The “AFM Safe Shield” Returning to Training Guidelines are based on CDC health considerations and tools for operating during COVID-19, California schools’ guidelines, CDC Considerations for Youth Sports and Summer Camps, and Santa Clara County’s Public Health update and restrictions
Fencing is traditionally about swords, but now we are in a time when we need to act as a shield for our fencing community.
The last several months have been a whirlwind of change for everyone. Lockdowns, quarantine, social distancing, and a hefty dose of everyone feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Reopening is something that we all want to do, but we also want to do it safely.
The problem is, most of us in the fencing world aren’t health experts. The good news is that we don’t have to be. There are a whole host of guidelines and structures that have been published to help businesses create safety plans that will make reopening fencing clubs as safe as possible.
We’ve pulled information from the CDC, the government of California, and the Santa Clara County Health Department to create a plan for reopening fencing clubs, adapting it to the specifics of the fencing club training. Of course, there is always a risk and no system is perfect. However we have worked with experts and expert advice to come up with procedures that will minimize the risk of spreading the virus while also creating an environment where fencing training can continue. AFM is only working in clear accordance with the safety procedures laid out by Santa Clara County, all governmental restrictions and guidance, and what has been set out by Santa Clara County Schools.
AFM continues to keep the wellbeing of our fencers, their families, and our coaching team as our highest priority.
Flexibility, input, and accommodation
Safety is what matters, whether it is in small groups classes or in private lessons as we move towards a new normal. The AFM Safe Shield Plan brings together the power of leading experts, parent’s suggestions, and the shared responsibility between us all.
AFM is adopting the hybrid approach for training our fencers. Members have several options for training with AFM.
Small group training with precautions
Indoor or outdoor classes and private lessons
Any combination of the above
Everyone has their own considerations for safety and their own concerns about exposure. Whatever decision each family makes about their training, we support all of them. Accommodations and flexibility from us are a central tenet of our philosophy, especially now. Whatever we can do for fencing families, whether it is within these policies or not, we would love to hear it. All fencers deserve to have individual goals for training in fencing, no matter if they are in the club or training remotely. Growth is possible and still so important!
The input of families is a critical part of this process. This is a living document.
Quarantine can be quite a downer if you’re not careful. Staying positive is a critically important part of getting to the other side of this tremendous and extraordinary time, but how can you do it?
The key is to have lots of strategies to keep you going. If you are trying just one thing to keep positive, well then you will find yourself hitting a plateau. Just like in fencing training, you have to keep changing up your strategies if you are going to keep progressing.
To help you, our readers, keep that positive attitude, we’ve put together a list of strategies to help you stay positive during these times. These came together from things that we have done ourselves, things we’ve read online, things that our fencing families have said work for them. At this point we, like all of you, are pretty willing to try anything to keep those spirits up.
We are living an extraordinary time that requires extraordinary choices. Everywhere around the United States, families and businesses are making tough decisions about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We have had to make the extremely difficult decision to close our club to group classes to help stop the spread of the illness, despite what we thought we can do to keep going. It was the most gut wrenching decision that we have ever had to make, and it will challenge us, but we will make it.
It’s important to be clear about this – this is not a vacation, this is more like a quarantine. It’s not a strict quarantine, but it does mean that large crowds must not gather. So no cinema, restaurants, video games centers, museums or Disney. Outside is good, but playgrounds with lots of kids aren’t. It is different, totally different than anything else we’ve experienced before. The whole country, and most of the world with it, is holding up inside and away from each other in order to protect the most vulnerable.
No one knew where this was going a week ago, well we certainly didn’t at least. Containment of the virus has turned out to be much more of a challenge than we ever thought, and things have gotten very real very fast. Where we thought it could be stopped with preventative measures and precautions last week, and even wrote about it here on our blog, it is now clear that the impact will be much bigger than we anticipated. While the threat was always serious for us, the situation has evolved and so have the recommendations from our leaders. We expect that it will continue to evolve.
Every family who puts their kid in fencing has entrusted that club with the most precious thing in their lives – their child. Clubs do not take this lightly. They feel obliged to protect your children as their own. For those of us who run fencing clubs, these kids are our kids. The choice to halt classes or cancel competitions is extremely tough, but it is part of the responsibility that the community has to take. We are in this together.
What I find most amazing about this time is that it can and is bringing us together, even as we are separate. In that way it is not unlike fencing, a sport that brings us together.
The importance of supporting fencing coaches and clubs
Fencing clubs are small businesses, just like the thousands of other small businesses around the country. No fencing club has deep pockets that will allow it to keep its space and pay its people indefinitely without student classes. Even a month or two of lowered income could be devastating.
Without student fees to pay the bills, fencing clubs will eventually not be able to pay their coaches. What makes fencing different than lots of other sports is that fencing is filled with amazing coaches that come here as immigrants. Many coaches for fencing are here on visas that require them to work. Their ability to be in the United States is tied directly to their job as fencing coaches. Though they may have been here for many years and have their families here with them, they are still vulnerable. They can’t just go out and get another job. Supporting fencing clubs means directly supporting these families. It matters, so much more than many people realize.
If you have the ability, support your fencing club by continuing to pay your monthly class fee. Even a partial payment of the fee will mean a lot to clubs. If they are offering private lessons and you are comfortable with the social distancing that provides, then please take private lessons. With private lessons, fencers can continue to improve, sometimes a great deal. Any support you can give to your fencing club will have a major impact!
We hope that we do not see fencing clubs have to close their doors due to the coronavirus, but it is very possible that this will happen. We all need you! Without a club, your fencer will not be able to train in fencing. USA fencing will suffer without clubs to groom and train fencers. This beautiful progress that we have seen over the last thirty years in American fencing will slow down dramatically without the fencing clubs that we have built to be so strong.
We are in this together, and we thank you all for being part of this community.
The importance of structure and activity
With so many schools out, there is a lot of unstructured time and a good deal of looseness going on. Kids, and adults, need structure. Staying up until midnight and sleeping till noon is going to come back to haunt our teenagers. Staying up until ten and sleeping till ten is going to haunt our little ones. Families should try to maintain a similar schedule to what kids are used to, especially as this looks like it might go on for a while.
Fencing season will start again eventually, and things will eventually go back to normal, or at least some new normal. When that happens, we don’t want to have lost all of the progress that we have made. This is a time that we can continue to grow.
Check here at our blog for continued insight into how you can make the most of your time away from school and away from regular training at your club. We’re here to help!
Many parents and fencers have expressed concerns that Fencing Summer Nationals will be canceled. If that might happen, then what is the use in training? Even competitive folks are talking about this. This kind of thinking is a disaster! Though SN is definitely a great motivator for our training, it cannot be the main reason we are doing this. We train in fencing to get better, not for a specific competition or a podium. We don’t know how this will all play out, but we do know that there will be competitions again. What if Summer Nationals are not canceled and you stopped training because you thought they might be? Don’t risk that position.
Training gives us purpose. Without the other tethers that are there to support growth and give structure, this matters a lot. You know what you have to improve, and your coach is not gone if you are unsure. Coaches can be reached with the telephone, with email, with text, with facetime, and potentially for private lessons still depending on your club and your comfort level. Continue training! Do not be daunted!
Coronavirus is more dangerous when there is contact with groups of people. It is transmitted through social contact. Fencing lessons are limited to the coach and the student, and there will never be more than a handful of people there at one time. For families, this can be a welcome way to continue to have important structure when other forms of engagement are not possible. Kids need something to focus on and keep going with.
Fencing is already a passion, so let it be a cornerstone right now.
The sun is still shining!
Fencing means so much to all of us. Though this feels like the apocalypse, it’s not. With all of these preventative measures, we have every reason to believe that we will all make it through and that the virus will be contained. We have seen the virus rise and fall in other parts of the world, and with the right discipline on our part that should happen here too.
There will be fencing tournaments and classes to go to and points to acquire again before you know it. We’ll have fencing potlucks and international coaches flying in once again. Most importantly, we will get to join in the camaraderie that this sport brings to all of us.
Thank you for being a part of our fencing journey thus far. This moment is just that, it is a moment. It is a bump in the road. As someone who has lived in other places and seen tough situations, I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While there has never been anything quite like the threat of coronavirus before, human tenacity and ingenuity know no bounds.
We sincerely love our fencers, all of our fencers, and their families. We love being a part of this community, and the chance to meet competitors that challenge us. Not because they are customers and they bring revenue. Not because they are phenomenal fencers that get results and podiums. We love our fencers and their families, and even our competitors, because we feel a warm connection to you through this sport. We get this beautiful chance to watch children blossom and grow. We’ve also watched adults come to this sport and grow. There is nothing like it, and we are thankful for the chance.
When this is all over, we cannot wait to see our fencers together again, all over the country at competitions and in clubs. In the meantime, we ask that you keep up your fencing training and that you keep up your support of fencing clubs. We only are here because of our community and the talent and hard work of our coaches. One day soon we will all look back on this with thankfulness for these precautions.
Please stay healthy, positive and kind to each other. This is the time we need to show humanity and kindness, extend an arm of support one to another, and understand each other!
In moments of widespread fear of pandemic and misunderstanding, the best course of action is to stay calm and make intelligent choices. That’s what we’re working to do here, and we feel as though this is where the fencing community is right now as well.
Right now, the spread of the coronavirus is on the top of the minds of everyone. We recognize that public spaces like fencing clubs have a responsibility to make things as safe as possible. For everyone.
To that end, we are taking many precautions to ensure the safety of our members and our staff as much as possible. This is a constantly changing situation, so things may change rapidly! We thought we would share these precautions with our readers as well, as they can perhaps be helpful for others.
Coronavirus is a big thing right now. It’s everywhere. You hear talks, you hear concerns, you have fear. It’s real panic, with people genuinely worried about the outcome and the safety of their families. It’s spread so quickly that it’s hard not to feel out of control about it. COVID-19 has spread across the globe in a mere matter of weeks, and as fencing is an international community it’s concerning of course to us.
There are very few things you can do to calm this panic. For families, that can be disconcerting because it is our job to protect our children as well as ourselves, but something like a pandemic is not controllable. Some of the fear out there can get out of control, but this is also a real thing, and we recognize the real concerns that people have.
Remember, the people most at risk from this illness are mostly old people with compromised health. Strong, healthy fencers who are training for competition are not as likely to get sick. But they can carry the illness and spread it to those who are not able to fight it off so easily. That’s why safety measures are important for all of us.
Efforts to avoid COVID-19
What measures can you take to stay healthy and to keep from spreading illnesses to others?
First off, we must say that we are not experts on the spread of disease and all recommendations here are the ones from the government health agencies. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has issued guidelines about what things people should be doing in order to avoid spreading coronavirus, and many other organizations like schools and universities, as well as USA Fencing, are adapting those guidelines to their unique needs. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We want to follow closely the guidelines from our healthcare providers as much as possible.
The theme is always the same. You do not need to panic, but you do need to take measures to stay healthy. The most important measures are the simplest:
Continuously washing hands. All the time. Preferably with antibacterial soap. Wash your hands with running water because that’s how we destroy the virus.
Avoid touching the nose, the eyes, the face in general.
If you are sick, definitely stay home.
If you are coughing or sneezing, do it into your elbow or into a tissue.
Whenever you have any concerns, seek medical assistance from your healthcare provider. Don’t wait.
These are of course general guidelines. You’ve heard them already and you will hear them again. They are worth hearing over and over again precisely because they are so important.
Impact of the coronavirus on fencing
Fencing is definitely its own thing. It’s its own sport that has specific aspects that are unique, and we are seeing unique reactions from people in the fencing community to the spread of the COVID-19. Where we are in Northern California, there is a great deal of concern among the community about the virus coming here.
One thing that is happening is that some people are just dropping from everything. They are signing off from upcoming competitions, canceling lessons, and all kinds of other things. This is of course their prerogative to do, but I think that this is taking it a bit far. It’s a panicked reaction, and there is no reason right now to panic. Accidents happen on the road every day, but we still drive. There are many other possible things that are more harmful potentially than this virus, but that we expose ourselves to every day anyway. It’s unknown and rumors that make some of the more intense reactions about panic instead of prevention.
We want to look at the real numbers and the spread of the virus. We don’t want to minimize it, but we don’t want to go overboard either. We don’t want to see whole cities get sick, but we don’t want people to have a negative impact from panicking either. It is very much about common sense and balance.
The big organizations are looking at how this is going to impact the next several months as well, including whether these will be any impact on 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.The IOC has said that as of right now they are going to go on with the Games as planned, though they are already looking into additional preventative measures to keep the virus from spreading if it is still an issue this summer. Naturally, we are hopeful. Per latest USA Fencing update, all planned fencing competitions are going to be held as planned.
We definitely hope that it will stay that way and that people stay healthy.
Preventing illness in fencing
Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.
Yes, we keep on saying that. When you get to the fencing club, wash your hands. When you go to the bathroom, wash your hands. Wash your hands when you eat, before and after. When you snack at the club between class and your fencing lesson. This is especially important for parents, who need to remind their kids about how they need to get into this good habit.
There are other things that are specific to fencing though. Here are some of the things that you should be thinking about.
Only use your own gear.
If you are doing fencing, you’re using fencing clothing. There are two pieces of gear that are the most important for you never to share, even if you cannot afford or don’t have access to complete individual gear:
These two things should be first to own when you seriously start doing fencing – regardless of any virus, coronavirus or not, but just as a matter of normal, common-sense hygiene. You must have your own glove and mask, even if you have to get the mask secondhand and clean it so that it is yours.
The weapon is the other thing that you come into direct contact with, and it is best if you have your own weapon as well.
This is a good opportunity to clean your equipment as well if you haven’t in a while. We have detailed guidelines on cleaning everything from the mask to the lame to the glove. Even if you have your own gear, it’s never bad to give it a spruce up and clean it.
It is customary for fencers to shake hands during our sport, after our matches or private lessons. No one is going to judge you harshly for not shaking hands right now. Which is again has nothing to do with coronavirus, but with any other situation when you are under the weather! You can salute, you can touch elbows, those kinds of greetings.
It is not about the specific form that the greeting takes, it is about the sentiment of camaraderie that is behind it. Whatever form it takes, you’re going to be just fine.
Sweating under the mask
We sweat a lot under the fencing mask. This is a reality of the sport and just something that we have to contend with, coronavirus or no.
Fencers often keep a towel near their strip so that they can wipe off their face and better concentrate on the match. It’s a good idea to move to a tissue that you can immediately discard.
This is a good tactic to practice right now anyway, because it will give you a way to blow or wipe your nose if you have a need. Just keep a pack of tissues in your knickers so that you are prepared.
Ask your club about their guidelines and if there is anything new that you should be aware of or that you can help out with.
Something that we are doing, in line what USA Fencing recommends, and that we hope other clubs are doing is to do additional daily wipe downs and disinfection of all of the commonly touched surfaces in the club, such as door handles and knobs, restrooms, tables, sport equipment, etc.. We believe in focusing on common sense and reasonable precautions at ways to maintain a healthy environment and maximize facilities cleanliness.
Safety and sanity with sports and coronavirus
Right now, there is not a need to freak out about this. It’s easy to do that when there is a lack of concrete information, and right now there is a lack of concrete information out there about COVID-19. There is not a vaccine yet to prevent the disease, and there is not any way of knowing how it will spread. That is frustrating, but there is nothing that we can do about it unfortunately.
Fencing is very much an international sport. We have people constantly going all over the world to compete and to train, which is something that we love about it. With this virus going all over the world right now at a fast pace, that makes fencing feel vulnerable. We understand. However we are not seeing anything right now that should cause us to go shut ourselves up at home and interrupt our training, our competitions, or our relationships with the sport.
What we can do is to take control where we can. Do the things that we know from doctors are effective in preventing the spread of all kinds of viruses, and that will make us safer from everything in the process. You never know if this is going to be a big thing are not. It seems to change by the day. While it’s similar to the flu, it’s a different virus and that is scary because it is unknown.
The best thing that we can do is to remain grounded in the facts and to do our best to follow the guidelines from the experts. We pray that this will all pass with as few people infected as possible, because being sick or watching someone you love become ill is not what we want for anyone.