WITH almost 2,500 ASBO’s issued in the UK in the past 10 years’ communities across the country are struggling now more than ever to find new and innovative ways to keep youths off the streets. In the North West, park tour and Free Running team ‘Street Monkeys’ are providing an active alternative to more traditional and outdated youth clubs.
Free running, also known as urban acrobatics is described as the art of expressing yourself without limitation of movement and is a skill which requires fantastic athletic ability, strength and composure. The phenomenon has escalated through YouTube and developed into a popular hobby and sporting activity particularly but not exclusively in young boys.
Street Monkey’s was established in 2010 with the simple aim of ‘inspiring young people.’ The team has now gained over 5, 000 likes on Facebook and 2,000 subscribers on YouTube and is growing daily, finding new ways to engage with and appeal to a young audience. The team hold sessions four days a week, some of these are structured, coached sessions and some are freestyle providing a variety for beginners as well as being sure to cater for more experienced free runners.
Team leader, Sean Delaney says, ‘When I first started out with the Street Monkey’s I’d never have thought that I could help so many kids. Free running is something I have always loved doing and when I was a kid there was never anything quite like this to get involved with. It’s great now to be able to do this as my job and to see all the kids I work with develop and really enjoy what they are doing just as much as I do.
‘It’s far more than just the running and jumping off walls that people seem to think it is. I consider it an art almost and I don’t think there’s enough recognition of sport as an art form. You have to be strong and focused all of the time, it’s not just something anyone could come and do. There are some critics who see this sport as a little bit anti-social but as I’ve said that is down to a lack of awareness of what it is we are doing and what we are all about. It’s almost the exact opposite of what we stand for. We are more than just a team, we’re a community, the team keeps the kids active and doing something they enjoy and I don’t see a thing wrong with that.’
Sean explains there are many benefits in becoming involved with the Street Monkeys and just what can be achieved when young people feel as though they are a part of something. He explains, ‘probably one of the best things about free running is that it isn’t about the competition. It’s not like a game of football where there are winners and losers and people getting aggressive. It’s all about self-improvement and challenging yourself to be the best you can be whilst working as part of a team for each other. I think that’s a really important thing to teach these youngsters, that not everything has to be a competition.’
Earlier this year Street Monkeys opened an academy offering the team the opportunity to work towards training becoming coaches. Sean continues, ‘We opened the academy to give our members even more opportunities. The response has been great to the classes so I just felt the time was right to expand and now I can offer these kids the opportunity to not only do something they enjoy but also work towards something valuable. There are now opportunities in place for more advanced members to train to become coaches to younger classes, working towards qualifications and building their skill-set whilst doing something they are passionate about. I think it’s great.’
The average age of the team is 16 but due to high demand and interest in what the Street Monkeys have to offer the team last month began structured beginner’s classes for under 12’s. Not only is this bringing in the younger Street Monkeys but also allowing the more senior members to practice their coaching skills.
Sean added, ‘It’s really good for us to get some younger kids involved in the team, the growth we are experiencing is not only good news for us but for the sport as a whole, showing more recognition and promising a bright future ahead.’
The teams YouTube channel features several videos choreographed and edited in the style of music videos showing the creativity and athleticism that goes into free running. This has led to the team being invited to work on a new upcoming project with Sony Music, which leader Delaney describes as ‘a huge opportunity and a big achievement’ for his squad.
Daniel Worthington, a 16-year-old Street Monkey explains, ‘I never rea;;y enjoyed PE at school and I didn’t really do anything at the weekends apart from watch TV or play Xbox but I joined Street Monkeys a year ago with my friends and now I’ve met some of the best people who will probably be good friends for life.
‘Free running has taught me, in life, don’t rush anything you have all the time in the world and that it’s really important to always remember where your head is. I think it’s important to focus on what you want to do and how you’re going to do it. Don’t even think of failing as an option just get it done and I think like that about everything now. The group have been chatting about a trip abroad next year and it just shows how it’s loads better to be a part of a team rather than standing around on street corners. Street Monkeys has helped me achieve so much in a short amount of time and I just really enjoy what it’s all about.’
Despite the fact that free running is quite unheard of or disapproved by some people it’s hard to argue against the work Sean is putting in with his team and that in doing so he is providing young people in the North West with opportunities they may never have had elsewhere. By introducing free running to younger generations it’s difficult to imagine just what the future may hold in this sport which continues to grow.