Why Do I Hate Trampoline Parks?
Why do I “hate trampoline parks”? by Scott Jackson
I’d like to preface this piece with a sort of disclaimer, that what follows in this article are the author’s personal views and opinions and are not necessarily shared by the organisations that he might be affiliated with. With that in mind, here goes:
“Scott, why do you hate trampoline parks so much?”
This is something people have been asking me a lot and I think it’s a bit of a loaded question. I don’t actually *hate* trampoline parks, I just have some serious issues with them.
Let me also briefly preface this by saying that I feel I’m in a unique position to discuss this topic because of the following reasons:
1) I was a National and International level competitive trampolinist prior to Parkour,
2) I am co-owner of an ACTUAL, self-funded Parkour facility here in the UK,
3) I have some close friends who are managers or working at some of these trampoline parks.
This, I feel, gives me an insight and a unique perspective into the topic.
So, what are my issues with trampoline parks? There are many, and they come under one of the following headings:
1) Safety issues
2) False advertising / encroachment of territory
3) The stifling of the Parkour community’s entrepreneurial spirit
1) Safety Issues:
Please watch this clip from a Simpsons episode because it’s hilarious but also hits a bit close to home:
All jokes aside, did you know that there are groups that have been created for people, and parents of those people, who have been injured at trampoline parks? I didn’t, either, but Think Before You Bounce is just that. They’re an American-based group whose mission is: “to make indoor trampoline parks safer through awareness, regulation and design.” Did you also know that the inventor of the trampoline, George Nissen, was very much against these trampoline parks? Yes, they’re not a new thing. I have reproduced relevant parts of the article here:
Something else had happened by then that also filled Nissen with conflicting emotions. The first inkling of this turn of events came in the fall of 1959, when orders for trampolines started to arrive from a new source: small operators interested in opening outdoor “jump centres.” San Diego got its first one in late November of that year at the corner of 64th Street and University Avenue, and in its first 40 days of operation, the owner took in almost $3000. Such success ignited interest among others, and within just four months, 20 operators in San Diego County had either opened centres or announced plans to do so.”
“In larger cities, the growth was even wilder. “Last fall there were three jump centres in the Los Angeles area,” reported a Life magazine cover story on the phenomenon. “Now [May 2, 1960] there are 175 there and another 150 in Miami, Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Reno, Hawaii, and other places. Matrons trying to reduce, executives trying to relax, and kids trying to outdo each other are plunking down 40 cents for a half hour of public bouncing at trampoline centres which are spreading the way miniature golf courses spread several decades ago.” Newsweek reported that a plot of land, about $8000 for equipment, and some liability insurance could generate an average gross income of $1500 a month. It added that Nissen expected his company’s gross sales to reach $4 million in 1960 (up from $900,000 in 1957) and was building a $615,000 plant to house his 100 workers.”
If Nissen felt elated to see his invention at last take America by storm, he fretted over the format of the centres. “We didn’t like them!” he declares today. He says he often grilled would-be operators about how their places would be managed, but they’d brush away his questions. “You just get a girl to take tickets!” they’d say. Financing often seemed to be on a shoestring, Nissen says. And the newcomers were frighteningly ignorant of the dangers faced by untrained jumpers. Part of the pitch, Nissen explains, was that the centres were safe because they featured trampolines at ground level, set into pits. ” ‘You can’t fall off!’ That was the line. Well, it sounds good, but it is absolutely bad,” Nissen says. Trampolines set into the damp ground get wet. “Anyone can walk onto them, with shoes and everything.” And injuries from falling off trampolines have always tended to be minimal, Nissen says. The most cataclysmic accidents happen in the middle of the bed.
He couldn’t buck the tidal wave, however. “There were actually 50 manufacturers of trampolines at that time. In Texas alone, I don’t know, there were 20 or 25. If you didn’t [sell trampolines to the jump centres], they’d go down the street and buy them somewhere else.” Nissen tried to organize a franchise called Jumpin’ Jiminy that was run with proper supervision. But whenever someone got hurt anywhere, people concluded that all trampolines were unsafe.
And get hurt they did. In San Diego, just days after the San Diego Union ran a long story about “San Diego youngsters from 8 to 80 jumping for joy,” a 15-year-old beauty queen candidate from Coronado knocked out three of her front teeth at a jump centre (forcing her to withdraw from the Miss Coronado pageant and prompting her parents to sue the operator for $52,000). Almost simultaneously, a 16-year-old high school football player from Kearny Mesa was paralyzed at a jump centre on Ulric Street. “He was trying an extremely difficult ‘suicide dive’ after only two visits to a centre and instead of taking the fall on his back and shoulders, hit right on the top of his head with his whole weight on his neck,” the Union later quoted one of the centre operators. After two weeks in the hospital, the boy died.
As the list of injuries – fatal and minor – mounted, the San Diego City Council scrambled to try to regulate the centres. But while the council dithered, the marketplace was imposing a more draconian punishment on those who had sunk their savings into the craze. By late August of 1960, “what went up was plainly coming down,” Newsweek reported. Typical monthly profits had plunged to “a soggy $500,” according to the magazine, and the centres were closing in droves. In San Diego, a year after the fad had begun, the Union reported that “trampolin [sic] centres have joined the limbo of hula hoops, yo-yos, and marathon dancing.
Full article can be read here: http://www.brentwoodtc.org/george_nissen.htm
Anyone who’s been to a trampoline park will have seen many, many near misses, actual injuries, and the potential for injuries. Oftentimes, these places will make you watch a video about safety measures prior to entering the facility. Usually, these rules are not enforced. People are there to literally throw themselves about and they enter into that willingly, but probably without the thought that their lives could drastically change after an injury. I have friends who have been and who’ve suffered all sorts of injuries (some of them ex-trampolinists), most just sedentary adults looking for something fun to do for an hour for the cost of a tenner.
What we should also bear in mind is that these places, in the UK, are not currently regulated. Through personal correspondence of a close friend, he was told that these places are “trying to make as much money as possible before the tide of injuries calls for regulation and the majority of places shut down.” That’s right. Read that again. That is absolutely CRIMINAL! Many of these parks are started by people who have no interest in safety, trampolining, or the well-being of anyone, they just have a large sum of money that they want to sink into something that’ll give them a large return. It is just a very, very quick way to get that huge return. And these places DO create a huge return in a very short space of time.
I think that a lot of people view trampolines as being soft and that it’s very difficult to injure yourself on them. That is an INCORRECT notion. Olympic trampolines can propel you very, very high. Even the non-Olympic trampolines can get you some decent height. Beds also don’t FEEL very soft when you land on them incorrectly and get the timing wrong. Not only that, the inexperienced bouncer will not have had the previous experience to realise that if you land ever so slightly leant (forward, backwards, sideways) you can get thrown around with all sorts of forces VERY easily. They also would be unaware that knee drops were banned from trampolining because they caused so many spinal injuries. They are not used to controlling these types of forces on proper trampolines. Multiply that by having people jumping right next to you on another trampoline (and if they’re thrown out of control onto your trampoline bed, you can imagine the injuries sustained by an accidental collision). I have heard of this happening with very young children who are bouncing at the same time as adults. This is so dangerous, it beggars belief!
When I trampolined, we used to do a fun little thing at the end of some of our trampolining training sessions called ‘kipping’. It’s basically where just before the person lands on the bed, someone else will jump at the other end of the trampoline causing the bed to absolutely rocket that other person super high into the air. This was often hilarious (and often scary), seeing your mate sky-rocketing and out of control from a seat drop or back drop. These people were trained trampolinists, and they could hardly control being kipped. Now put that into a trampoline park where people are either accidentally or purposefully causing each other to be kipped and you have a recipe for disaster. A study conducted in Dundee in 2009 showed that multiple users were involved in 60% of trampoline injuries (RoSPA 2015). Cervical spine injuries are caused by hyperflexion or hyperextension and can be the most catastrophic of injuries sustained while trampolining (Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness 2012).
Add on top of this that many places then include quirky things such as dodgeball on the trampolines, basketball, disco evenings where the lights are turned down very low and the music is very loud and you’ve got even more ingredients ready for a disaster.
The take-home message from Point 1: People need to realise that trampolining is DIFFICULT and requires a lot of time and practise to gain spatial and aerial awareness, as well as gaining control over yourself and the bed. This may not even be enough because of those all around you not having the skill to control themselves. These places pay lip-service to safety (“staying within your own limitations” is a favourite quote from a local trampoline park) and being soft, safe centres to jump in, when 100+ trampolines put together with a mixture of adults, teenagers, kids, experienced, and inexperienced bouncers is INHERENTLY DANGEROUS, made more dangerous by initiatives such as dim lighting and loud music.
2) False Advertising and Encroachment of Territory:
Now, to me, this is the BIGGIE. This is what pisses me off the most because it is so damn simple to understand:
IF YOU ARE NOT DELIVERING PARKOUR OR FREERUNNING, THEN, QUITE SIMPLY, DO NOT SAY THAT YOU ARE.
It is as simple as that. This is the take-home message for point 2!
If I have two miniature trampettes and a few crash mats in my Parkour facility, I DON’T advertise that I teach gymnastics or that I have a trampoline park! BECAUSE I DON’T DELIVER THOSE THINGS! THAT IS NOT WITHIN MY REMIT!
I have spoken about the problem of the deliberate, incorrect use of the terms ‘Parkour’ and ‘Freerunning’ when I wrote about British Gymnastics using these terms to describe their ‘FreeG’, (Freestyle Gymnastics) rip-off. Their systematic encroachment onto Parkour’s territory can be read about, here.
Now, some people have said that these trampoline parks do not know what ‘Parkour’ or ‘Freerunning’ is; that they’re just using popular buzzwords to attract clientele. I find that first part very, very difficult to believe. Most people these days know what Parkour of Freerunning is, but even if they didn’t, as a business it is INCUMBENT upon YOU to KNOW what you are advertising within YOUR centre/business. If you don’t, then surely this is just an example of utter negligence? Recently, in my own hometown, there was this ridiculous advertisement on a trampoline park’s website:
After Parkour UK, our National Governing Body, contacted this company, they immediately removed the first sentence from their website. This is what SHOULD happen and it’s clear they were just using the term as a buzzword to garner attention and attract more visitors. Without people holding these companies accountable for what they’re advertising, they will continue to do it. Other companies are not so eager to remove the wording, apparently. Have a look at this one, for example:
50,000 square foot of “parkour-fuelled trampolining”… What in the hell does that even mean?! It doesn’t mean ANYTHING, people. It is literally there for people to see the word Parkour and then go and spend their money there. A lot of these places also employ trampoline monitors who have some experience of practising Parkour, but have no qualifications in coaching Parkour, and then think that’s good enough. It is not.
What you are doing is luring people into your facility on the FALSE PREMISE that they will be engaging in the activities of Parkour and Freerunning, when, in fact, jumping on trampolines and doing “Walk the Wall” could not be further from Parkour. This is a dangerous and deliberate misrepresentation.
Unfortunately, WHEN claims occur from these places, Parkour and Freerunning will be dragged into the mess and it will cause problems for those of us who are actually teaching the discipline in proper, purpose-built venues, or safely in risk-assessed outdoor environments. What a pity that this will most likely muddy the good name of Parkour, whose safety record is actually in very good standing, as any experienced coach or practitioner knows. So, what can you do about it in your area? I’d suggest that if you think a trampoline park is advertising Parkour or Freerunning without proper coaching, equipment, or just plainly using it as a buzzword, then inform Parkour UK and allow them to deal with it in a professional manner. We need to keep these sorts of places accountable for what they’re advertising to the public. Nobody else will!
Some of these trampoline parks do actually seem to be doing things properly; they’re building separate areas for Parkour/Freerunning to be undertaken, they’re actively recruiting and hiring Parkour UK 1st4Sport Level 2 Parkour/Freerunning Coaches to lead sessions and Parkour UK 1st4Sport Level 1 Parkour/Freerunning Assistant Coaches. Whilst this is commendable, this leads me onto my third reason for my dislike of trampoline parks:
The places that are built inside these trampoline parks are, quite often and quite simply, not very good. They’re not actually good for practising Parkour. Many of them are totally soft, with Ninja Warrior-esque parts, padded this, pitted that. It is so artificial that it more resembles a more adult soft-play area than a Parkour facility. Now, I’m not saying that all facilities must be concrete, have slippy scaffold with tennis balls covering the bolts, but going the opposite direction to what is effectively a padded room isn’t representative of what parkour is. When my business partner and I designed our Parkour facility (The Parkour Project) we wanted the best of both worlds; we have an Impact Attenuating Surface instead of hard ground; we have no padded parts of our Parkour area; we do have a foam pit (that we had designed, bespoke for us, that allows a lid to be placed on top to create an elevated area); and we also have a sprung floor because it helps with the income of the place and can be good for our very young class when we’re getting them started with Parkour (before introducing them onto the Parkour area and then outdoors.) What was brilliant was that we had the freedom to build and design our place as we wanted! Not dictated by a big corporation or other interests. We were true to ourselves and true to how we want to deliver high-quality Parkour coaching. What we’ve built we are proud of and many people have said that they’ve enjoyed it compared to other facilities.
Just writing this makes me realise what a FANTASTIC and enjoyable process it was to design my own Parkour facility! Isn’t that the dream for a lot of us?! Have our own place to train in, all the time?! Well, I got to build that dream with a bunch of legends. What I am worried about is that this entrepreneurial spirit will be extinguished by these large corporations who are building HUNDREDS (literally) of these trampoline parks (each!) across the country; sticking a few boxes and scaffold bars in a corner, and then calling it a Parkour facility and getting people to coach there for them. And, unfortunately, it’s an attractive offer for Parkour coaches because it is HARD WORK to build your own place, manage it, and maintain it. It’s also difficult to make a living as solely a Parkour coach. But the opportunity of creating your own business isn’t being pursued because of ‘Whatever Jump Bounce Inc. Ltd.’ coming in with their trampoline parks. I really feel that this is stifling the Parkour coaching workforce, and the ingenuity of new facilities in the UK.
Running my own Parkour coaching business alongside my business partner is hard work, but it is great. And what’s more is that we are creating a whole workforce within our business who are EXCELLENT coaches, experienced, knowledgeable, high-level practitioners, who might well want to make this their career in the future. We are fueling the growth of Parkour here in the South of the UK. It also allows me to work for my own business and gives me the freedoms and responsibilities that go along with that (and what a learning process that is!)
I would MUCH rather see people CREATING their own facilities; their own organisations, than coaching in these places that really don’t seem to care that much about Parkour and Freerunning. I want to see more homegrown organisations like Train Hard, Team Kinetix, Southend Parkour, JUMP Parkour, EMP Parkour etc. who will be prepared to build their own Parkour facilities because I want to see what innovative ideas and places they come up with, as opposed to what we’re seeing in most trampoline parks, these days.
I hope this blog has given you an insight into the reasons why I think that trampoline parks are not, overall, a very good idea. I hope you can see why I think they’re harmful to the Parkour community when they use specific terminology and misrepresent it, and why those who are building actual parkour facilities in these parks might actually be stifling the originality of new, better Parkour facilities.
Please feel free to leave comments so the discussion can continue.
Thanks for reading.