable for people to learn. So I try to teach more through games than through just sets and reps. So definitely playfulness, and I use that in my own practice.

Nikki: And then finally strength. And as I mentioned, that’s something that I didn’t have in my practice in the beginning, to my detriment. And it’s been so helpful to add that now. So while I still love going out and just playing in my environment, I do take dedicated time to work with weights. And whether that’s working with a barbell in the gym, or kettlebells, or being in the forest, picking up rocks, more natural movement style, and then carrying some rocks with me on a hike. Either way, I’m building up the strength that I need to do the thing that I love, which is parkour.

Craig: Well, thank you very much, Nikki. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Nikki: Thank you. The pleasure’s all mine.

Contact and further information

You can find out more about Nikkie and her business, Wildly Fit, on her website, getwildlyfit.com. You can also find her on instagram (@getwildlyfit) and facebook.

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