With the recent successes of American fencers on the International scene and the Gold Medal of Lee Keifer, American fencing has experienced a renewed interest in both the sport and appreciation for all the ways it can benefit students and parents alike.
If you’re interested in trying out competitive fencing, or even recreational fencing, there are a few things to keep in mind before you dive in. Here are nine factors you’ll need to consider as you evaluate joining a fencing club or working with a fencing coach.
1 – Experience and Credentials
It’s essential that when checking out fencing clubs, that you verify their credentials and ask questions about their experience. Be sure that the coaches have the right skills set to encourage your child to grow both in mind and body in their fencing journey.
Don’t assume that a club that has successful athletes means that the coach is superior. While this is indeed sometimes the case, it’s important that your club and coaches have a proven track record working with children of all different skill levels and can encourage everyone from the very beginner to the more advanced student. Students might come to them from somewhere else or have some other outside support like family that is fueling their success.
It’s always worth a google search for the details of your coach’s background. You can also be upfront and pointedly ask them what their background is. Great coaches and great clubs will be very open and excited to share what their coaches and staff have in their background that makes them wonderful to work with.
2 – Location
This one is high on the list because serious fencing training means spending a lot of time at the club.
If you’re lucky to live in an area with multiple fencing clubs it’s important to carve out time to meet with each of them and evaluate everything they have to offer, taking in cost, class times, and if they offer private lessons. If you are not lucky enough to live close enough to look at several clubs, then you’ll want to look at the coaches within the club that you are close to. There are almost always multiple coaches within a competitive club, which means that you’ll be looking for the right fit among the coaches and how that progression looks as a fencer trains over time.
If you live three hours away from the nearest quality fencing club, then look for other options. If you’re passionate about fencing, there are ways to train even without being local to a club. Online private lessons that supplement less frequent class times because of distance can be a viable option. Fencing clubs are more flexible after all of the adaptation that was required by the pandemic. Be clear on this point though – in-person fencing training is necessary to become a competitive fencer.
3 – Communication
Your club and fencing coaches should have an open door policy to communicate both ways. Many places will communicate via email and even do so within 24 hours to answer pressing or timely questions.
Some coaches are very involved in every aspect of everything including helping to select the right weapons, and reminding fencers to register for upcoming competitions. Other coaches expect the parents to be more involved in this way. Be sure to evaluate which style your fencing club or your fencing coach may fall into and what is the most comfortable way for you.
Being able to get constructive feedback and ways for your child to improve is also essential. Making sure you have an open line of communication both ways can always benefit your child (both in fencing and in nearly everything else they do!). When you’re meeting with clubs and coaches, learn how they provide feedback and assess your child’s progress, but definitely don’t expect to get a daily update.
A big bonus for fencing families are the orientation sessions that some clubs offer, especially to new families. The learning curve for fencing can be a high one, and extra effort by a club to make that transition easier is always appreciated by new parents.
4 – Professionalism and Character
How your club staff and coaches interact with you and your child is very important. They will be a large part of your child’s life, often serving as a mentor and role model in fencing.
Finding a fencing coach that you and your child mesh with is the ideal scenario. It’s important that you do your research about a club before you decide on signing up, and referrals from other fencing families are the best way to know you’re in good hands. Don’t just rely on which one is the closest, even though that’s obviously a factor in the decision.
Sometimes it takes a bit of investigation to make sure you have the right fit for your family and your child. Parents need to do research before they decide on a club, rather than just googling which one has the hours that are most convenient or which one is the nearest.
5 – Goal Setting
Depending on your child’s goals in fencing, your fencing club should be willing to collaborate with you to make a plan on how to reach them. Either through recommending specific competitions to attend, additional classes to take, or at-home-practice that they can do on the side. Fencing success doesn’t just happen because of private lessons and class time – it’s also about what happens when a fencer gets home.
Your fencing club and fencing coaches should be willing to work with you and your family to make these goals happen to the best of their ability. They aren’t going to do everything for you, but they should be excited about helping you progress and ready to scaffold that progress.
6 – Honesty
It’s tricky to talk about this, but it is essential that you find a coach who can give you honest feedback. Make sure that you feel like you can speak freely with your fencing coach about the positive progress your child is making as well as the challenges that they’re facing. Ask their honest opinions about how your child can improve their fencing, and if your child’s goals are realistic based on their skill level.
Finding a coach and a club who are willing and able to be upfront without the fear that you’ll pull your child from the sport can only benefit your young fencer. By that same token, make sure that you’re receptive to constructive feedback about your child’s fencing. Having an honest dialogue can better prepare you and your child for realistic expectations in this sport. Big dreams are wonderful, but there are lots of points of learning on the road to getting there! That’s one of the great things about growth through fencing.
7 – Life/Fencing Balance
A good fencing coach will understand that a child’s life is not only about fencing. Of course, if it were up to your club and your coaches, your number one priority would be fencing. This is the real world though, and our kids have other priorities such as school, other hobbies, and family responsibilities.
Finding that balance is essential and many clubs will recognize that…to a point! When it’s time for competition though, we will want you to be all in to be sure you get the best results possible. This is another point where there are lots of tools to preserve a young fencer’s mental health and help them maintain a healthy balance between competition, school, family and friends.
8 – Teaching Ability
The best fencing coaches are intuitive about what is going on with your child on the strip. There is something magical that happens between a young fencer and their coach that lets the fencing coach to tap into nuances in the child’s performance, shifts in mood, and even perceive their stress level. There are some coaches who are just great teachers and know how to do this. It’s a gift, just like some people have a gift for teaching.
Finding a coach who can recognize that your child may be overwhelmed, or overly stressed either by school pressure or fencing pressure provides a unique perspective. Often, this can lead to establishing a plan that is more suited to the child, helping them to feel empowered to keep reaching for their goals, but in a way that is hopefully less stressful.
A talent for teaching is not just about a coach who can instruct a fencer in the right movements, though that will suffice for getting a young fencer going in the right direction. Especially as a fencer moves up through the novice ranks and on into competitive fencing, a great teacher will make all the difference.
9 – Provide Motivation
Your fencing club and coaches, as well as many of your child’s teammates, should be able to help build up your child’s confidence in the sport and inspire them to their highest potential. Finding a coach that makes your child want to work harder, and feel inspired will make you and your child feel great about choosing to fence as well.
Motivation means support through the good and the bad days, always keeping an eye on forward growth and always supporting a positive mindset. The motivation to get a point in fencing should come from a fencer wanting to challenge themselves, not from a fear of getting in trouble.
Look out for a fencing club that is constantly generating a supportive environment for the fencers, no matter what the outcome of a match is.
Whatever your goals are, finding a well-matched fencing club is a great way to give yourself an edge in your child’s training in the sport of fencing.