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Nikkie: For me, my favorite part of coaching is activating everyone in the space to work with each other and to learn from each other, but I feel like I can do that better if I know something about each of the people and how to activate that.
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine. Welcome to the Movers Mindset podcast, where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. This is episode 80, Nikkie Zanevsky, Coaching, Inclusivity and Empathy. 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 and parkour, and the importance of starting before you’re ready. Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Nikkie: And I’m Nikkie Zanevsky.
Craig: Nikkie Zanevsky is the owner of Wildly Fit, her New York City-based movement coaching and team building company, and was previously a co-founder of The Movement Creative. She brings together her experience with various movement systems including parkour, MovNat, Fighting Monkey, mobility training and strength training in her events and classes. Nikkie is passionate about incorporating play into fitness while expanding the way adults are allowed to move. Welcome, Nikkie.
Nikkie: I’m excited to be here, Craig.
Craig: Nikkie, I think of all the few people that I’ve had the chance to interview, you’re the person that it wound up being the hardest to actually get you to sit down and let me point a microphone at you. So I want to be mindful of how nice it is for you to actually take the time. I know you’re very busy and you’ve got a lot going on and you’ve recently moved and your business is expanding.
Craig: So, first of all, I want to say thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with us and talk, and I don’t start with a preconceived notion of all the places we want to go. So the first question I have is, I know that you’ve recently moved back to New York City, so it’s, I guess, a normally cold, I thought it was pretty cold, but a normally cold New York City day. What are your thoughts about when you’re now back out on the city streets? Does it just feel like you’re back home or does home still feel like someplace else?
Nikkie: Well, first of all, thank you guys for coming out here. I really appreciate it. I know how hard scheduling can be with all these people all over the country. For me, well I’ve been living in Jersey City for 10 years now, and before that, I was in New York. So really, it’s as close as, I don’t know, Denver and Boulder, or the suburbs and the city, so it’s not that far. I definitely, even though I was born in the USSR, I think of New York City as my home because this is where I’ve lived the longest part of my life. So it feels normal to be here, but it also doesn’t feel like I’ve moved that far because Jersey City is only half an hour away. And I do still have my community of classes and students right across the water, and that’s still staying.
Craig: What’s your favorite part of New York City? Favorite thing about it?
Nikkie: Oh, man. I feel like I’ve been in love with the gritty and dirty … You hear my dog in the background?
Craig: Actually, I’m sorry, I don’t actually want to talk to you, I want to play with your dog, but the dog is going for a walk and I’m like, “Oh.” Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Nikkie: I’ve been in love with the grittiness and the dirty part of New York City forever, which is kind of weird because that’s not the nicest part of it, but I just love that … So first of all, I love that word and I love Angela Lee Duckworth’s book, Grit, on that.
Craig: I haven’t read the book, sorry.
Nikkie: Well, it’s basically all about perseverance and passion and how those two things together, when you have those two things together, you can be really focused on your goal and you’ll be more likely to succeed, as compared to just having one or the other, just perseverance or just passion for your thing. And yeah, for sure, being in New York, I think the thing that inspires me is that people around you are always moving, whether it’s in pursuit of their passion or-
Craig: Or their taxi, right?
Nikkie: Or they’re just busy. But actually, I remember in school learning about this psychological study that they did on ants. And they had some ants be somewhere where they could see other ants working and other ants couldn’t see anyone else working, so they’re just doing their own thing. And the ants who could see other ants being productive actually ended up being more productive. And I think to me, that’s probably how I feel about the city. You see all of these other people doing their thing, so you’re like, “Oh, shoot. Well they’re all going somewhere and so I’m going to keep going with my thing.”
Craig: I don’t live in an urban center, but there are people out on the sidewalks, and people walk a little faster here. And I’ve heard these truisms for 30 or 40 years. I’ve heard these truisms about New York City, about life moves at a faster pace and things are more dense. And part of the reason why I’m choosing to do New York City here at the start is there are a lot of people who may not have ever been to New York City. I kind of lose sight of the fact that I live in Pennsylvania, it’s two hours, depending where I’m going in the city, but it is really close. So I’ll go to the city, it’s like no big deal.
Craig: But people who have never been to a city the size of New York City, there’s a certain grit to it and I think this is a good opportunity. I’m like, “Oh, Nikkie, this would be a good opportunity to talk about New York City because you’ve been in it for a long time and then you took, we’ll call it a break.” We had a little discussion and we’re taking a break and now I’m back. So I think that’s interesting to hear your ideas about what makes New York unique, and that makes me want to ask, you’ve been doing parkour for 12 years, let’s say, or so?
Nikkie: Yeah, 12, 13.
Craig: 12, 13 years. And did you start here in New York City? Is it the first, “I want to jump on stuff,” happened in the city? Because I’m wondering not so much, I mean I love origin stories, but what I’m interested in is, how do you think having started in New York City colored your parkour experience and colored the kind of practitioner you became and now how you teach?
Nikkie: Yeah, I definitely started here. I was in college here and living on a beautiful campus. There’s so much really interesting architecture here in New York City, both modern and a little bit more classical. And at that time when I found parkour, I was traveling somewhere outside of my campus to learn all the techniques. And when I came back one day I was walking back to my dorm and I suddenly looked up and looked at everything around me and it was like, “Whoa, hold on. This amazing landscape has been here the whole time and I can do so much more with it now and now I see it.” So for sure I think I feel very fortunate to have been able to start training in New York City and then put on my parkour glasses, and then have all of these new play spaces to interact with. And I always, when I travel, I like to look at the scaffolding wherever I go. Scaffolding is one of my favorite structures to play on. And New York City scaffolding is still my favorite.
Craig: I would like to thank whoever had gotten a time machine and talked them into putting parkour scaffolding all over the whole city. Thank you very much. It’s everywhere.
Craig: And this bubblegum hazard though, but other than that, yeah.
Nikkie: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Do you have more you want to say there? Because the next question I was going to ask is, everybody loves to talk about getting people who are older to try parkour. And on one hand where I live it’s like, “Well, good luck finding a curb.” But in New York City, if you walked on a random block, there aren’t a lot of parkour spots. I mean, you can do parkour anywhere. You can QM to uptown, but there aren’t a lot of spots and you still have to go and find sanctuary or go and find scoops or something. And I’m just wondering, do you think there’s anything about New York’s, we’ll call this like a high density of spots? Do you think that gives you an edge into getting older people to engage? Or are old people everywhere just completely blind to the opportunity?
Nikkie: I have so much to say on older people and parkour, so I’m really glad you asked this question. I think there are a lot of barriers for those who are older to trying parkour, and while having environments to train in is one of them, I think the biggest one is psychological and social. So I think I’m going to take your question in a slightly different direction.
Craig: Go anywhere you want. Completely ignore my question.
Nikkie: And actually with my classes and the team building events that I plan, getting older adults to feel comfortable enough to try parkour is my number one goal. I love working with all age groups. I’ve worked with people from age three to folks in their sixties and seventies and while I enjoy sharing movement with everyone, I think what I particularly enjoy about working with older adults is that a lot of times they may have gotten into these situations where just through living in society longer, they have more notions of what is allowed for someone of their age, of their gender, of their race, of someone who lives in a certain space or operates in certain ways. So I love helping them get out of these, what they’re allowed to do.
Nikkie: Yeah, shells. And when I see them being able to climb, or even, let’s start with the most basic. A lot of times I actually teach my classes in indoor spaces because I think that helps people take that social aspect of feeling silly or feeling uncomfortable or not wanting someone to watch them as they’re learning this really new or strange thing. Let’s take that out of the equation. We learn indoors and then I call them field trips. We go on field trips and then we apply what we learned outside. And I see the light in people’s eyes just go off and the things that we were working on with balance trainers, I see them noticing, “Wait, there’s a curb. I can do it here.” Or, “There’s a little fence. I could do it here.”
Nikkie: And I just find myself nodding and smiling. I’m like, “Yes, yes, exactly.” I want them to see it and find it, and I think, so for me, I love having in New York City there are so many indoor spaces that you can rent. I think of myself as a squatter, so I rent space out of other people’s gyms and I’ve been very fortunate to find gyms who are willing to collaborate with me, including dance studios and CrossFit gyms who are like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this.”
Craig: Whatever, Nikkie, here’s an hour.
Nikkie: Exactly. And so in their spaces I could set up these environments that mirror what we could see outdoors and then bring my students outdoors and have them kind of discover things for themselves. Actually, I mean I would love to talk more about older people and parkour, if you don’t mind.
Craig: You can talk about older people and parkour.
Nikkie: In my classes right now, one of my most dedicated students is 55 and she’s been training with me for two years and some of my other students, my average age is from folks in their twenties to fifties I would say. And I just love, my intention with starting Wildly Fit was always to create a space where adults who may not feel comfortable in a traditional parkour environment or traditional parkour gym maybe because they feel like they’re older or they can’t do as much.
Craig: Yeah, gyms are tough, right?
Nikkie: Yeah, I want to create a space where they won’t feel like the odd one out and they will feel like, “Okay, this is a space for me. There are other people like me here.” And I’m just happy that we have a community where there are people. Sometimes I have some people bring their kids to class and then I have my 50-year-old students in the same class. So we have an age difference of 40 years in one class and it’s totally fine.
Craig: Three different generations.
Nikkie: Yeah. And I think everyone’s seeing what different people find challenging is always so helpful and so enlightening for all of us. In every class I start with a circuit that builds strength and endurance before we get into the technical skills. And I always include pushing, pulling, and some kind of hinge or squat movement and usually some kind of quadrupedal, and I always ask what was the hardest thing for you. And when people hear what everyone says, I think the people who are older and maybe even the 10-year-olds, they see, “Oh, everyone is having trouble with pulling.” Pulling is always … Upper body pulling strength is the hardest thing for I would say 90% of the students.
Craig: As average humans, you don’t do that.
Nikkie: Right, right, exactly. Average human is stuck in what I call the T-Rex position sitting at the desk, so we’re all very good at having our hands in front of us, directly in front of us, but not necessarily overhead.
Craig: Nikkie, it strikes me that you’ve had a lot of experience in, I’m going to say different modalities, and what I mean is it’s one thing to wind up being the person who’s pretty good at it and teaching a small parkour class and there’s not a lot of challenges that these people want to do it. They’re drawn to it. And then the modality of the kind of things that the movement creative focuses on, which is really like, “Hey, we’re going to teach you parkour, but that’s on the down low. We’re actually going to teach you community and movement, which is a really good way to do it.”
Craig: And that is a completely different … You engineer the courses and the material definitely. And then you’ve gone and done straight up personal training and straight up team building. These are very different ways to interact with students. There are going to be very different kinds of students who work in different environments. And I feel like there should be something in there. I’m wondering how did you get the skills and the knowledge that you would need to be able to chameleon yourself in those different modes?
Nikkie: So I like to think about it as I would like to start with giving people what they want and then show them what I think they need and help them fall in love with the thing I think they need. So in my classes or I structure my classes, first of all, based on looking at the fitness industry overall and looking at what our students or team-building participants expecting of an event and then kind of what’s popular but what’s missing out there? So as part of that, I like to actually attend other studios’ classes and I try to dabble in things that I have no business dabbling in. So I think of always keeping that beginner mindset. So for example, I love dance, but I find it really anxiety provoking to be in a dance class. And I think that’s exactly why I should go to one.
Nikkie: That is how a lot of people feel when they come to a parkour class. They may be interested, intrigued, but they think they have two left feet and they have no business being there. And that’s exactly why I go to dance classes, struggle through it, and then come back and think, “How could I create an environment where someone who feels like me will feel comfortable trying parkour?” So with different modalities, some of them, as I mentioned, I try just to see what it’s like to be uncomfortable being a beginner. And then other ones I try because I think that they’re very complimentary to parkour and I have included them in my own practice and I’ve incorporated them in the things that I teach. So for example, my classes are definitely a mix of parkour, MovNat, playful games and experiences I’ve learned from fighting monkey and mobility training.
Nikkie: So I have several different mobility certifications that help me work with people who really want to have an awesome, let’s say climb up or an awesome jump, but they have mobility restrictions that we need to work on first so they don’t mess themselves up. And for me particularly learning about traditional strength training has been the most helpful thing for conditioning all of my students and then helping myself with conditioning. So I’m trying to get back to your exact question.
Craig: I think you actually covered it because I was … The challenge is always deciding whether to stop you when I see another path. But I was going to ask, so you told me exactly what I wanted to know. You said, “I do this and I do this and I do that,” and then you mentioned that you then go back and try to figure out what you can take away from that awkward experience or that challenging experience and then fit it in and I was going to say, “Okay, how exactly do you do that?” In other words, if you take the subway, do you write it down on the way home or do you sit … How do you convert an experience that you just had into tactical stuff that you can apply to your classes? Literally how you do that.
Nikkie: So I think in bullet points, and I know you like to ask your guests sometimes to tell you a story and I was thinking about that and I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s anxiety provoking.” I feel like-
Craig: Is there a story you want to share?
Nikkie: No, no. I feel like I am not good at telling stories but I am good at distilling things to bullet points. So I worked in marketing for 10 years before doing this and think of it as those articles that are like, “The top 10 ways to blah, blah, blah. You’ll never believe number seven.”
Craig: That’s correct.
Nikkie: So my mind is like-
Craig: Honed to that mode of dilution or distillation.
Nikkie: Yeah. So every time I go to a class I am priming myself to be ready for it. What are the things that I enjoy most about this experience? And how can I distill that to things I can do as a coach? And then what are the things that make me feel uncomfortable, whether it’s the space, the way the coach interacts with me, the way the other students interact. And then I distill that to what do I need to avoid or how do I need to structure my space in coaching to make sure that nobody experiences that? And actually, I do have a story related to that.
Craig: Let’s [inaudible 00:17:33] dog with a bone. What do you do with those bullet points? So you walk out of the studio and your bullet list is already congealing in your head. Where does it go? And then how do you keep going? So now you have this bullet list in your head. Then do you have a journal? Do you write it?
Nikkie: I do write things down. A lot of my notes are analog. I have these amazing erasable pens.
Craig: I wasn’t going to pick on the pen. I was going to point out that writing things down is actually neurologically important. Typing on … It’s a different thing. What you do when you write is a certain neurological process that’s very important. So you do write them down. And then how do you … Do you review it? Do you review it quarterly? What’s the process for, how do you … Because in my world if I write it down, okay that’s nice, but then I forget about it. So how do you then pull that back into your head and combine it with the rest of your notes?
Nikkie: So I do have my coaching book and that’s where I have all of my learning. So I review that. I take that with me on the train. So in between classes or going from event to event, I’ll flip through that and just remind myself of those things. But honestly I think most of the things are recurring lessons that show up in different ways. So for example, it would be as a coach, what do you do? As I mentioned like as the coach with your environment and then with how you set up your community with how your students interact with new folks. So it’s really just three main things of how you can make people feel comfortable. And so once I put things into those categories, it’s very easy to remember. So it’s not like let’s say a hundred different lessons. It’s basically three different lessons, but just a reminder, don’t do this, do that. Does that make sense?
Craig: It makes perfect sense. And I think it’s a very important … If I would’ve had to guess, I don’t know if I’d come up with the three part of it, but that would be the type of process that I would have guessed where because I’ve seen enough coaches who they teach a lesson and then they interact with students afterwards and then if you’re paying close attention, 45 minutes later, you will find them with a cup of coffee tucked out of the way somewhere with a little book. So there seems to be a recurring … That seems to be something that the human beings have figured out over time and each person individually, some people learn it intentionally as part of the coaching process. But I wanted to unpack it because I think it’s important for people, I’m not a coach, but for people who are coaches who are listening to understand that, “Okay, if you’re doing that, great, keep doing it. It’s super important. Nobody else is doing it. If you’re not doing it, that’s something you might want to consider.”
Nikkie: I think that the recommendation that I have for all parkour coaches is to take classes outside of parkour. I think that’s my biggest takeaway because it’s helpful to see other people coaching exactly the thing you coach, but I remember somebody saying at an art of retreat years ago, “Parkour is not special,” and there are lots of ways to unpack that phrase but I think looking at it as we teach people to move better and we have classes that are designed to be for certain age groups. Let’s say we have classes for adults. Adults who are going into parkour classes may have had experience with strength training, yoga, a lot of let’s say dance, martial arts. I think it’s helpful for all of us as coaches to attend all of those classes and see what are those other experiences that these people are coming with and also what are their expectations of what a class is like, of what a coach is like?
Nikkie: And it’s been incredibly helpful for me to see the structure of different classes in the strength training world and I’ve taken a lot actually away from that. So for example, the way that I think of conditioning now with always including am I creating a balance of pushing, pulling, hinge, squat, single leg strength, that kind of thing. I got that from strength training and if I never took classes outside of parkour, I wouldn’t necessarily look at it the same way.
Craig: A minute ago you and I were dancing around the storytelling part, so it sounds to me like you were actually about to tell a story there when we were talking. So is there a story that you want to share that we can pry out of you?
Nikkie: Yeah, actually. So let’s call it an anecdote. It’s not much of a story, but this is related to being a beginner and being in a class where I’m not comfortable. I love African dance. I love the music. I love the dancing. I am terrible at it, but I really enjoy it. I enjoy learning it. And I took a whole semester of it in college, then hadn’t done it for a while and went to a class with a friend and I noticed that the instructor was my instructor from college, so I was super excited about this. I was having the-
Nikkie: Was my instructor from college. So I was super excited about this. I was having the best time in this class. It was just reminding me of all the things I loved about it. Even though I am still really not good. And most of the class, the whole group is working at the same time. And I was in the back because that’s where I felt comfortable. I didn’t really want to be too close to the mirror. And at the end, the instructor asked people to be in groups of two or three and to do the dance across the whole room. I just sank back into the shadows and I was like, “I’m just going to be here. Because I had a good time and I’m not going to ruin it with feeling on the spot.”
Nikkie: And a student in that class who have never met before, came up to me and nudged me and said, “Hey, you should really get out there.” And I said, “No, thank you. I’m good. Today, I’m good.” And she says, “Well, if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never learn. And you’ll never get better. And that’s no way to live.” And I actually … I burst out crying. That doesn’t happen to me very often. I was really angry. And I was angry because she … I understand that she was coming from a very good place. She wanted to help me out. But she didn’t know what it took for me to even get there. That I was already pushing myself. So the fact that I showed up to this class and I still felt uncomfortable throughout the whole thing with me not being as good as others. That was already me being at my limit. And for her to say that I’m not pushing myself was really, I guess, offensive to me.
Nikkie: So that experience just helped me think about, “Okay, how do I prepare my community of students who have been training for a while to make other people feel welcome?” And I think as a coach, I just try to make sure that people understand that something that is comfortable or not comfortable for you, is going to be different from what’s comfortable and not comfortable for other people. So all we do is support each other. We don’t try to assume things about others.
Craig: I think a couple of places so far here we’ve come really close to talking about empathy. And now I’m going to go with there was somebody in that story who didn’t understand that you miss the empathy, [inaudible 00:24:14]. They were handing it out, you weren’t there. And I’m wondering, do you ever think about empathy as a tool that you … and she’s nodding vigorously, deciding to stop talking. Do you think about empathy? Do you practice empathy? What are your thoughts on empathy?
Nikkie: It’s interesting. I definitely … I think empathy is at the core of my coaching practice, but I don’t call it that. I think about it as trying to get out of my skin and get into other people’s shoes. Just for me, it’s pretending to be other people. I guess that’s empathy, trying to understand what it’s like to be them. Or what are all of the things that they’re dealing with. For sure, yeah, I just never thought about it as that word.
Craig: The word stapled to it isn’t so important as how does that play out for you? So that thing that you … whatever you call it internally. How do you use it? How do you practice it? How would you suggest other people learn it or practice it?
Nikkie: The way that … I think that there are two things that I’m thinking about. So one is in my coaching practice, I use something called formative assessment or formative instructional practice. It’s something I learned from education theory when I worked for 10 years in an education company. And I was actually in charge of marketing our professional development products for teachers. So this coaching, how do you become a better teacher? How do you basically understand where all of your students are at? In a large classroom, you just shared something and you need to figure out, “Okay, how many of them are on the same page with me right now? But I don’t want to give a test.”
Nikkie: So to me that’s what I’m always doing. And so for instance, if I just shared a new skill, I will do something where it’s actually easier with a movement than with teaching anything else. Because you can quickly ask a question and have people do something and you could see if they get it. So basically it’s constant check-ins throughout the class and that’s what helps me see-
Craig: Actually what I was just thinking was, “Whoa, wait a minute.” Because I’ve always had this idea that parkour, in particular, but even just movement practices in general. That the act of my learning it teaches me something about empathy. And it’s never really clear to me where that’s come from. But I think the fact that you were saying that it’s particularly easy for a coach to practice empathy and apply it. Because movement makes it easy to see. And I’m like, “Oh, does that also mean that if I am the mover and I am not even paying attention to the coach. If I am moving. And if I am doing that to myself by doing these simple like, you need to make a jump or you don’t. You smash your shins or you don’t. You can do the push up or not.” That’s actually a form of practicing self empathy. Which I bet has a word other than that. And then does that mean that I’m automatically priming myself for being emphatic toward others? That was the train of thought that I had.
Craig: That face that I made was like, “You know what? It might just be that there’s something inherent about movement which teaches humans in general to learn empathy.” And then there’s the special case of the coach learning it to apply it on others and random practitioner learning it.
Nikkie: Mind blown.
Craig: I didn’t mean to do that, but that was just where my mind went. Because that’s what has been very interesting to me is what is it about moving practice, parkour, [inaudible 00:05:32], free running that seems to be so good at priming people for personal growth. And I have some ideas about that, but I’m just wondering what … let’s go there for a second. What are your ideas about … if you agree with that idea. What is it about it that makes it so prime for that?
Nikkie: Well, I think I agree that it is. But I think it’s the difference between, as you said, with being a coach and let’s say attending other people’s classes and noticing what you like or don’t like. And then making a note in your notebook. Versus just noticing that and then not doing anything with it. So yes, I think parkour is great for personal growth and great for potentially helping you build empathy. But you have to notice that, be mindful of it and then apply it.
Nikkie: And the reason why I think it is good for that is because you are constantly faced with opportunities to fail. You’re constantly failing. And I think through failing and through going through the good and the bad of that experience. You can definitely become more empathetic with other people going through tough things and dealing with failure and overcoming that and moving on, for sure.
Craig: Now this is where we’re just like, “I’m just thinking out loud.” It might be that because I have gone through the experience, it is obvious to me, “Oh you’re going through the same experience. Because I hit my shit on that last week, I know exactly what’s going on over there.” It might be that part of this is the physical experience is easier to read remotely. So it’s easier to play connect the … it’s called the theory of other minds. It’s easier to play the connect the dots for the other mind. I’m always interested in talking about that.
Nikkie: But you made me think about also just that idea that we are constantly going through those experience where we are failing. And if you don’t do parkour, if you are involved in other things. I think it does happen in strength training because you’re increasing your weight and then you will get to a point of failure. And then you say, “Not today. That’s going to be for next time.”
Nikkie: But I think in some disciplines you don’t have to get to the point of failure. So I think in ours, it is at the core. In order to take your training to the next level, you have to go through this really sucky experience. And I think as coaches, helping people develop a growth mindset. And back to what you were talking about earlier, grittiness is essential. Because if we as coaches don’t prepare people for that. If we don’t tell them, “Hey, by the way, you should be expecting this. But failure is okay and it’s going to help us get better.” Then they can know that it’s coming. And I think be better prepared and better able to move on.
Nikkie: As opposed to if somebody new comes to a parkour class and they are working on jumps and they see everyone around them who’s been there for longer, doing much bigger jumps. And they feel that feeling of failure and what they want to accomplish that day. If we as coaches don’t prepare them for that, they may feel, “Okay, this is not for me. I’m not good at it.” But if they know, “Oh, okay. Everyone feels this way.” Then they’ll feel like, “Okay, cool. That’s fine. This is expected.”
Craig: This is part of the journey.
Craig: I love you to death but you have a lot of notes. And I’m wondering if you have figured out that the way the conversation works … and I don’t usually set people up with a lot before interviews. Because the conversations don’t work like outlines. And that’s fine because when I see someone with notes I’m like, “Awesome, this person has a lot that they really want to say. And all I have to do is just … it’s two person beach volleyball. I set, you spike. All I have to do is find things that set anywhere you want to go. And you will just grab the ball, spike it and then go on your merry way.”
Craig: And one of the things that I’m wondering is, you clearly, you’ve talked about this. You work in bullet points, you work in outlines and that’s a really good way to distill things down. And I’m wondering if you’ve had any insights into your own thought process now that I’ve basically forced you to have like an open conversation with recording equipment. And then you’re like torn between just engaging with me and like notes be damned. Or whether you want to try and keep one hand on the, “I can still reach the safety of my notes.” I’m wondering if doing this conversation has illuminated anything about your thought process or the way that you work or take notes?
Nikkie: Yes. So actually I think this goes to my own very complicated relationship with growth mindset. And if this were a therapy session, I would say-
Craig: I need therapy.
Nikkie: I would say it goes back to my own initial experience with education. And my own not wanting to fail. So I think we talked a lot about … or I mentioned how as a coach it’s very important for me to help students understand that failure is okay. Failure is part of the process and we all have to do it to learn. But looking deep into my dark history from elementary school onwards, I think I was met with the … just being a good student, I often heard things like, “You’re so smart.” Or, “You’re so good at this.” And that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to say to students if you want them to develop a growth mindset.
Nikkie: So I for sure … I think this will be something I’m working on my whole life. Just getting out of my own head. And getting out of feeling like I have to be over prepared and have like the perfect structure to the interview or the perfect structure to a class.
Craig: But you don’t feel the urge to be over … sorry, sorry. Tripped over my own tongue. You don’t feel the urge to be over prepared, you feel the urge to be prepared. Because there’s a difference there.
Nikkie: Sure. So I feel the urge to be prepared. But I think it’s also the way I want my students to feel is not always how I feel. And while I’ve become more okay with failing and progressing and movement. I think in other parts of my life it’s harder. So just wanting to be the A student, wanting to get the good grade, wanting to get like the good interview. It’s definitely a struggle.
Craig: Do you have any siblings? I’m just curious. Do you have older brothers, younger brothers?
Nikkie: No. But I mean, I have half siblings and step siblings. I love them, but we didn’t grow up together. So it’s just a slightly different dynamic.
Craig: I’m just curious. Like my dad was a very different person from me, but he had an older sister. So I’m like, “I think I needed an older sister. I really needed an older sister.” And anything else … I didn’t mean to cut you off there. But anything else that strikes you about that? So now that we’re maybe halfway through or so. Anything you’re thinking, “You know what? Notes be damned, let’s talk about.” Because sometimes it’s fun just to go have a conversation.
Nikkie: Yeah. Well actually you’re making me think with the notes. One thing that I do as part of my coaching practice, I always make sure that whatever I’m doing that day. Whether it’s a team building event or a class. I have to have the whole thing on an index card. And I try not to look at it throughout the class, but it has to fit on a card. And I have to have it with me. So it’s my fallback plan. If my mind goes blank, if something goes wrong, if I forget. I like having that in my back pocket. So I definitely cling to my notes. But it’s part of what makes me feel prepared. And I think sometimes just knowing my hand grazes my pocket and I’m like, “My notes are still there. Cool. I can go on with this.”
Craig: That’s good.
Nikkie: My secrets are out.
Craig: The secrets are out. Well nobody’s going to hear this. Nobody listens to the … so the perfect opportunity here is, so you’ve talked earlier. You talked about how coach needs to be mindful of the space, the experience their creating for the students. So I’m not a coach here, but I’m creating a space for … it’s not a student, for a guest, a visitor. So what are your thoughts on how I’m doing? I don’t mean tell me I’m awesome.
Nikkie: Let’s go meta.
Craig: I mean like … so let’s go meta. What are your thoughts on, “Well, I really don’t like the fact that you did this.” Or “Now that I think about it, you did that and that.” I’m just like wondering what your thoughts are. Like how could I do a better job?
Nikkie: Wow, you want to do this on air? All right, let’s go. I think one thing that I really like that you do is before we get started, we’re just talking. And this is … in my marketing days, when I worked with someone on the media team. We were interviewing people and when he would notice that somebody was really stressed out and we would have a green screen behind them, it would be a video interview. Which is a little more stressful, I think. And I remember one person, her eyes started twitching. And instead of recording, he just started talking to her about her favorite restaurant, her favorite food, whatever it was. And I noticed how she calmed down and I was like, “That is brilliant. It’s a strategy.”
Nikkie: And I think, I don’t know, I’m assuming you do have the same strategy. But yes, yes, yes. So Craig is smiling and laughing, it’s definitely his strategy. So as you were setting up-
Craig: What happened 45 minutes … it was about an hour ago now. Do you remember what actually happened on the exchange? So we came up the West Side Expressway up the [inaudible 00:36:20] and I’m driving and I’m navigating. But Melissa was texting you. And there was a conversation like, “Would you like to have a cup of coffee before we start recording?” And we had already picked out, I had a coffee shop in mind two days ago. I’ve had guests where they get really nervous in the process. And if you were coming to me, this wouldn’t all be set up. It would all be laying in a big mess. And then I can decide, “Should I set it up? Or you’re not ready for it? Oh we need to go for coffee and then come back.”
Nikkie: And that’s so smart.
Craig: But I really wasn’t fishing for compliments and I’m wondering is like what are the things that have made you uncomfortable? If you’re willing to [inaudible 00:36:49]. Maybe you’ve hid them and nobody has noticed. But I’m interested both in personally getting better at that and we do that after we press stop. But I’m interested in revealing to people since we’ve been talking about in the context of coaching. Let’s reveal a little bit in the context of interviewing.
Nikkie: So one thing I think is … so I like that you pointed that out. That different people need different things. So some people would like to go for coffee and other people would probably feel more anxiety about that. Like, “Let’s just get started.” The let’s get this over with. I want to go first person. So I love that you do tailor it to different personalities, I think that’s great.
Nikkie: One other thing in that vein is I think maybe looking at … so me, someone who prefers notes. Versus other people who would prefer more of a fluid back and forth conversation, not thinking too far ahead about the topics. It seems like you’re someone who would like to have more of that fluid conversation. So the question is what else can you do? So someone with notes, how can you make them more comfortable? So for me, knowing some of the questions that you’d ask in advance would make me so comfortable.
Craig: The meta here that nobody else knows is that we don’t send lists of questions in advance. So we do communicate in advance by email for two years. And I think the challenge for me is always, if I send you a question, then I’ve polluted the well. That’s the big challenge. So we usually try to avoid sending questions.
Craig: Sometimes people actually press us for what do you want to talk about? And the thing that I always forget and need to remember sometimes is that some people have things they don’t want to talk about. And they want to make sure that that’s not what I want to talk about. So that’s a really good point is sending questions ahead. For different kinds of people, would really be helpful for them.
Nikkie: Or not necessarily questions but maybe topics. And if you don’t want to pollute the well, I think if you ask the interviewees for their topics. Let’s say their top three or top five, just to keep it really simple. And if you know that those are topics they feel comfortable talking about, then you could lead with those. So for someone who is anxious about being interviewed, starting with something they feel very comfortable talking about. And then leading into things, kind of letting the conversation blossom from there.
Craig: Right. Reveal. Because I do that, but it wasn’t revealed to you before we started.
Craig: That’s a good point. For people who are listening like, okay, that’s enough about interviewing. Let’s talk about something that the people listening care about. So going back to coaching, are there things that do not … this is me, just fishing. Are there things that you see coaches do that they … like, “Please stop doing the following.” And then pass the dog when you’re done petting.
Nikkie: Yeah. For those of you, the behind the scenes is that there’s a dog here now and we’re all petting her.
Nikkie: So I feel like it’d be presumptuous for me to say, “Well this is what I see coaches doing. This is what I want them to stop doing.” I would actually rather reframe it to say, “Notice when you do this. How does that have an impact on the students?” As a coach, I guess this goes to the answer to your question. It’s always best not to tell people exactly what to do, but to help them figure it out on their own.
Nikkie: So if I say to someone … let me rephrase it differently. So if someone is always telling people, “Don’t put your foot there. Don’t do that.” So that’s one thing, I don’t think is a great idea to be negative in your feedback. I think it’s better to say, “One thing that would be helpful here is to move your feet this way. Or notice when you placed your foot this way versus this way, how that feels. And how one may be more comfortable than the other.” So if I saw coach being negative with their feedback all the time, I wouldn’t tell them, “Hey, don’t be negative with your feedback.”
Craig: Well played, well played.
Nikkie: I would say, “Hey, tell me more about how you think about giving feedback to your students.” And then when they’d share that, I would say, “Okay. Have you noticed when you share your feedback in a more positive or negative way, how that affects what they do next?” So there are lots of other things like that. The most important thing, I think, is what are the words that you’re using with your students? The words matter. And how you share your feedback can impact somebody’s full experience.
Nikkie: So then the other thing is just in general as a coach, checking in with every student. Again, I don’t want to say like, “This is what I see people doing wrong.” But more as a question, “Do you find when you’re leading a class or workshop or a team building event. Have you had a meaningful interaction with every participant?” That’ll be a good question to ask yourself. And it could be before the class, it could be during, it could be after. Just shaking everybody’s hand or giving a high five. I think that makes a huge difference for people.
Craig: Riffing off that idea of like what good coaches would be doing. Do you find that there are differences that you can pin down between the different genders and the different age brackets? Like my suspicion is kids of a certain age, it needs to be competitive. That’s how they’re motivated, that’s how their world work. And there’s nothing wrong with that if you can keep the competition a healthy one. But I’m just wondering if there’s any insights that jumped to mind if I ask you like, “Okay, that’s a big picture of a coach. But now what about young girls, old guys, women versus men?” Like if you just start to peel that apart in different dimensions, are there anything that jumps out at you as key points?
Nikkie: So let me clarify, you’re saying what are the differences in terms of coaching those different age groups?
Craig: Yes, yes. If any. I’m putting words in your mouth.
Nikkie: No, no, that’s a good question. I think the biggest difference that I noticed between kids versus adults is that kids are more used to, I think, and more interested in questions throughout the class. So let’s say for example, in a kid’s class, if I want to teach them a step vault. I would say, “All right, you guys watch this. And I want you to notice what I do with my hand and my foot.” And I do a step fault and I do it again. And I say, “Okay, what did you notice? Was it the same side hand and foot? Or the opposite side hand and foot?” And everybody loves to answer that. So if they think that they have to raise their hands, everybody’s jumping up and down, they want to answer. Or if they think they could just shout it out-
Craig: Shout it out, they all shout.
Nikkie: Everyone shuts it out. When I do the same thing in an adult class, I think because adults haven’t been in that kind of learning environment in a long time where they’re asked questions. Think about it, the college lecture course. You sit there, you take your notes and you take your tests and you’re done. People are reticent to answer questions. And nobody wants to feel silly in being wrong. I think there’s this whole, the big adult fear of feeling silly. And I think from my experience, I don’t want to stereotype. But from my experience I find that even more so with women just from speaking to them and being a woman myself. You don’t want to look silly doing something.
Nikkie: But I like to actually play with that. So going back to the difference between kids and adults with asking questions, I like to include a little bit of that in my adult class-
Nikkie: … questions. I like to include a little bit of that in my adult classes, because it is very important for the class to be interactive, and it’s not me giving information and them taking it, but I want them to feel like they’re participants and it’s an experience. I think of everything I do as every class, every team building event, is an experience. What is the experience that every single person here came away with? And after class, sometimes I think about getting into, “Okay, this person, what was their whole day like?” Or, “This person, what was their whole day like, and where did this class fit into their day?”
Nikkie: So as part of that experience, I want to include at least one question where I ask them something and they may not have known the answer, they had to think about it, and maybe feel a little bit uncomfortable. But even if I didn’t put them on the spot to answer, I want them to remember what it was like to have that curiosity and want to answer the teacher’s questions.
Craig: My little inadvertent chuckle was because you know what people love to ask me if I go to a parkour event? People love to point to me and ask me to define parkour.
Nikkie: What? Really?
Craig: It happens everywhere I go and I’m just like, “Oh God, you want like the short answer or the Craig answer?”
Nikkie: So you mean this is when everyone’s standing in a circle and the coach would point to you?
Craig: Yeah. Like you go to a class, and in the beginner class they always went through, “Let’s talk about where parkour comes from or [Aute de Vesmont 00:01:12].” Somebody or the coach will always eventually go, Craig, “How do you define parkour?” I’m so like, “No, no, I don’t want to go there because it’s hard. It’s just as hard for me to define it as this for everybody else.” But somehow for some reason maybe because I’ll give an interview, so I don’t know. People think that I should have the answer. I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Nikkie: Or maybe they think that you want to share it because you’re always the one talking with different people so they think, “Oh, Craig would love this.”
Craig: To me, I’m trying to hide. I’m like, the problem is Craig talks too much. What other thoughts you have on that?
Nikkie: Actually that reminded me, in parkour classes we often get everyone together in a circle for gym rotations and then for cool-down. I have always liked that. To me that’s part of what makes it feel like a community and everyone gets to know each other and it’s not coach in the front.
Nikkie: Everyone somewhere else. However, and this is why I love hearing from different people who are totally different from me, one of my friends told me, “I freaking hate the circle. It is the worst experience of my life as an introvert, I don’t want anybody to ask me questions. This is some dumb team building stuff.” And my jaw dropped and I had known him for years, I didn’t realize this is how he felt and it changed the way that I do circles now and I think this is also maybe a difference. Well I don’t think actually this is a difference between kids and adults and it’s a difference between maybe introverts and extroverts and being mindful of the fact that not everyone wants to answer a silly question at the beginning of class is important.
Craig: I have heard that. There is a person I can think of specifically who has, I’ve heard them say in answer to the mandatory feedback, I’ve heard them say, “I dislike mandatory feedback.” That is a great answer.
Nikkie: I love it because as a community of parkour people we’re generally nonconformists, right? We’re already doing something that’s weird and different so it’s good to hear from someone who doesn’t even want to conform to the circle. The circle is the conformity part of parkour.
Craig: It is uniform. It is a uniform shape. It’s not even a random shape.
Nikkie: But I think I really liked your question of how as a coach you do need to adjust to working with different groups. And I like to think about it as adjusting to working with different people, different individuals. So whereas I made some generalizations about kids versus adults are introverts versus extroverts. A lot of times I really do think about every single person who’s coming to class. And I tell my students always RSVP and even though I have my curriculum and what I’ve planned for the day, I will 100% adjust my class plan based on who’s coming.
Craig: For who’s there.
Nikkie: And for example, you mentioned earlier about let’s say kids wanting a more competitive environment traditionally or adults, maybe less so. I know which of my students like being competitive, which are my students like being collaborative. So based on who’s coming into class, I will structure it differently. And it’s not always pandering to what they like, but it’s trying to think, okay, if I start with the competitive game, three of these 12 people are going to feel really uncomfortable. So let’s start with a collaborative game and then throw in the competitive game at the end. That kind of things. And I do, as we talked about, I do personal training as well. That’s like the ultimate one-on-one where you’re focusing on one person. And even though I enjoy that, I actually really enjoy taking aspects of that in a group environment. So for me my favorite part of coaching is activating everyone in the space to work with each other and to learn from each other.
Nikkie: But I feel like I can do that better if I know something about each of the people and how to activate that. So it’s like, I don’t want to say puppet master, because that sounds really devious and that is killing the whole point. But I think about it as like just unleashing them upon the space and I’m like, “Muah, ha ha ha, yes they are now collaborating and they are competing.” And I could see how that that person is now smiling and this person who’s usually not comfortable with groups, they’re working with one to two people to start with and then they’re going to work with five and then they’re going to work with 10 and they’re going to be fine.
Craig: I think that’s a terrific sign and we were talking before about empathy. I think that is empathy in spades.
Nikkie: I want to start using that word more now. I’m like, yes, yes.
Craig: I can always throw out…I say things like, “That’s like empathy in spades.” And then I go, "I wonder if everybody knows about pinochle and that that’s where that is. Because what’s with spades? Well, spades as a card suit that trumps the others. Anyway, turn signal, left turn.
Craig: What’s something that you think that people get wrong about you?
Craig: That’s the turn signal.
Nikkie: Oh my God. Okay, I know. I don’t want to share it.
Craig: No, I’m not digging for dirt. Like I’m just accepting that you would be willing to share that.
Nikkie: No, no. People think I’m a confident person because I do love working with giant groups. And when I get out into a giant group, I turn on my giant group coaching personality. This is similar to something Brandy has shared, also.
Craig: I was thinking the same thing.
Nikkie: And when… Oh, there’s a dog behind you. [crosstalk 00:50:31].
Craig: The struggle is real.
Nikkie: And while I love that, and when I see the group and there’s like 30, 50, 60 people coming out, I am petrified, I am sweating bullets. I need to have a drink, but then when I know that it’s my turn to go up there and lead the group, I’m like-
Craig: Game on.
Nikkie: Game on, I’m going to do this. It’s going to be fricking awesome and I can’t fail. And there’s this talk by Amy Cuddy on power poses. Have you heard about it?
Nikkie: So it was a Ted talk. And some people say that the science behind it is not necessarily sound, but the idea, I love this idea that she shared. That if you’re not feeling confident, maybe before whatever you have to do, go into the bathroom, put your hands on your hips or raise your fists up and just getting your body into that pose, you will feel more confident. There were actually studies done that I learned about in my psych classes. This one is a little bit weird. If you’re not feeling happy, you can put a pencil between your teeth. This is so weird. And it kind of gets your mouth into almost a smile.
Craig: It makes you pull the facial, right?
Nikkie: Even though you have a really weird, awkward smile. And just by doing that you will feel more happy because the idea is like where do emotions come from? Emotions usually elicit certain body positions, but if you get into the body position first, maybe that will elicit that emotion. So I think for me, people don’t know that I have to, I think, psych myself up to be the confident leader of the group. But when I’m there, I love it. Another thing related to that, I love working with kids and when I am leading a group of kids, I have an even more… Like my personality gets even bigger and I become basically a cartoon.
Nikkie: This is something my close friends and family tell me, they’re like, “Why are you overacting? Like why are you overacting that emotion?” I’m like, “No, no, that’s just me.” So sometimes when I’m really excited, like I’ll be giddy in a way that cartoons behave.
Craig: You’re talking you’re that way normally or you put that on for kids?
Nikkie: Like I’ll do that normally. Like you see, I have a lot of expressions with my hands while I talk.
Craig: When you’re not nervous as expletive, yes.
Nikkie: Yeah. And in general I feel like maybe I could bring that out more when I’m among children. I don’t feel judged for my weird cartoony personality.
Nikkie: I’m like, “I can be my cartoon self!” But, I love that, and when I work with kids I feel even more myself than usual, but I am so exhausted. So bringing that out or being fully on like that, I think I start talking more like a cartoon. Like, “All right! Now we’re going to do this!” When I come home I just need to lie down. So I think that’s another thing. So people who meet me, maybe they think I’m an extrovert because of the way that I act. But I think it’s like right in the middle between extroversion, introversion. I definitely need to replenish my energy stories after all that.
Craig: So, what are your go-tos for energy replenishment? I’m going to guess the first one is Wolfie. I’m a little distracted the moment cause the dog was on the sofa behind me and then I got poked in the back and now I’m busy.
Nikkie: So Wolfie, for those of you who can’t see her, she’s my Husky and mascot. So, if you’ve ever seen the Wildly Fit logo? It’s her face. Yes, so actually we only adopted her right before, the month before I started Wildly Fit. So going on walks with her and just spending time with her has been a way for me to kind of distress, get out of my head. But I think for replenishing my energy, it depends on what I’m replenishing from. If I’m replenishing from coaching, it is just lying down. Lying down and not moving. But if I’m replenishing from something else, that was a lot of mental work, it’s definitely moving. So I have never been someone who’s been able to meditate. So when I do get anxious and people tell me, you should really meditate, that gives me anxiety thinking about meditation. It gives me anxiety. I’m like, “No, no, I can’t.” I can’t sit there and try to be mindful and focused. So for me, even just walking, mindful walking or mindful moving through an environment, that’s what makes me feel calm. And I think of it as moving meditation. That works for me.
Craig: That’s a thing, yes.
Craig: who’s the first person you think of when I say successful?
Nikkie: I knew you were going to ask this question.
Craig: Oh wow, okay.
Nikkie: I prepared. I listened to-
Craig: Well then, that’s no fun. But you can tell me. Keep going.
Nikkie: Oh, you don’t want to know the answer?
Craig: No, keep going, keep going.
Nikkie: So I think of several different people and I think for each of them, I would define what I think that they’re successful in. So when I think successful in business, I think Justin Taylor and Angel Griffin from Firestorm. I think that they’re just this amazing parkour power couple and anyone who hasn’t heard of Firestorm should go check it out. I love how I love both of them, the energy level, and the information that they share, and how they’ve built their business to be something that’s thriving and working for kids and adults in their community. And they both are very passionate about what they do. So from business perspective, definitely them. And then the other two people who come to mind are Ryan Ford and Allen Tran. So…
Nikkie: Craig is peeking over at my notes.
Craig: Sorry, I just leaned over and realized, she has it written down.
Nikkie: In my notes, I have the word successful question mark?
Craig: I’m sorry, I [crosstalk 00:56:22] didn’t mean to derail you. Normally I can keep that to myself. I was like, “Holy crap!”
Nikkie: So Ryan was someone I met in 2008 when we were part of an event together. And he told me at that time what he wanted to do with his business and he freaking did it. How many years later now? So 12 years later, he had ideas back then that he was able to bring to fruition. And to me that is the perfect example of grit and knowing everything he’s had to go through with his gym in Boulder and it’s not an easy journey, but the fact that he was able to go through all the hardships and still accomplish dreams that he had so long ago. I’m amazed by that.
Nikkie: And then Alan Tran is someone who, I think of him as this quiet behind the scenes leader and he’s been involved with art for treat for a long time and a lot of other national and international efforts. And he runs his own community in North Carolina, Enso Movement, and he’s someone who I see being very successful in building up other people to be leaders and being able to manage things behind the scenes in a way that doesn’t seem like he’s not overly showy. He’s not like, “I did this.” But then when you get to know Alan, when you talk to him you’re like, “Oh yeah-”
Craig: You did that.
Nikkie: You did that. You did all of that, and so all of these people who I’ve mentioned, I look at different aspects of their leadership and those are leadership qualities that I value.
Craig: I think I’ve already said at least once in this interview I’m asking all these questions and driving and I always feel like I wish that I could let the guests direct their own conversation more, but that’s kind of like an oxymoron conversation has to be two sided. But I’m just wondering, are there things that we’ve gotten close to, little trains of thought that you had but then didn’t bother to grab onto it, because you think like, Oh Craig, will come back. And there any of those trains of thought that we started talking about age and we start talking about gender a little bit and we’ve talked a lot about coaching, but any little trains of thought that you saw that went by?
Nikkie: Yeah, we talked about, like you said, gender just a little bit so maybe we can delve into that a little bit more. And I specifically wanted to talk about this because even though I am a female business owner and parkour female coach, I don’t do a lot of things that are specifically focused on women. And in the community I haven’t been someone who’s been very vocal about women’s issues. So I thought it is something I do want to share and touch on. When women’s jams first started, I was one of the people sitting there thinking, “Oh this is a terrible idea. We’re self segregating ourselves. No, we need to be seen. We need to be normalized. We just needs to be part of the group.” And my attitude has completely shifted after I attended those events, so I really wanted to share that so that other women maybe who feel the same can hear that idea and if they’ve never been to a women’s jam to really consider it.
Craig: Right. Because why? What was it about? I read that in that interview that you did with Sasha and I’ve thought, well that’s really good. Now tell me why.
Nikkie: I think all of the downsides of having events that are separated by gender, so the self segregation for example, the fact that all of these women are getting together and training and men are not seeing that, so they’re not seeing that there is this whole other side to the community. The danger of that is that people still think that it is a men’s only discipline. However, the positives I think far outweigh the dangers and that’s what I ended up seeing going to these events. It made me feel… Just the first one that I went to coming there and then just rounding the corner and seeing a ton of women dressed the way that I dress. Doing the things that I’m doing, it felt very validating.
Nikkie: Whereas normally I think at having started training in 2006 I was often in spaces where I would be the only woman, especially in the first few years. And I was okay with that. I never felt uncomfortable. I mean, most of the time I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but I always felt like, okay, I’m going to go find my own challenge here as opposed to I’m going to be right in the middle of the group doing the same challenge as everyone else. And I think being in the middle of the group and doing the things that everyone else is doing is an experience that everyone deserves in a community that they’re part of. So that’s why I do like the idea of women’s events. For me personally in my community… So, yes, this is how I feel about women’s events now, I’m fully in support.
Nikkie: So I think every woman should try to go to at least one. However, in my own community, as a female coach, I noticed that I do draw in a more mixed group and whatever it is, whether women feel more comfortable to train with me because I’m a woman or my marketing just shows more images of women and men all ages, all races. I have a great mixed group so I actually in my community have not created women’s events and the reason for that is that I just have a lot of beginners and people who are older.
Nikkie: So I see that as similar to a woman’s gym existing to help a certain minority feel more comfortable in my community, I just have jams for people who are new to parkour, adults who are new to parkour, and creating that space where they are doing things that other people are doing at their level I think is serving the same purpose, whether they’re men or women. At least those who I work with in their 40s and 50s they are starting at a similar level. So I think seeing other people who are like them, even if they’re not the same gender, that is just as helpful. Does that make sense?
Craig: Yes, it makes perfect sense and I had a distracting thought, which was maybe what the parkour communities need in general is not women’s jams. Maybe they need beginner jams, because my brain went, “Nobody’s going to have a beginner jam because who would organize it? The beginners aren’t going to organize it themselves.” It means you have to organize a jam and then not invite all the people that you would want to invite to a jam that you would want to go to. Somebody go run that experiment. That might be an interesting thing to do, would be to figure out, it seems like the community that you’re personally in charge of, your community, doesn’t need a jam separated by male versus female. It needed a jam based on beginner, based on level, and I go, “Well maybe that’s actually what’s missing.”
Nikkie: I actually think that there are two communities that do a great job with that. So with American Rendezvous, even though that’s not a beginner jam, it’s a jam where there all levels including beginners.
Nikkie: So I think that’s a great starting point. And for some people that could actually be more helpful because if you are not sure what level you’re at, you go to a jam like that, you see other people training and you’re like, “Oh I thought I was a beginner but actually I could level up a little bit.” Or someone who thought they were at a higher level, maybe they’ll see, “Okay, I need a little bit of work on the basics.” [crosstalk 01:03:54] So I thought that that event did a great job at creating a space that was comfortable for all levels and where you could be with your group for some things, but you could be with everyone for other things.
Nikkie: And I love that. And actually I’ve seen that also with how the National Women’s Jam has evolved where you start working in a group of women and then for the final day some men join. So I think that’s the perfect balance. And then the other event where I’ve seen that work well is with Alan Tran’s event, Summit, run by Enso Movement, similar to Rendezvous, it was an event where there were all groups participating and just the way that he has fostered that community, I’d have to talk to him more about it, or maybe you could talk to him more about what he did, but there were so many beginners who felt comfortable coming out and trying new things and people who maybe normally do something else that’s adjacent to parkour, like hand balancing. He has a whole group of people who do hand balancing who also come to the gym and try parkour and they felt comfortable.
Nikkie: So I think the answer is if some communities feel like, “Oh, we don’t know if we want to do a beginner jam.” I think it’s can you create space for beginners to be comfortable in your overall jam and can you create a space for them to come together, but then also opportunities for them to mingle with everyone else.
Craig: So Nikki, all through the interview I’ve been thinking, okay, one of the things I want to get to is I want to talk about… I generally don’t like to interview people and say, “Okay, you’re a woman, let’s talk about X.” But there is always the unique opportunity. You’re a woman. Let’s talk about X. I want to know what sucks about being a woman in training and parkour. I want to know if you’re willing to share a horror story related to being a woman in parkour and any other horrible things that I didn’t think of that don’t fit in those two categories?
Nikkie: Yes. So as I mentioned earlier, in a training environment, most of the times I’ve always felt comfortable. So I know other women have talked about the unsolicited advice, the typical things that would happen. For me, the times I’ve been uncomfortable have been all precipitated by things that have to do with people outside-
Nikkie: All precipitated by things that have to do with people outside the parkour community, men and women. But I think it’s important to mention because it can help people who aren’t women to understand what kinds of things women deal with.
Nikkie: So most of the comments that have made me feel uncomfortable have been related to appearance. And when I started training, building muscle, I started to get a lot of unsolicited comments that I could never have expected that people I don’t know would make to me.
Craig: For example?
Nikkie: Yeah. The first one, this is just a few years into training, this store that I would walk into to get my groceries, the clerk says to me, “You really should stop doing strength training. You’re getting really too bulky.”
Craig: Male or female clerk?
Nikkie: Female. Jaw drops. I don’t know if you have those experiences where you wish you had a good comeback and you were like, “Damn it,” in that moment I had nothing. I was just so astounded that a woman would tell me that. Or in general, just like, “Why do you care?” And for me, and I think for a lot of people who train parkour, it’s not about the visual, we just want to be able to do cool shit. I don’t know if I’m allowed to curse.
Craig: No, absolutely not. You cannot say shit on the podcast. That’s an explicit word.
Nikkie: And I’ve never really cared what my muscles looked like. I don’t think negatively or positively about it, it’s like I can do this thing. But the fact that other people were noticing it and making negative comments on it, I was like, “Wow, the way that women are portrayed in the media is really getting to you to the point where not only are you policing yourself, you’re policing me.”
Craig: I’m now going to ask you, give me some information about the person who said this. Had you ever had a conversation with her? Did you know her at all? Just random checkout person?
Nikkie: Never. Just a checkout person I would see. I had seen her for a year.
Craig: So she’s probably seen you before, okay.
Nikkie: Yeah. So she saw that I had more muscle now and she thought it important to tell me that it was too much.
Craig: That it was too much. You may have encountered somebody who may have actually liked you and may have not liked the way that her projection of what she liked about you would have been changing. So, that’s another possibility.
Nikkie: Maybe. Whatever it was-
Craig: I’m not trying to play down, I’m not trying to say that’s not a good example. I’m just saying that’s interesting. I’m just picking it apart a little bit.
Nikkie: Then another thing was, I was wearing a skirt and I was vaulting over some structure and this older man told me, “You should stop playing soccer because you have a lot of bruises on your shins.” We all know about shin injuries. And I just love that this woman assumed I was doing strength training. This guy assumed I was playing soccer. First of all, why are you assuming? Second of all, I don’t need your advice. Those things-
Craig: What’s wrong with bruises on my shin? [inaudible 00:02:48].
Nikkie: It made me laugh and I actually, with him, again, I’m not good with comebacks on the spot. So I just cursed him out and he told me I was being disrespectful, I was like, “Hold up. I’m being disrespectful.” And then the other thing-
Craig: The good comeback there is, “Yes, stop interrupting me with the obvious things which I’m trying to do, which is be disrespectful, anyway, shut up, old fart.”
Nikkie: And I’m sure that women in the parkour community just have had those experiences quite a bit. And I think the takeaway that I want people to know, especially people who aren’t women, is part of what can make it harder for adult women to get into parkour, is this kind of thing.
Nikkie: So growing up with certain expectations of your gender and then when you start training, you will get some bruises and scrapes and your skin of your hands is going to get a little bit rougher. And while I don’t care about that, I think depending on how you grew up or what kind of environment you live in, it may be harder for you to deal with that.
Nikkie: So I just, going back to empathy, I think for other people to know that women deal with that, they can have more empathy for that experience. And then actually other comments that I’ve heard I think are the other side of the coin where men think that they’re giving women compliments but these compliments are not helpful.
Craig: Let alone the desired.
Nikkie: So an example of that is, I’ve actually had situations where I was working one on one with a guy, private training for parkour. He left and there had been these construction guys who were watching our session. They came up to me afterwards and they said, “You’re really good at this. You’re better than that guy.” They were complimenting me, but it was really sleazy and uncomfortable. And I think just this is the other side of the coin that I want people to know about is on the one hand women don’t want to hear what you think about their body, that they’ve been training too much and they’re too scarred up. And then on the other hand your sleazy complements are not welcome either.
Nikkie: And that actually the worst of it, so this is the culmination. I am a very friendly person and as a business owner I participate in street fairs and other events where I’m sharing parkour and movement with people, and there was one street fair where I interacted with this guy who seemed interested in parkour and he hung out and watched me for over two hours and I was like, wow, he is really into parkour. Little did I know.
Nikkie: It turned out, so he contacted me later and he asked me how much classes were and it seemed like maybe something he wasn’t willing to invest in. So I thought, okay, that’s fine. He’s not going to contact me again.
Nikkie: He continued to contact me for a year, first through phone, through text. He knew my business Instagram. So at one point it became harassment. So just calling me and whispering inappropriate things. Blocked him on my phone. Then sending me inappropriate things on Instagram. Blocked him on Instagram. Then pretending to be potential students, pretending to be the father of multiple children who want to train with me, and asking me where I live and eventually showing up at my building and being let into my building by one of my neighbors because he has my name.
Craig: He knows a lot about you.
Nikkie: So the culmination of my worst horror story of being a female parkour coach is having a stalker. And I ended up taking him to court. I had all the evidence on him because I saved it. But I think two things come out of this story that I wanted to share. Number one is, again, just for people who may never have dealt with this kind of thing is just to know this is the kind of environment that women live in and just have empathy and be mindful that we deal with this.
Nikkie: So if we’re friendly to someone, or if we’re a coach, or a business owner, and we share business information, this kind of shit can happen.
Nikkie: And then the second thing is just for women who are coaches, I want them to know that if something like this is happening and someone is sending you messages that are inappropriate, I think it’s best to push back right away.
Nikkie: In my case, when I was first getting the messages, I shared them with my partner and some friends and I was like, “What do you think of this? Should I respond and say, don’t ever contact me again?” And people said, “Just leave it alone. Leave it alone and this person will leave you alone.” But he didn’t and it escalated. He came to my places of work. It was very scary. So, I think sometimes as women we hear, just let it go. But that can be more dangerous.
Nikkie: So I would say just if someone is pursuing you in this way, cut it off right away and tell them if you continue to contact me, I will go to the police. That’s my story.
Craig: Thank you for sharing. I think you’re right, that it’s important that people hear, not just some of these people want to talk about theories, or principles, and it’s important to hear here’s an actual experience that I went through. I think it’s important to share that stuff.
Nikkie: One thing I like to think about a lot is the idea of starting before you’re ready and this is something that with someone who has been part of starting multiple organizations, I’ve definitely had to deal with quite a bit and the reason I wanted to share it is in case there’s someone who’s listening, who’s thinking, well, I want to be a parkour coach, or I want to start my own thing, or my own community. I’ve had people reach out to me when they see my social media presence and I share these videos from my classes that look like there’s a bunch of students. It’s engaging. They say, how did you get there? How do I get there? What certification do I need?
Nikkie: And the first piece of advice I give is you have to start before you’re ready. So the cool about learning is that you can learn forever. So you can keep collecting certifications infinitely, as I have, because I just enjoy learning new things and incorporating them. But I really think that it was important for me to coach one of my first classes years ago when I felt like, okay, I know a few things, but I’m not ready to be a coach. But I knew enough to coach that class.
Nikkie: And having that experience under my belt, I felt, okay, cool. That went well. These are things I can improve, but this is what went well. And these students seem to have a great time. Let’s keep going.
Nikkie: And I think that the biggest danger that I see, or not danger, or something I think is unfortunate, is people becoming coaches getting certifications, then not applying it because they’re scared and they think, well, I’m not good enough yet. But if you know more than the person you’re working with and if you can share something with them and it’s authentic to you and you really are helping them learn something new, then that’s a valuable experience.
Nikkie: And where I say, I think this is something I’ll have to keep working on, there are times when somebody would come to me with an opportunity and I would say, “No. I’m not ready for that opportunity. Thank you. I feel honored. But no thank you.”
Craig: For thinking of me, right?
Nikkie: And I think one of those examples is when there was a… What do I want to call this? A media opportunity to do this photo shoot for Nikon and Caitlin Pontrella came to me and she said, “Hey, can I send in your information and you’re reel?” And I was like, “No, there are so many more qualified people. No thank you.” And she said, “Okay.” And she sent in my stuff anyway. Which I love about her. And I got it. I got the job and I did well. And I got a full page ad for Nikon where I’m doing parkour.
Nikkie: And I always, when I doubt myself and I think, no thank you. When I think, no thank you, I think of Caitlin and she’s a perfect person who gets so many amazing things done. And I think, okay, if I told her no thank you, would she submit my stuff anyway?
Craig: Would she still do this without me, right? [crosstalk 00:11:21].
Nikkie: And I think it’s important to have advocates like that in your life. People who will champion you when you won’t do that for yourself. But it’s also important to ask yourself, when you’re saying no to something, just think legitimately are you not ready for this or are you just too chicken shit and you need to own up to it?
Nikkie: And I’ve actually had that happen multiple other times. There was another time when I was younger, I used to do art, and my mom told me to submit something. I didn’t submit it because I didn’t think it was good enough. She submitted it for me and I made money.
Nikkie: And so I think, for me, one of the most helpful things in my life has been having these champions, but really I still need to do it better myself. And actually I think that’s part of the reason why it’s been so hard for us to get together and sit down for this. I didn’t think that I could do this interview.
Craig: “What could I possibly have to say?” To which I always say, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
Nikkie: So thank you. Actually you’ve been a champion because you kept checking in with me, you and Melissa, and you guys got this to happen. So thank you.
Craig: Thank you. We’re happy that you finally sat down. Here’s a little something [inaudible 00:01:18:25], I always think of it as like a pressure cooker. The longer that you’re thinking about the interview, the better it’s going to go anyway. So there are a few people that I’ve, through time, or geography, or whatever, I finally get around to interviewing them and they usually go really well because then the person’s like, “I really want to do this. I really want this opportunity.”
Nikkie: And I have all my notes.
Craig: Which you haven’t been using very much, I will point out. Probably because it’s all loaded in your head, which is good.
Nikkie: One thing we didn’t talk about is experience with injury and I think it’s probably because it hasn’t been as top of mind for me in the last few years. Whereas, in my first few years of parkour it was something that was a dark spot on my parkour training journey.
Nikkie: I had some issues with my lower back and there were recurring issues. I actually, before I hit 30, I was on disability twice. I had to borrow my grandmother’s wheelchair. It was a sad day. And what I ended up learning, just through so many years of trial and error, is the importance of daily movement patterns. So I just want to share this. I think I have heard about other people in the parkour world just dealing with let’s say lower back injuries or knee injuries, and not because there’s something necessarily off with their training, but something just keeps recurring. And there were two things that I found helpful so I just want to share in case someone else is dealing with that.
Nikkie: Number one is learning more about, there’s something called the Alexander technique. It’s something that actors and singers use to elongate their spine and have the best, I guess their rib cage is going to be perfectly positioned for them to sing or do whatever they need to.
Nikkie: It’s actually a really helpful technique for also just generally having good posture no matter what you’re doing. And when my back went out one of the times, someone recommended a book to me that helped me understand, I always sit with one leg tucked under. I always carry my bag off to my right side. When I’m sitting, I will always slump onto my right shoulder. So once I became aware of my daily movements, I was able to correct that and try to even it out the same way as in parkour we think about train both sides. Train both sides, but also sit on both sides. Lean on both sides. And I think basically sometimes we may not notice how much our little daily movement patterns can impact the overall quality of our movement and if we’re always lopsided, and then on top of that we add some other movement training, it can just compound the issue.
Nikkie: So if you always carry your wallet in your right back pocket and your pants are worn out on your right back pocket, I know a lot of men have that, I recommend putting the wallet in the other pocket.
Craig: Or take the wallet out of your back pocket. [crosstalk 00:15:26]. The people who teach the Alexander technique would say, take the wallet out of your pocket. Don’t sit on it. Or put your feet flat on the floor. Sit up straight.
Nikkie: And then the second thing that helped me get over that was learning more about strength training. And that’s now a huge part of my own practice and my coaching. I definitely want to make sure that my students can squat, deadlift, and work with weight in addition to everything they’re doing in parkour. Because I think because we are such a sitting dominant society, our glutes don’t work. Our legs, our core, and our lower back don’t always work the way that they should and don’t always take loads the way that they should. And if we can learn to work with weights, then it can help make parkour, our movement stronger, but also safer.
Craig: And of course the final question is three words to describe your practice.
Nikkie: 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.
Nikkie: 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.
Nikkie: 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.
Nikkie: 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.
Nikkie: Thank you. The pleasure’s all mine.
Craig: This was episode 80. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/80. And I’ll leave you with a final quote from Carl Sagan. We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology, and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear recipe for disaster. Thanks for listening.
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