In fencing, there are these two extremes that we often see in parenting. There are coddling parents and hard driving parents, and each is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of the parents that we see fall somewhere in-between, which is a good thing, but everyone can venture to one extreme or the other at times.
Coddling parents are thought of as those who pamper their fencers. They are highly concerned about feelings. They want to prevent their children from experiencing even the smallest hardship. They jump in-between fencers and their coaches, between fencers and their opponents, between fencers and themselves! They want their kids to win, but they want it to happen with as little discomfort as possible.
Hard driving parents are thought of as cold and ambitious. They are hard-nosed, and they care little about feelings. These are the “old school” fencing parents. Empathy for the opponent, for the coach, and indeed for their own fencer is not permitted. It’s about driving towards that victory. They want their kids to win, and it doesn’t matter how much discomfort happens along the way.
We tend to see more of the former in fencing, though hard driving parents definitely show up. There is a time and place for both. Let’s be clear about that – there are good reasons to coddle your fencer at times and to drive them hard at times. When child is physically injured, of course they need caring attention. When an emotional injury takes place, it’s not enough to tell them to “suck it up.” Coddling often moves well past these reasonable things though. It can become a way of life for parents. It comes out of a deep love for their child, but too much coddling hinders a young fencer’s ability to grow.
Too much of anything is not good. Letting your child become independent is challenging, and in fencing you’re letting them go with a sword!
Here eight signs you are coddling your fencer. If you’ve done one or two, then you might want to think about why those things happened. Three or four and you’re in danger of hindering their progress. If you’ve done more than five of the things on this list, then it’s time for change if you want your fencer to find independence!
1. You play fetch
Every time your fencer forgets something, you run ragged to fetch it. It might be the socks or the lame, the fencing mask or the cord. Once or twice is one thing, but if it happens over and over, then you’re shielding your child from the consequences of their forgetfulness.
Combat coddling: Just don’t go get it. It might mean that they sit out of a class the first time you don’t go home and get it, and of course we don’t want a fencer missing class, but they’ll still get to watch and learn. More than that, they’ll learn a valuable lesson about responsibility. Remember, fencing isn’t just about learning to swordfight – it’s about growing life skills.
2. You step in
You step between your child and the fencing coach. If your fencer is unhappy with the amount of time they get to fence in group lessons or doesn’t like the tasks the coach is assigning, you jump in every time to talk to the coach about it.
Combat coddling: Only step in if you see a pattern of problems. That means three separate instances. So if your child is fencing less than the other fencers in their class in three classes in a row, then it might be time to speak to the coach. Or better yet, help your child learn to speak to the coach themselves and understand why this happens!
3. You jump ship
You switched fencing schools or coaches more than once. This does not applies if you did this because your child was unhappy with the coach or didn’t like the students. If your child is in a situation in their fencing that’s not healthy, then by all means you should find a better fit. But if this happens more than once, it might not be the coach or the school that’s the issue. Switching coaches every times your child hits a rough patch is teaching them not to deal with situations, that they should take the easy way out.
Combat coddling: No matter how much your child asks or begs, stick with your current coach or club through at least one competitive season. If you do decide that a change might be warranted, only change after you’ve written down a pros and cons list. Try to get at the heart of why you or your child is inclined to move. This is a great opportunity for self reflection and growth.
4. It’s someone else’s fault
Nothing is ever your child’s fault. They missed a point? The opponent was sneaky. They got a yellow card? The ref was being biased. They lost a match? The coach didn’t train your fencer properly. It’s easy to scapegoat others when you’ve got a problem, it’s natural. None of us want to fail. None of us want our kids to fail. But failing is part of life, and without it we wouldn’t know how sweet victory is. When you blame someone else, you’re robbing your child of their potential.
Combat coddling: Instead of blaming someone else, look at every weakness as an opportunity for growth. “I know you lost that match, but you did a great job with your footwork. Let’s talk to your coach about what training you can do between now and the next competition to improve.”
5. You rant together
You and your child rant on together about bad coaches or selfish teammates. It’s a thing when you hop into the car after a fencing tournament or a day at fencing camp. If you’re talking a lot about other people in a negative way, and especially if you’re doing it with your child, then you’re taking the emphasis off their challenges.
Combat coddling: Just don’t rant. Find other ways to let off steam, and make it a policy to only speak in positive OR constructive ways about others. This can be a tough habit to break, but it’s one that snowballs far too easily into gossip and negative behaviors.
6. You approach other parents about your child
There are times when squabbles between young fencers require the intervention of adults. We definitely encourage you to have an open line of communication and to monitor what’s up with your fencer and their teammates. However if you’re going to parents again and again to intervene on behalf of your child, that’s not ok.
Combat coddling: Let them figure things out on their own between them unless absolutely necessary. Most kid problems last for only a short while, and though they can be dramatic about the situation, that’s just a part of growing up. Unless there’s something dire that’s interfering with their training, give it a week and then revisit whether you need to intervene.
7. You walk on eggshells
You shouldn’t shy away from open and honest discussions with your children. If you refuse to say anything that would upset your child, that’s not teaching them to cope with their emotions. You’re trying to guard your child from every disappointment, but he or she can probably handle the hard stuff far better than you think. You’re guarding them from small disappointments now, so how can you later expect them to bounce back from big ones?
Combat coddling: Of anywhere in the world, you are the safest place for them to face negative emotions. Speaking truth in love is powerful, and it’s good parenting. Tell it to your child straight, but with love!
8. You act like a sports agent
We know that you love your fencer and that you want to guide them effectively. You’re a multitasker! You’ve got a lot to offer and you want to jump in and manage as much as you can to support their fencing progress. That can morph into hoovering and over-controlling very quickly. You cannot and should not force your vision of your child’s fencing future onto them.
Combat coddling: Let your child figure it out. You can talk about options, share possible paths, but you must let your child follow their own path. Sit down WITH your child to create a goal plan for their fencing, rather than presenting them with one you’ve created.
There is no rulebook for being a fencing parent. There’s no perfect answer here, and there’s no way to be sure that you’re doing it perfectly. Again, it’s always about balance! Just as you want your child to check in with their behavior, it’s good for you to check in with yours. If you’re coddling, that’s ok! Take the initiative yourself now to let your young fencer spread their wings wider. You’ll be happy to see that they fly.