Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Better Fencing Parenting with Maslow

Better Fencing Parenting with Maslow

It’s obvious that parents want to do what’s best for their child. That’s the point of parenting isn’t it? But the answer to helping your child definitely isn’t in doing everything for them. And it definitely isn’t in leaving them to do everything themselves. Now what you’ve got to figure out is how you can balance the two.

You need a guide to help you know how to foster independence and fulfill those needs. Luckily we just so happen to have one.

Most of us have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy. If you haven’t, don’t worry, we’re going to to talk about what it is and how fencing parents can use it.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

Sometimes the best way to understand what we need to give to our kids is to dig into a little basic psychology. We’re not here to be armchair therapists, but there are some tools from psychology that are widely used in all kinds of settings, from education to business. Maslow’s Hierarchy is one of them. The ideas right here can translate to just about every part of life, and for parents the structure here can be incredibly useful.

Below is a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You may or may not have heard of it, but if you haven’t then you’re in for some eye-opening insight. If you have, then it’s time to revisit it and learn how it can help you out right now.

And hang in there fencers and fencing parents, because yes this does closely relate to our sport.

The idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy is that you need first to take care of the things on the bottom of the pyramid. Then as each of those is fulfilled, you can move up to the next and the next, until you get to the top.

Let’s then talk about the bottom two rungs, the Basic needs. These are the fundamental things that we must have in order to survive.

Physiological needs

These are the basic needs. THESE are the things that money can buy you. You need food and water. You need warmth and rest. Money can directly buy those things. If you don’t have enough money for those, you’re definitely not going to be happy. It’s just not possible – you must have them to live and you must have money to acquire them. There are ways to upgrade those too. For instance you can buy healthier food or afford a better bed to rest more efficiently.

Parents, the physiological needs are what you’re giving to your kids on a fundamental level. You give them food and you put them to bed on time. Think back to those baby years and you’ll be on target with the physiological needs!

Fencers have an important relationship with the physiological needs. Hydration and good nutrition are central to good fencing, so this foundation of the pyramid is important for fencers.

Safety needs

Just above food and water are security and safety. These are also things that money can buy. Think about families who are worrying about whether they will be evicted from their home or their electricity will be cut off. Or think about families who live in the part of town that has a higher level of crime so that they don’t feel safe in their home. You have to make sure you have a home to live in, and again money can buy that. Directly and essentially.

If you have ever been without these basic things, then you know that they are all you can think about when you don’t have them. When you do have them, you tend not to notice them. The more money you have, to a certain degree, the better those things on the bottom can be. There is a limit to that of course. You need a safe home to meet your needs, but you don’t need a home with a swimming pool to meet your needs.

The safety need is one that you have been working on for your children since they were tiny and you rocked them to sleep. You’re still providing that to your children as they get older, and let’s be honest even when they are adults you’ll probably be doing this same thing! Lots of us call home to mom or dad still when we are parents to get reassurance.

For fencers, think about how the need for safety extends to mental and emotional safety. Your child needs to know that they can travel safety to and from competitions, and that they are safe with the adults that surround them in the fencing club. And of course they need to feel safe from injury during fencing.

Psychological needs

In the second section, Psychological needs, there are things that are given to us by other people.

Belongingness and love

We as families can give those to our kids. In fact, that’s what we’re supposed to do! They can come from other places too, like the fencing club or the school.

People need to feel that they are a part of something that is more than just them. They need to be a part of something bigger. The first thing that they are part of that is bigger than themselves is their family. Later down the line that expands out from just the family unit to the school, and eventually to activities beyond the school like fencing. Though we can sometimes gloss over the importance of this, we really shouldn’t. For children and for adults. Community and connectedness give us a reason for living! Sure you can fulfill those basic needs, but without being loved they have no meaning.

Notice that this connection with other people is right there next to safety and security. It’s in the bottom half of the pyramid! You have to be a part of something that is beyond yourself in order to function on a basic level. As parents, it’s a big part of our job to give that to our kids.

Esteem needs

Self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment are things that we can’t hand to our kids, but we can give them the best environment possible for them to grow those on their own. That might mean enrolling them in the best school or encouraging an afterschool activity like fencing.

You must feel accomplished within the group that you are in, like you are worthwhile. So many kids today seem to struggle deeply with feeling that they are not worthy. That’s really the case for kids as they reach middle school and high school. Every little thing at this age is either building their esteem or taking it down, and of course we as parents want to be doing things that are building them up. It is critical that we surround our kids with positive peer and adult relationships so that they can get the good reinforcement that they need to build their self esteem.

Keep in mind that a kid doesn’t have to be a fencing champion in order to have a good sense of self esteem. You can build self esteem through the fundamental, every day fencing that happens right there in the club. It’s the camaraderie with the coaches and the other fencers, as well as your positive reinforcement as a parent, that really gives kids that boost that they need.

Top of Maslow’s Pyramid

The top section is something totally different, and it’s a place that many of us hope to reach without even knowing that its teh place that we’re striving for. What’s great about Maslow is how this sections becomes a beacon for us to reach for. As a parent, I know that I sometimes wonder what the aim is of all this. I know I want to be a good parent because I love my kids, but what is the end game? The answer is right there on Maslow’s Hierarchy!

Self-fulfillment needs

The top of the pyramid includes things that parents cannot give to their children. Not at all. Self fulfillment is not anything that you can purchase or that you can make your child work hard on, no matter how smart you are or how much money you have. This particular thing must be earned through hard work and self-discovery. It takes reflection and making mistakes to get to the top, but that is the ultimate goal of every person really isn’t it? No matter what your personal beliefs are, everyone wants to feel whole and like they are doing their best in life.

For fencers, that really means the nitty gritty. Self fulfillment is that trigger moment where the fencer feels that he or she is truly part of something bigger but that they also are at peace with their journey. It’s not a thing that your child is going to have all the time, but it’s a noble and important goal. Self-fulfillment doesn’t come from medals or podium finishes, but rather it’s an everyday strumming of happiness. Your child will find this top of the pyramid right down on the ground, hopefully with the fencing sword in their hand!

The “good life” is up there at the top of that pyramid. The tough part is that no amount of money can buy you or your child “the good life.” That might be hard to hear, because we as parents want to give our kids everything. It’s just not possible. We can only give them their basic needs, then surround them with psychological supports, then watch them find self-fulfillment on their own. There are no shortcuts, no tricks.

How Maslow can inform fencing

Now let’s look at how Maslow’s hierarchy can inform our fencing.

If you are a parent who is contemplating putting your child into a fencing program, or if you have already got your child into a fencing program, then you’ve likely managed to support that child in the bottom section of Maslow’s hierarchy already. You’ve got a safe home with food and shelter for your child. Those things might seem somewhat trivial, but they aren’t available to many families.

That leads to the second third of the pyramid. This is really where fencing becomes a bigger part of the pie and is able to support your child’s development in really positive ways. Fencing comes in through the support and growth that happens in the fencing club and with you as a fencing family. A great fencing club becomes an extension of the belongingness and love that happens at home. Fencing clubs are places where relationships are built and self esteem has a chance to grow!

As for the top of the pyramid, that’s more challenging to reach. Many fencers, in fact many coaches too, that we know have found their calling in the sport. We see competitors all the way into their, well let’s say “golden years” who are enlivened by their passion for fencing. They have found a love for this sport that keeps them going and brings them fulfillment. It’s a wonderful thing to see! It’s not easy to find that in life, and we who have found it in fencing certainly consider ourselves lucky. Fencing may or may not be where your child finds their ultimate meaning in life, but it’s not a bad place to try, and many people have found their perfect match with fencing. That could be your child! (Or you! It’s never too late to try fencing!).

We’re not saying that fencing is the answer to everything for your child or that it’s the key to happiness. But what we are saying is that Maslow shows us how important it is to support your children through all of their needs, and fencing can certainly be a positive piece of that support!


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1 Comment

  1. R

    Infantalizing our kids: At a tournament, a father was with his 10-year-old son in a bathroom stall helping him. Later when the fencer took a hard hit, he slumped to the strip crying and didn’t get up for a while. At practice, an 11-year-old boy watched as his mother put away his equipment and organized his locker. This has to stop!

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