The first competition for new fencers and new fencing parents can be both thrilling and very challenging. What do I need to bring? How will I manage the schedule? What protocols will impact my day? There are so many different variables that go into a large fencing tournament, and they all have the potential to derail a fencer’s focus and cause stress. It’s good to know that you can minimize all of that with some advice from experienced fencing parents.
Depending on who you are and what kind of youth sports experience you have, you might find that you’re comfortable with some aspects of the process, but this guide is truly a primer – it’s written with the assumption that you don’t have any experience with large youth sports competitions.
It’s important to note here that large competitions are different from local competitions and inter-club tournaments. RYCs, NACs, RJCCs, etc. are on a bigger scale with more moving pieces. What’s more, fencers and their families are often traveling a considerable distance to go to regional and national fencing tournaments. Those layers add up to a broader scope and a greater level of intensity that warrants more preparation.
Once you get the hang of it, that level of intensity is both satisfying and familiar. The fencing community is a warm and supportive space for young people to grow, and the connections forged at these large fencing tournaments are both comforting and deeply satisfying. Friendships between fencing families as well as individual fencers are forged on the road and in the tournament halls during regional and national fencing tournaments, all while fencers challenge themselves to become better people in a holistic way.
Starting off is not always easy. That’s why we’ve put together this thorough primer for fencers and fencing parents who are going into their first competition. We’ve broken it down into sections that are easy to follow and straightforward. It’s comprehensive enough to give you everything you need to know about your first fencing tournament, while at the same time being short enough that you can read it in the few minutes you have as you dash between school and fencing practice. If you don’t have time to dig through all of it, that’s ok! Scan the headlines and focus on the areas that you have the most questions about. Hopefully, you’ll find the answers here! If you don’t, please drop us an email or comment at the bottom of this list to let us know what we’re missing.
Check your email & notifications
First things first, make sure that you check your emails and notifications from the tournament organizer ahead of the competition.
Normally, fencing competitions go off in the scheduled manner that they are planned on, but things can always change. The organizers might change the start times of the events a few days before the event when they realize that their initial event planning does not work with the events based on the actual number of fencers who sign up. It’s not always happening, but if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s to be flexible.
It’s the responsibility of the fencer and the fencing parent to keep an eye out for important information. You’ll likely hear from your club if there are significant changes, but even so you’re best served to stay on top of it. You’ll definitely find out what’s going on when you check in on competition day, but you can avoid surprises by watching out for change notifications.
Given that the pandemic is a way of life now, it’s critical to start with COVID protocols mean for a fencing competition.
The COVID precautions are the same for all tournaments that are sanctioned by USA Fencing. This means Local, Regional, Divisional, and National fencing competitions. You can find the August update to the USA Fencing COVID protocols here, but we’ve bullet-pointed some most common of them for you below. Note that the protocols can change based on the locality of the tournament and its level, and the USA Fencing can impose additional requirements at any time.
- Proof of full vaccination (at least two weeks after the final dose) OR a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event.
- All participants, spectators, coaches, and staff must wear masks.
- Handshakes at the end of bouts are prohibited – participants should salute instead and beat their blades.
- Only one fencer may approach the bout committee at a time.
All of these protocols are at the site of the tournament except for the vaccine/testing requirement. This is so, so critically important. You will be turned away from the venue if you don’t have a vaccine or a recent test.
Take a picture of the vaccine card for everyone who is attending and keep it in a separate folder in your pictures on your phone so that you can access it easily. You do not need to bring a physical copy of your vaccine card – a digital image will suffice.
If you are testing instead of getting vaccinated, you must schedule your test no more than 72 hours prior to the start of the event. Keep in mind that the PCR test takes almost that long to come back, so schedule it ahead of time. You can book a free test online at drug stores and healthcare providers, but make sure you book it early – a week before the date of the competition. That will ensure that you are able to get a test at a location that’s convenient and on time. Kids under the age of eleven who can’t get the vaccine yet will need to get a COVID test. Just as with the vaccine card, a digital version of the test results is just fine.
COVID protocols like these are not going anywhere any time soon, but the great thing is that there is a safe return to competition with the pandemic going on. These precautions have become just another part of the process.
What to bring
The big thing we want to know is what to bring to the fencing tournament! Divisional, Regional, and National fencing competitions require travel, and that requires packing. There’s no running back home for something that you forgot to bring with you like you might be able to do at a local competition.
If you are new to fencing competitions, it’s a good idea to keep it simple and stick to the basics. This way you won’t get overwhelmed. Also, remember that everyone was once a first-time competitor! There are very few things that will make you unable to compete should you leave them at home, and we’ve marked the ones you cannot replace in bold.
Here’s a quick list of the essentials.
- Vaccination card or test results. This cannot be emphasized enough – you must have an electronic copy of your vaccination card or your test results in order to compete. If you get to the venue and don’t have this required information then you’ll be turned away, unable to compete and forfeiting your fees.
- Age verification. This is another absolute essential that you cannot forget. A photo on your phone is acceptable, but you must provide proof of the fencer’s age. This can be in the form of their birth certificate, passport, Green Card, or any other government-issued document. All you have to do is snap a quick photo of whatever proof you are using with your phone.
After their first regional competition, the organizers will send USA Fencing a note that your fencer’s age is verified, then USA Fencing will update their membership card. To check whether your child’s age is verified or not, take a look at their USA Fencing membership card (downloaded per instructions below). If the line on its right side above the logo says “DOB Verified: N”, then absolutely bring the proof. A few weeks after the tournament’s conclusion you can download their card again and check the same line. It should say “DOB Verified: Y”.
- USA Fencing Membership Card. To get a copy, go to your child’s USA Fencing profile, then to the dashboard. On the right side, there is a button that says “download your membership card”. You can either print it or save it on your phone to be able to register for your child’s event with a barcode scanner upon entry to the venue.
- Full fencing gear. Long socks, fencing shoes, glove, two weapons, two body cords, jacket, knickers, chest protector, underarm protector (aka plastron), mask, lame and mask cord for sabre/foil, & mask, all in your fencing bag. There are vendors at large competitions so that you can replace lots of things, even the weapon or the mask if you had to, but that’s obviously something you’d like to avoid. Long socks and shoes could technically be bought when you arrive in the city of the competition should you forget them. Be sure to mark your fencing gear ahead of the competition, just in case it gets misplaced or lost.
Those are the things that are strictly essential, but there’s more that will make the competition run smoothly. Here’s a comprehensive list of what you’ll want to prepare.
- Water. A lot of water is important for fencers during competition. Grab a trusted water bottle to refill and keep refilling it throughout the day.
- Snacks. Focus on athlete-friendly snacks like granola bars, fruit, bagels, trail mix, etc. Healthy options are scarce when you’re out in the world, so it’s a good idea to add plenty to the fencing bag for competition day.
- Small folding chair (or two). Places to sit at venues are sometimes not easy to find. A compact folding chair is a godsend for both parents and competitors. During warm-up, fencers go find somewhere quiet to get ready, and those nooks and crannies in the venue are almost guaranteed to be without somewhere to sit.
- Small towel. A little towel is a wonderful thing to have to wipe the face or even a sweaty palm beneath the glove.
- Spare t-shirts & socks. It gets hot under fencing gear, especially with the added nerves and exertion of fencing competition. When the t-shirt or socks under all of that gets sweaty, it can get uncomfortable and distracting. The simple change of a shirt after the pools and then after the competition is not only more comfortable, it also helps improve focus. You’d be amazed at how fresh a clean pair of socks can feel when you’ve been fencing hard! One insider tip – throw some flip flops or spare shoes in the fencing bag to wear after the competition.
- Club jacket or hoodie. If your fencing club has special jackets or shirts, competition is definitely the time to wear them. That goes for parents too! You’ll see lots of people with cool fencing shirts at fencing competitions, and it’s a whole lot of fun to build community in this way.
- Face masks. These days we can never seem to have too many face masks. Make sure you have extras so that your fencer can change them when necessary. Lots of things can happen to a face mask in competition – broken loops, they can fall on the floor, they can get wet underneath the fencing mask, etc.
- Small bills. A little cash is a good idea to have on hand, in $1 and $5 increments. If a weapon needs to be fixed or a body cord needs repair during a fencing competition, you might be able to pay a few dollars or give a tip at a vendor booth to get it fixed. If you’ve got a few small bills in your wallet, this is simple enough. There will also likely be vending machines if you need a bottle of water or a cup of coffee.
Fencers who have been going to competitions for a long time will have their own list of things that work for them. You’ll find your own groove with what works for you and your fencer!
The night before a fencing competition can be a restless one thanks to all of the excitement that a fencer feels. The first fencing tournament is an exciting moment for everyone, so it’s expected that you’ll have a hard time settling down!
Proper rest before competition is so, so important. Young fencers should go to sleep on time the day before a competition, or maybe even early if they have an early travel day. Competition is a physically and emotionally intensive event, and we want to be in the best possible shape so that fencers can get the most out of it. Nothing is better than a good sleep for that!
Length of a fencing competition
In general, expect the fencing itself to last around four hours from the first touch to the last. There’s around an hour of prep that happens before the fencing itself starts. Of course, in larger events with hundreds of fencers the total duration can be longer, but for the first competition this is a good estimate.
Delays are not uncommon, and they can occur for any number of reasons. Leave yourself plenty of time around your travel and before you schedule things after. A seven hour window should suffice, as this will also give you a little time after the competition to connect with your coach or teammates. Most of the time people are ready to celebrate the finish of the tournament with a meal and some camaraderie, something that’s coming back even with the pandemic.
Regional and National tournaments go across two or more days as often they sport several events any fencer can compete in. The higher the level of competition, the longer the duration will be because there are more fencers competing. Each of these is structured differently. Sometimes a tournament will have only a single category (meaning same gender/weapon) will on the same day (for example, Y10 Men’s Epee on Friday, Y12 Men’s Epee on Saturday and Y14 Men’s Epee on Sunday), and sometimes a couple of same categories will run on the same day but few hours apart (for example, Y10 Men’s Epee in the morning and Y14 Men’s Epee later in the afternoon). Team fencing competition is a whole other competitive format. Local tournaments tend to be a single day.
Though the fencing itself might only last for a few hours, the adrenaline rush before and during the competition can be mentally and physically draining. This is a good thing, but it’s also good to recharge before jumping back into life. Try to make sure your fencer gets a respite after the competition, especially if there’s travel involved, even if it’s a single evening.
Multiple fencing events
It’s common for fencers to sign up for multiple events at a single tournament, and that can feel overwhelming when you’re at your first large fencing tournament.
Usually, age-overlapping events are scheduled separately as many fencers are competing in more than one age category. For example, the Y10 and Y12 events in the same weapon/gender will be scheduled on separate days as fencers can fence at the age category above their calendar age (check out our post on fencing age requirements here). It’s not always the case that they are able to schedule events that way. Occasionally, two events that a fencer is competing in will be on the same day. That’s a lot of fencing for a person to do in a day, but it’s absolutely doable and can be done well.
If you find this in your first competition, take the following preparation steps to ensure the day goes as smoothly for your fencer as possible.
- Have your fencer drink extra water to fuel focus and keep the muscles moving.
- Take extra power snacks like protein bars, shakes, or trail mix. This will help your fencer to recharge when they’re doing lots of fencing.
- Be sure to have spare t-shirts and socks to change into between events. This will keep your fencer comfortable and is a powerful refresher between all that fencing.
Take it all one step at a time, especially if your fencer is competing in multiple events in one day. Focus on this match, this bout, this point, this moment. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the only way to get to the end is one step at a time. Think of multiple events in a single day as just more opportunities to learn and grow through fencing!
Before any fencer steps onto the strip to meet their opponent, they have to have their equipment verified and marked. In the US this is a requirement for any regional and national competition, while local competitions usually do not impose this rule. Armorers are on hand at fencing competitions to get fencers through the process as fast as possible while being thorough.
Look for the armorer’s station at the venue, which will be open for the duration of the competition. For larger competitions, you’ll be able to go to the venue the night before during a window of a few hours as well if the organizers set this up. Check their communication in both the tournament description as well as in their emails.
It is highly advisable that to do a weapon check the day before the event if possible. By doing this, you’ll save a lot of time during the competition itself and you’ll also be able to respond to any problems that might be going on ahead of time. This is hands down one of the best ways to ensure an easy competition day, and it takes a huge weight off your shoulders to know that it’s taken care of. Nevertheless it helps the organizers to start their events on time too.
Fencing weapons start to malfunction after some time of usage through normal wear and tear on the spring mechanisms inside the barrel and the tips, which can be delicate. A malfunctioning weapon will be penalized by a yellow card if it is detected by a referee prior to the start of any bout. This is why weapons are tested before every bout by the referees. It’s a good idea to have your fencer ask their coach to check their weapon in the week before the competition to be on the safe side and keep this kind of problem from coming up.
If there is a problem with your weapon or your fencing gear, don’t freak out. It’s not uncommon for fencers to run into snags here and there. Ask your coach or the armorer what to do and take solace in knowing that they’ve seen it all before! A weapon with a problem is not the end of the world and it’s not the end of the competition for your fencer, not by any means.
Coaching at fencing competitions
Depending on the size of your club, you will likely have a coach at most of the Local, Divisional, Regional, and National fencing tournaments. This is a piece that you want to be clear on before you go, as well as what your club’s expectations are for coaching at the competition. Coaches are there to help fencers navigate from before fencing begins and through the duration of the competition.
Most large clubs offer strip coaching during the big competitions, so your fencer will likely have a coach right there during their matches, though this is not always the case depending on timing. It’s not essential to have strip coaching in order to do well, but it’s definitely something worth asking about.
In general, you’ll want to make sure that you have a patch for your club on the non-fencing arm of the fencing jacket. All fencers look the same when they’re in their full gear! This is a quick way for fencing coaches to identify who they need to work with.
Trust in your coach, especially at that first competition. While nerves are definitely running high, keep in mind that they are responsible for lots of fencers. Allow your fencing coach to guide you through the process. If you have some questions about a referee call, a weapon issue, or even some confusion about your fencer’s category, ask your coach.
Let your fencer advocate for themselves
One of the really wonderful things about fencing is that it’s a chance for young people to learn independence. As much as possible, and even at the first big fencing tournament, allow your child to make their way through the process with your support, rather than you taking the lead.
If there’s an issue with the weapon, let them walk up to the table and ask the questions. If they don’t know what to do and you don’t know the answer, have them approach their coach or a member of the fencing tournament staff and ask the question. Parents should definitely stand nearby to give them confidence, but this is such a wonderful opportunity for kids to practice doing things on their own. It’ll make them feel more confident on the strip as well!
Along these same lines, make sure that you check in with your fencer about what they need before you assume that you know. They have a warm-up routine that they’re accustomed to, a way that they pack their gear, a feel for how much quiet time they need before competing. Different fencers need different things, and kids change all the time. Fencing tournaments should be an exciting event that feels good all the way around, even as they are challenging.
How do I get results?
Fencing Time Live is a website that posts up-to-the-minute information about the results of any official USA Fencing tournament in the United States. It’s a fantastic resource.
Please note that the pool results are not updated with each bout, but rather after the entire pool is finished and the referee brings the pool sheet to the Bout Committee. This could take up to one or two hours, depending on how many fencers are in the pool, how fast the matches progress, and whether there are any hangups that slow the matches down. The DE bouts (which stands for Direct Elimination) is updated a few minutes after it’s finished when the winner gets the results to the Bout Committee.
Parents, especially those who don’t attend the event for whatever reason, can follow their fencer online. It’s a fun thing for grandparents and friends too, especially because the site can be accessed from your phone anywhere.
It’s a good idea to check out the website before the competition so that you can get familiar with how it looks and where you can find the information you’re looking for. It’s easy and very user friendly. The only caveat that we must give is that it can be addicting to check those results! If you’re at the competition in person, remember to look up and watch the fencing.
What happens if a fencer is eliminated?
Please note that the second round of competition is called Direct Elimination for the good reason: the losing fencer in each match is eliminated from the rest of the tournament.
In Regional and National events, the top 8 participants are medaled. So if your fencer lost when they were already in the table of 8, they will be medaled. Don’t go home! This is a moment when proud parents and coaches will take pictures of those happy and proud faces.
Even if your fencer is eliminated at the end of the pools or at some point during direct elimination and doesn’t medal, make plans to stick around and watch the whole tournament. It’s good to see the whole process from start to finish, and the knowledge gained from watching fencing in person is invaluable. Watch the divisions above yours to see what the future will be for your fencing competition and check out the other competitors in your own category as you will most likely see them again at tournaments. You can observe coaching styles, other weapons, and how different referees have their own style.
This is a great opportunity to cheer on teammates and to gain insight into fencing. All in all, investing the time in a full day of fencing competition is fun and a wonderfully worthwhile way to spend a weekend. At the end of the competition, everyone has time to take pictures with their coach and their teammates, to talk about the tournament, and to feel the warm and wonderful feelings of having challenged themselves in competition – no matter the outcome.
It is mandatory to have an improvised ice-cream party at home after a fencing day for every competitor. Here you have a variety of choices: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, or any other flavor that you have a taste for. Siblings should be included in the celebration, as well as grandparents and anyone else who loves fencing and sweet treats. A cake might serve as an acceptable substitution for ice cream.
Celebrating the accomplishment of a young fencer who has put themselves out there and pushed their limits, whether the outcome was what they hoped or less than what they hoped, instills in them that it is the effort that matters most. What we want is for fencers to enjoy competition so that they’ll want to continue to challenge themselves.
The real opponent is not the person on the other side of the strip – it’s the fencer themselves. That’s why putting it on the line and participating in competition is worthy of a celebration!
Though there will always be a learning curve that families experience at their first fencing tournament, the more information that you’ve got going in, the better prepared you’ll feel and the fewer bumps you’ll experience. Always keep in mind that the fencing community is a supportive and welcoming one. If you have any concerns or questions, ask the people at your club, reach out to another parent, talk to your coach, and of course comment on a blog post. We’re all here to help each other grow!