Have you ever played with one of those Magic 8 Ball toys? You know, the ones that look like a pool ball and are supposed to tell you the future if you shake them and look in the little window.
There have been times when I see fencing parents who seem to have used some method like this to see into the future of their child’s fencing career. It’s also the case that parents often want to know whether a coach or I can tell the future of a young child’s fencing skills based on little more than our intuition. While both parents and coaches are going to be more accurate than a child’s toy, we’re still trying to tell the future, and no one can do that.
One of the hardest things that I see in running a fencing club is parents who have great intentions for their children, but who are frustratingly focused on getting their kids to some nebulous end goal of elite sport success more than they are focused on nurturing the love of a sport in their kids.
This kind of thing happens all the time for those of us running fencing clubs. You see kids come in who just fall in love with the sport, only to have them pulled out by parents too soon. In this scenario, kids don’t get the chance to explore the thing that they love, and it’s pretty heartbreaking for coaches and staff to watch happen.
Parents certainly have the ultimate choice about what to do with their kids, but I must encourage parents to think hard about prioritizing their child’s happiness and development over some imagined future that is far away.
Not long ago, I had a discussion with a parent on this very issue. Though I’ve seen this kind of thing happen many times before, the candid way that this parent told me what they were thinking gave me a new window into how parents get to this place.
Goal setting and forecasting the result of your fencing is important, but what happens when you take it too far and get overly invested in the outcome you expect?
Becoming too attached to the possible outcome is a serious problem for all of us that can lead directly to disappointment. Rather than accepting what’s happened and learning from it, we become trapped in the cycle of our dreams to the point that we are beaten down if they don’t come true. On the other hand, we can set a goal and prepare so well that we leap over it, which causes us to sit on our heels and not keep going so hard. In this instance, we waste the potential that we could be reaching.
Learning to adapt and adjust our goals on the ground, in real time, during competition and even during training, can be exactly what you need to reach your best possible outcome.
Fencers who become attached to the outcome
The following examples are adapted from things that we’ve seen in the real world in fencing, either in our own club or through stories that have been told by other clubs.
Let’s say our youth fencer has been working hard and going to local and regional tournaments. At those regional tournaments, the fencer has never gotten to the second direct elimination round (DE). Disappointed, she trains more consistently, working harder than ever before to prepare for the next competition, where her ambition will push her to the next DE. Then the new competition comes around and the fencer fights hard to win the first DE. And then she does! Hooray! But what happens in the next DE? Suddenly she’s not fighting like before – she has already accomplished her initial goal of getting to this stage. Though this fencer may have gotten her desired result, the achievement of advancement meets her expectation which may have actually set her back. The anticipation of this fencer attaining their achievement is gone, and now the athlete may feel like there is nothing left to compete for–even if there is.
In another example, we’ll look at a fencer who never got to place in the top 16 in his age group at the NAC or National Championship. In one competition, he finally secures a spot in the top 8 and a guaranteed medal! That’s a fantastic result and an outcome that came from lots of hard work! However, this fencer is suddenly not fencing with the same fierce determination that he performed with to get to the top 16 and then to the top 8 in the first place. As a result, the underperforming fencer is eliminated in the next round, and they feel like an overachiever for just getting to that stage.
Fencers, particularly those that are fortunate enough to advance in a tournament, may find it difficult to maintain the level of energy that they possessed when they started the competition, even if their career may benefit from continuous focus. Of course, the level of competition becomes higher as a fencer ascends and their tournaments will inevitably become more demanding. Though tougher opponents and bigger stages will always challenge a fencer’s skill set and push them to their limits, an even bigger threat to a competitor’s will to win could be becoming complacent when competition time rolls around.
If you think this happens only with beginners then think again. This happens to even the most advanced fencers. People that compete at the national level and beyond suffer when they battle complacency. It’s not just fencing – it happens to athletes of all levels in every other sport too, and it can happen with other activities like school and extracurriculars too.
One of the best ways for kids to get involved in something new is to try it over the summer.
During the school year, there’s so much going on that kids can get overwhelmed, making it difficult to put themselves out there and give a new activity a shot. The school year is incredibly stimulating, even for young kids who are full of energy.
Beginner fencing camps offer kids a way to dip their toe into the sport of fencing in a place that’s friendly and supportive, not to mention it allows them to immerse themselves in the sport for a week. This kind of structured, focused attention can go a long way for acclimating a child to an unfamiliar sport as well as supercharging their excitement. Camps are exciting and fun, and kids build the kind of memories that last for a lifetime. In a beginner camp, everyone is on the same page and at the same level, so they get to go through this journey of starting the sport together.
These camps are particularly great for kids ages seven to thirteen, because kids this age tend to be ready to try new things. We find that siblings and friends of fencers are often drawn to the sport, and we see lots of kids referred to beginner camps. If you know a child who you think would enjoy fencing, definitely recommend them for a beginner fencing camp.
Kids tend to excel in beginner fencing camp, and it’s a wonderful outlet for school aged children. Some of our highest performing fencers started right in our beginner fencing camps!
Sports, in general, are naturally competitive, so it makes sense that fencers would be concerned with competition. It’s part of why we love doing it! It’s a big reason people come to fencing as opposed to taking painting classes or joining a theatre group. There are winners and losers, and while we work hard not to place too much emphasis on winning, we do still want to get better through competing against others. This is the backbone of the sport.
Every single fencing match is a miniature competition. Each match has a winner and a loser. But many parents and new fencers want to know – how long should a fencer fence before their first competition?
This is a complex question and one that is a little bit different for every fencer. However, there are two opposite thoughts within the fencing community on when you should start competing. We’re going to explore both of them, and then you decide which one is right for you or your child. Both of these are good options, and we’ve seen high-level competitive fencers succeed with each one. There is no strictly wrong answer. There are pros and cons to both ways when you look at the issue.
Keep in mind, fencing, in general, is about strategy. What strategy you decide to go with is up to you, but you always want to do things consciously.
This adage about what it’s like to be a parent really hits home. There are long days of working hard, with all of the immense number of details that we have to keep track of. Juggling everything means we can either find ourselves on autopilot or totally lost in appreciating the preciousness of time that we’ve got. There are also those real moments of frustration and exasperation.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the kids aren’t kids anymore and they’re ready to head off to college. All that crush of the day-to-day is gone so quickly, even though it all seemed endless when we were cleaning fencing uniforms or driving to a competition.
Being a long-time fencing parent is both exciting and exhausting. We hope these ten tips will give you a better foothold so that the long days feel more like a connection with your kids through fencing, which is what they should be!