When it comes to being the parent of a fencer, everyone wants to see their child win the match. That sounds simple and straightforward, but in reality it’s not so easy to know how to give your child that support.
The first thing parents need to realize is that the key is to ENCOURAGE your child in fencing, NOT TO PUSH your child into getting better at the sport. The difference is that encourage is allowing the motivation to spring from inside your child, where pushing your child is forcing your will onto them. The goal of sports is to develop good qualities in our children that will long outlive the time that they spend actually playing the sport!
Poor sport parenting puts undue pressure and stress on kids. It’s counterproductive as it leaves children not liking fencing, being burdened with feelings of failure, and taking negative feelings into other parts of their lives. What parents give to kids while they’re training on the strip stays with them well beyond.
If you want your child to come out of their fencing experience as a winner, (by winning we mean feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude towards competition, NOT that they get a bunch of medals), then they need YOUR HELP! You are a central, critical, important part of the athlete-coach-parent team that is what makes fencing work.
Keep in mind that no one wins unless everyone wins. These dozen tactics will help fencing parents to become more skilled in youth fencing, because there is no handbook for fencing parents that’s got all of the answers!
1. Change the way you define success and failure
Success is not defined by winning and losing. Though it’s easy for us to look at things pertaining to our kids in those strictly black and white terms, it’s simply detrimental.
What your child is chasing in fencing are two things:
- Skill acquisition
That’s it. They are not chasing the Olympics. They are not chasing medals. They are not chasing podium finishes or even touches. The outcome does NOT matter.
Think about it in comparison to standardized tests in school. Do you as a parent want your child’s teacher to teach to the specific things that might be on the test, or do you want them to teach your child to master geometry or reading comprehension? Of course you want them to learn to read more masterfully and to know how to use geometry in everyday life. The good grade on the test is a bonus and nothing more.
The same goes with fencing. The match, the tournament – that’s the test! The test isn’t the important thing, it’s learning the skills that is important. Through fencing, you can help your child learn the importance of acquiring skills and knowledge in life that will make their lives better, not just getting a piece of paper.
2. Understand that competition is the best training partner
When we define competition in fencing in positive terms, it’s a good and healthy thing.
The word “compete” actually comes by bringing together two words from Latin – “com” (together) and “petere” (seeking). Together they mean “seeking together”! Your child’s competitor is not some other, some object to be pushed through. Your child’s fencing opponents are their partners in learning and growing in the sport.
Changing the view that your child has of their opponents from enemies to partners is a powerful way to improve their fencing and their confidence. Fencing is a niche sport and a relatively small one. Fencers who compete against one another will run into each other again and again in tournaments, and one thing that fencing as a sport prides itself on is the compassion and heart with which our fencers work together, even when they are on opposite sides of the strip!
Cheer for great fencing performances, no matter what side they’re on.
3. Provide support, but don’t coach
Your child’s fencing coach is their coach – you are not.
Unconditionally be your child’s biggest and best fan. Give your fencer encouragement, empathy, support, transportation, financial support, a kind ear on a tough day, and all of those other good and wonderful things. But please do not try to be their fencing coach! When you coach, you’re not only stepping in the way of the expertise that your child’s fencing coach offers, but you’re also stepping out of that supportive role that your child NEEDS you for. You essentially leave a big hole in their system.
After a disappointing performance or a loss on the strip, the last thing your child needs or wants from you is to give them technical advice or to tell them that their strategy was wrong. What they need from you in those moments are kind words and to know that this feeling of negativity will pass, even if it’s hard right now.
4. Encourage your child to complete against herself/himself
The ultimate goal of fencing is to challenge oneself and to constantly improve.
Too often, we judge improvement only by wins and losses. That’s just plain inaccurate! It’s also unfair. A fencer can give the best fencing performance of their life on the strip and still lose. A fencer can give the worst performance of their life on the strip and still win.
Children must be encouraged to compete against their own potential rather than anyone else. Fencers are only victorious when they are victorious over themselves. Judging self improvement in terms of winning and losing is a losing game for everyone. When you talk to your child about their competitors, talk to them about their competition against themselves. No one else matters! The other side of doing this is that you’re showing your child how much you are focused on THEM, and for any child that’s a very good thing.
5. Build your fencer’s self-esteem in every interaction
When your young fencer is in an environment that their self-esteem is boosted in, their level of performance as a fencer will directly improve. She or he will learn faster, they will work harder, and they will compete better.
Your interactions, as a parent, with that child are the single biggest factor in their self-esteem. If you are highly critical, humiliate them when they struggle, or tear them down when they don’t get it right, your child’s self-worth will plummet. If you focus on the hard work that they are putting in and the progress they are making, their self-worth will skyrocket. As a parent, you have the power and the responsibility.
This doesn’t mean that you give a child false praise when they perform poorly. Kids are very bright, and a white lie about how great they are when they’re reeling from a loss is going to feel false to them and be counter-productive. Be genuine in your praise by focusing on the opportunities that they have for growth and the progress they have made so far.
This is so important! Ask yourself if you are fostering your young fencer’s self-worth every single day.
6. Give your fencer the gift of failure
Do you really want your child to be as happy and successful as they can possibly be in their fencing?! Then take our word for it and let them fail.
The most successful fencers – the ones who make it to national championships and the Olympics and beyond – do two things.
- They take risks and therefore fail more frequently than others
- They use their failures in a positive way to motivate them and give them the feedback they need to get better
Failure is scary for kids. Heck, failure is scary for grown-ups. What your child will learn when they fail is that (amazingly) they survived! The world did not end because they didn’t get through the pools. The earth did not fall off its axis because they didn’t get enough points to go to Nationals. The sun did not go dark because they lost a bout.
Remember way back when your child learned how to walk? It took them falling time after time after time before they could get up and walk on their own. Imagine if your child had never been allowed to fall – they would have never walked! At first they were afraid, but over time they learned that they didn’t need to be. And now they’re big and not only walking, but walking with a sword and waving it around at another person. What progress!
Fear of failure will keep your child from being active. It will keep them from getting to the good stuff in fencing, and by extension in life. Allow your child to fail and then be there to show them why it’s a good thing and nothing at all to be fearful of.
7. Challenge instead of threatening
It’s a trap that many, many of us fall into as parents. We use guilt and threats as a way to “motivate” our children to do something. It’s an insidious tactic that gets even the best of us because it can be so effective in the short term. However in the long term it’s just not good news.
Study after study on athletic performance shows us that those short term results come with long term costs. Mental health and performance suffer greatly when parents or coaches threaten their athletes as a way to get them to get going. Any kind of threat will zap the fun out of fencing. “If you don’t get up and go to practice you’re grounded” or “If you don’t start taking fencing seriously then I’m not going to pay for your lessons anymore.” Ouch. By doing this, you’re communicating that you don’t believe in your child, and that destroys their self-esteem and therefore their performance. The exact opposite of what you want!
Rather than threaten your child, challenge them to get better. That means no negative consequences. “How about you get up and get ready for practice so that I can cheer you on?” or “Let’s talk about your training plan so that you can become an even better fencer.”
Inside every threat is the anxiety of the person saying it. These words have less to do with your young fencer than they do with your fear that fencing won’t work out for your child. Think consciously about changing that and you’ll be poised to give your child the support they need!
8. Avoid comparisons at all times
Whatever another fencer is doing – IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Every single fencer progresses at their very own rate. Every. Single. One. Comparisons are always inaccurate, inherently inaccurate, and breathtakingly destructive. Two twelve year old girl fencers likely have exactly three things in common: they are both girls, they are both twelve, and they are both fencers. There’s truly nothing else that they share, and to compare them distorts the reality of who they are and what they bring to the table.
Comparisons can turn otherwise very talented fencers off to the sport. The only time that a comparison can be helpful is when one child is demonstrating a proper fencing technique and is used as a teaching tool and a model in a fencing lesson. But that’s an area that your child’s fencing coach really must take the lead on!
9. Instill perspective
When we see the Olympics or Fencing Summer Nationals, it can seem that fencing, and specifically the winning and losing side of fencing, are larger than life. However the truth is that this is all really just a game.
Young fencers can get caught up in notion that winning and losing are larger than life. Yes, there are absolutely those moments in fencing that transcend the everyday, and they are fantastic moments. But those moments are not the reason that we fence! They come naturally, and almost always when fencers let go of their expectations and focus on the moment.
Encourage your child to savor the moments that they experience and enjoy in every day fencing, the camaraderie and the joy of the sport. Keep those big competitions in perspective!
10. Recognize that your child is not their fencing performance
YOUR CHILD IS NOT THEIR FENCING PERFORMANCE!
It can be very easy to fall into the feeling that your child is what they do, and it’s so important that parents highlight the value that their children have outside of the fencing that they do. What is damaging about a missed point or a lost match is not the thing itself, it’s when we attach a child’s value to that performance.
Your child needs to know that you will still love them regardless of any competition’s outcome. They will feel that they won not because you expected so much, but because you instilled a love for them as a person and not for the results they earn. Be that parent for your child!
11. Keep your dreams out of it
Who’s point is it? Who’s win is it?
If your dream was once to become a champion fencer, that’s a wonderful thing and something very special to you. It has not got anything to do with your child. Parents must want their children to fence for their own love of the sport, not because of their parents.
When your talk to your child about fencing, don’t use language like “our point” and “our win”. This is much more common than many people realize and it’s detrimental to the development of fencers. As a parent, you must take your investment out of the equation and instead think about your child as the separate and incredible person that they are. Pressure, bribery, guilt, and the desire to please a parent are the most negative reasons for a child to fence.
When your fencer has their own reasons for participating in the sport, their own goals, they will always do better. In fact, when you allow your child the space to grow for themselves you’ll see them blossom!
12. Help make fencing fun for your young fencer
Peak performance is directly tied to how much fun the athlete is having. The more fun they’re having, they more they’ll learn and the better their performance will be.
If your young fencer isn’t enjoying what they’re doing, they won’t do it well. That’s the hard and honest truth! When you notice that your child isn’t having fun anymore in fencing, investigate why. Is there too much pressure? Is there a miscommunication with their coach? Are they tired and overwhelmed? Is it a peer friction with a friend at the club? Problem solve with your child to figure out what’s wrong and to address the problem. It’s a great life lesson!
Fencing is a naturally fun sport. The thrill of the sport elicits so much delight from our fencers! It’s a joyful occasion to hold a sword and take on an opponent. When practice becomes too tedious or the pressure gets to be too intense, young fencers are much more likely to experience burnout and quit the sport. As a parent, you can teach them valuable life skills and enliven their love of the sport by stepping in early when you see that your child’s enjoyment is waning.
Fencing has the potential to give your child a lifetime of fun and self-esteem. They can learn to face challenges both on and off the strip. With positive parental support, your child can get the best out of their fencing experience.