It has been a long year of lockdowns, closings, and slow reopenings. What’s changed now is that we are in the bright sunshine of a new day and a new time! There is the golden opportunity to turn the page while still remembering the lessons of the book that we all just read together.
While no one could call the process of the last year easy, especially for families with kids, we can all agree that reopening is a joyful finale to the tribulations that we’ve worked through together. We made it through all of this with the support of each other, and we will keep on moving forward with that same kind of support.
Why fencing is important post-pandemic
The loss of in-person sports was tough on a lot of kids. Fencing provides a needed stress relief, emotional release, and physical outlet for kids.
Training through zoom and social distancing did indeed take us far! We are thankful that it dulled the loss and kept us going, but now that restrictions are lifting left and right and vaccinations are pushing case numbers down, we need to get back into the groove of what life can be like. The last year has been a fog that in many ways obscured the feeling of accomplishment and excitement that fencing brings.
For many fencers, this is a hobby and also an identity. “What do you do?” “I am a fencer.” It’s not like “I play soccer” or “I do gymnastics” – “I am a fencer.” Without the ability to go to clubs and compete, they did not feel themselves. We worked hard to keep that connection online and with training through masks and outside, but without competition and in-person connection, it could not be as it was.
Reconnecting with this identity is important for kids, and for adult fencers. For new fencers, this sport offers a place to reset and create a new post-pandemic identity. We get to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and learn more about who we can be.
Adaptation is our calling card
We must adapt to the needs of each other as we reopen.
Lots of fencing families are throwing themselves back into the thick of things with Fencing Summer Nationals, and that’s a wonderful thing. Other fencing families are deciding to come back slower, and that’s ok too. Wherever a family’s comfort is, we as a community want to be inclusive and supportive. Skill levels will be all over the map, so patience with our individual progress is important as well. Fencing coaches and clubs can offer the kind of support that we can rely on as we get back to fencing in person.
One big problem is that many kids have lost their interest in playing youth sports, including sports like fencing. The pandemic was difficult, and we do not want to minimize the impact that it’s had on kids, even as we push forward to live in a brighter world beyond it. However, we do want our kids to participate and to succeed. The tools that sport gives to kids like resilience, self-confidence, and physical fitness are incredibly important for the overall development of kids. We must be patient and understanding because kids had to adapt to a whole new way of life in the last year. They will have to adapt again now.
The first step is to realize that it is a process to get back to normal. It will not happen instantly, not even with increased rates of vaccinations and a country that is reopening. Masking might well stick around, especially seasonally. Handshakes and hugs could still be far away, at least coming back around seasonally. Many families might choose to continue to mask for any number of reasons, and it’s a choice that we should all support. Nothing is static. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that change is the real constant. We learned to adapt so much this year, and so did our kids. This is a positive skill that will help for the future, and it’ll help right now if we allow it to.
Kids are resilient. That’s a phrase that has been said so many times in the last year to parents, but it’s repeated because it is true. Kids will adapt if we give them space and look out for their needs. Adults are resilient too when we give ourselves space and look out for our own needs. We are all used to staying home. We trained ourselves and our kids to be vigilant because we had to, and now we have to train ourselves to be comfortable out in the world again.
What if fencing is different?
Fencing will be different after the pandemic. There is some tragedy in that, but the future is still bright ahead of us.
The reality is some fencing clubs went under due to the financial pressures of lockdown. We have also lost college fencing programs, though there is hope as at least a couple of them have been resurrected already. That shift in and of itself will take time to adjust to and time to correct. There is a tragic element to a club or a program closing, and it’s ok to be sad about that. We as a sport are still strong, and we must remember that because a club is gone does not mean those coaches and those fencers have disappeared! They did not magically vanish, they just have to find other ways to train and connect. The wider fencing community can help by continuing to support everyone through reopening.
This summer, we will see an utterly unique Fencing Summer Nationals and (hopefully) an utterly unique Olympics. Some athletes benefitted from this, and some athletes had their dreams dashed because of this. However, everyone has grown through this last year and a half. Even in loss, there is still learning.
For parents, this is a huge life lesson moment. We can embrace the changes and look to ways that we as individuals can become better fencers and better people through adversity. In fencing, we always say that you grow more as a fencer when you lose a point than when you win one because you can see how you can get better. We must look for ways that we can get better right now.
It is not a question of what if fencing is different, it is a certainty that it is different. What we do with that difference is a wonderful opportunity to make our sport better than ever before.
Adjusting after lockdown
There are lots of factors to consider when returning to fencing after lockdown.
Though there were many challenges, there were lots and lots of positive things. Families have lots of different experiences with lockdown, and so they will also have lots of different experiences with reopening. Here are some important points that we see.
- The slower pace of lockdown allowed families to spend more time together. A busy fencing schedule will mean spending more time apart, which is welcome but we will miss some of that family time too.
- Going back to school is already a big adjustment, and after-school activities will be an adjustment too.
- “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so fencing again will feel sweeter than it did before. We can hopefully appreciate the rigor and pace of life after lockdown because we know what the alternative looks like.
- Financial pressures with job losses during the pandemic can mean families have to make tough decisions. Reopening is seeing some good growth, so we can hope that this will mitigate some of those pressures and allow fencers to come back.
One big point to make here is that your family’s needs are important. Fencing is an enriching part of our lives, and what we want more than anything is for it to fuel the personal development of our fencers. How and when you decide to return to fencing and competition is totally up to you, and we want everyone to know that the fencing community is going to be here with open arms no matter what.
We do want to see fencers back in clubs and at competitions!
High standards, low pressure, and community
The key to re-entry into fencing for families who are unsure about how to make their way back into their fencing clubs is to have high standards but low pressure. How fast you get there is not so important as steady movement in the right direction.
This is the same philosophy that we see in learning fencing. You cannot become a high-level fencer in one month of practice. Even if you practiced ten hours a day with the best coaches in the world. By that same token, you cannot just snap your fingers and expect to be fencing like you used to or for your kids to be right where they were before a yearlong pandemic. If you train in the right way, with high standards for how you practice, then you will get there. What matters most is the work that you put in.
If you are ever unsure of what the next step should be for your family, reach out to your club or our coach. If your club was one of those that closed this year, please stay in contact with the community to find out how you can continue training and competing. In the world of zoom, there are more possibilities than ever before to train with a great fencing coach even, if you are not near a club. You are always welcome to comment or email us if you are looking for a connection, and there are lots of online communities of fencers that will point you in the right direction.
There is nothing like the thrill of competition and the joy that training brings. After the last year, pressure from anyone to get back on the piste is not helpful. We are all different in our ways of navigating the pandemic and in how it affected us. Please, be patient with yourself and be patient with your kid fencers. Though reopening and returning to fencing is exciting, it can also be complex.
Fencing is still going to be here for you when the world is open again! Our amazing fencing community isn’t going anywhere, and we are all here to help one another get back into the flow of fencing training after the pandemic.