Every parent thinks about what their child will want to participate in when they get old enough for extracurricular activities. Around the age from seven to ten, kids are generally old enough to start exploring the wide world of activities outside of their family and school in a serious way. Whether it’s the arts like theatre and orchestra, youth organizations like scouting or 4-H Club, or any number of youth sports, keeping kids busy is part of keeping them growing in the right direction.
Stepping out of a child’s comfort zone, or more pointedly, their parents’ comfort zone, can be a steep learning curve for families. Even if you’re a parent who participated in youth sports or perhaps fencing in particular when you were younger, it’s a whole different ballgame to be on the other side.
Getting your footing as a first-time fencing parent doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These eighteen tips for new fencing parents will help you to get going in the right direction!
1. Focus fun
Fencing is a fun sport. That’s just the reality of it! Focus on the fun as your child is learning the fundamentals, and they’ll be all the more excited to continue with the sport.
2. Find the fencing community
Fencing is blessed to have a thriving community, both online and in fencing clubs across the United States. This is a niche sport, and that means that we are a rather tight knit group of families.
The sooner a new fencing parent can find their way into the fencing community, the better they’ll be able to find a sureness. Connect with your fencing club and other fencing parents, including on social media, share texts, and participate in fencing groups online.
Find a fencing parent in the club that’s a good go-to person for advice. On the whole, we find that fencing parents are (almost) as enthusiastic about the sport as their kids! You can generally find a mentor of sorts to help you figure it all out.
3. When to get equipment
Once you see your child’s interest, go ahead and purchase their fencing gear. We’ve learned from our years of teaching kids fencing that most kids are ready to dive in after their initial trial sessions. The vast majority of kids stick with it once they’ve tried it out. Owning their own equipment will give your child a sense of pride. Not only that, but the investment is something that resonates with them, developing their sense of responsibility. Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, sharing fencing equipment is not a great idea for safety reasons.
Do ask at your club about what equipment they recommend and if there is any gently used equipment for sale. You can oftentimes find someone who is willing to sell their equipment that’s been outgrown or upgraded. There is also no reason to splurge on fancy equipment of the FIE grade. Plenty of manufacturers sell new fencing gear that’s reasonably priced for novice fencers. It’s not a cheap investment initially, but fencing gear is not something that is changed that often and most of the items will be useful for years to come.
4. Set up a pool noodle practice area
It’s almost guaranteed that your young child will want to practice at home within the first few weeks of practice and definitely show off their new learned skills. This is swordfighting, and it’s extremely fun, especially when they fence you! “Invest” in a couple of pool noodles for them to practice with. A bonus is that they can practice their stances, parries, and lunges in the living room without worrying about hitting somebody! [Side note: this is applicable to very young new fencers only, don’t try to buy a pool noodle for your freshman]
5. Choose your club carefully
Realistically, there is likely only one club or maybe two in your geographical area. Again, fencing is quite a niche sport! If you are lucky enough to live in an area where there are multiple fencing clubs, take your time in choosing one. Visit each potential club and watch a class with your child, then compare.
A great fencing club can make all the difference in your child enjoying the sport and you getting the support you need to facilitate their good experience! You can check out our piece on choosing a fencing club here.
6. Check out fencing videos
There are tons of fencing videos out there on YouTube, from Olympic fencing to club fencing. Sit down with your child and watch some fencing videos, on the big TV screen if you can.
This is a way to foster their enthusiasm and to encourage them to bring fencing home with them. It’ll also help them to orient to the sport. Cyrus of Chaos on YouTube offers great analysis of all kinds of matches that will give your child the opportunity to learn the lingo. But definitely don’t overdo it! This should be a fun activity and not a mundane one.
7. Take videos and pictures
On a related note, it’s worth videoing your child when they’re fencing, even early on. Then go back and watch the videos with them and look at the pictures together.
Fencing is a cool looking sport. That’s part of the draw to it! Lean into that to build your child’s confidence in the sport, which will also build their confidence outside of the sport. It’s guaranteed that your child looks amazing in the fencing gear doing that lunge, even if they’re a beginner. Embrace it!
8. Watch a tournament
There’s an initial flush of excitement that comes with starting a new sport like fencing. Engage that early on and go watch a fencing tournament as early as you can. If there’s a larger fencing competition in your area, check it out! Your young fencer will get a whole lot out of watching fencing competition in person. It’s invigorating and exciting.
[Side note: Check tournament regulations prior to going to watch, since tournament organizers changed their procedures due to the pandemic and follow their rules when applicable.]
9. Compete as early as you can
A very small in-club competition or small local competition is a great way to enliven your child’s enthusiasm for fencing. They’ll grow exponentially from competing, even on the lowest level and even if they don’t win. It’s quite an experience to get up on a strip with a referee who’s calling the points and the stakes are higher than they are in class. Of course, consult your coach when it’s the right time to start exploring competitions, since you don’t want to do it neither too soon, nor too late.
10. Listen openly to your fencer
Learning to listen openly and ask informed questions of your fencer will help them to engage with you about the sport. The more interested you are, the more they’ll open up!
Some ideas of things to ask about are:
- What was your favorite point scored today at practice?
- What new things did you learn from your coach?
- What’s different about how fencing feels now than in your first class?
11. Don’t try to coach your child
In youth sports, it’s a horrible cliche that parents end up trying to coach their kids. This comes from an honest place, because of course parents just want to help their child to be the best that they can be.
Even if you have a background in fencing yourself, it’s not helpful to step in and try to coach your child. Certainly not at the beginning. What your child needs from you is a soft place to fall when they are struggling and a structured system of support. Keeping the boundary between coaching and parenting from the outset will help you.
12. Do at least one private lesson a week
There is nothing like the one-on-one attention of a fencing coach to help a new fencer focus and grow. Sign your child up for at least one private lesson a week in the first few months. Sooner the better.
Fencing lessons are very short – twenty minutes long. The length means these lessons are intense and fruitful. They’ll work on things that they can’t get to in the regular class. They’ll also get individualized instruction that’s simply not possible in a group of ten young fencers.
13. Learn the names of your kids’ rivals
What we’re really talking about here are your child’s rivals within the club. Who’s in their class, and who do they bout against regularly? Though fencing is an individual sport, we are also a deeply collaborative sport.
By learning the names of your child’s rivals in their club, you can call out during competition to encourage them, just as you do your own child. This can really help build camaraderie, especially for shy new fencers. We want to foster connection, even with rivals, to teach young fencers that it’s not about winning against their opponent – it’s about winning against yourself. And chances are that their opponents will turn out to be their best friends forever, as it often happens.
14. Encourage hydration
This is simple, but it’s important. Fencing doesn’t involve sustained movement like track and field or even soccer, with kids running hard for long periods of time. However, the short sprints of just a few minutes are rigorous, even for kids.
Encourage your fencer to hydrate, especially before and after fencing class. This will give them the energy they need and it will keep their bodies healthy.
15. Set expectations with your child’s coach
This doesn’t need to be a big deal or to put a lot of pressure on your new fencer, but it can really help to connect with your child’s fencing coach about the goals you have. For instance, are you thinking of casual fencing or competitive? What other commitments does your child have, and what goals would fit to preserve balance for them?
Your goal with creating some goals is to determine what your child needs so that you can manage their expectations. It’s about learning what’s possible and what works!
16. Read up on fencing
We’ve written often for new fencing parents. You’ll find blogs here on AFM that detail everything from how to wash a fencing mask to interviews with famous fencers, famous coaches and parents of famous fencers. Surf through what’s out there casually, when you’ve got some spare time on your phone, or even when you’re waiting for your child at the club.
There are tons of resources online. Follow fencing on your social media to keep keyed into new information, or just google any question you’ve got or any area that you don’t feel comfortable with. You’ll find a lot out there!
17. Understand injuries
Though fencing is a combat sport that uses swords, there are fewer injuries in fencing than in most other youth sports. This is because the safety requirements are so rigorous, including protective gear and constant thoughtfulness about how the swords are used.
The most common injuries in fencing are bruises, sprains, and strained muscles. Just like the common injuries in other sports! Be ready for your child to come home sore from standing in stances using muscles that they are not accustomed to, and for minor bruises, especially on the arms, from errant sword contact.
18. Put personal growth at the center
Fencing matches go by quickly and there are lots of them. The loss of a single bout or a single match is only a small thing in the scheme of it all. What’s not small in the scheme of it all is the growth that your fencer will get from losing.
Encourage your new fencer by putting their losses in context. “You’re the kind of kid who comes back stronger after a loss. I can’t wait to see what you learn from this!” “I know how hard it is to lose, but I also know that you put your best out there.” “I’m so proud of you for your focus and determination in that match.”
The nature of fencing is as an individual sport, but it’s a collective community that’s here to help your child grow! Know that there’s a community here to support you and help your child to find their path forward.
We’re excited to have your child join our vibrant sport!