In the highest levels of fencing there is a saying:
Half of your fencing career you work for your reputation. The other half your reputation works for you.
This is true of every level of fencing, even at the local fencing competitions that seem so far from the international level. Fencing is a small community, and within that community, news spreads quickly. Everyone knows everyone, whether you’re at a small tournament in your area or at a national one with fencers from all over the country. That’s especially true as social media runs away with our ability to connect. There will be people who will know you, know your coaches, know even your family members that come along, and many of these people you will never have seen before!
This forces us as fencers to make sure that we are doing what we need to do in order to build and safeguard the kind of reputation that we want to have. Most often this happens organically, but knowing what you’re doing and so creating your reputation with intention is a good idea.
Here are some ways that you can make the most of your competitive fencing reputation.
Fencing Reputation Tip #1 – Work hard at fencing
This is perhaps the biggest way to build your fencing reputation, and there’s no magic to it at all. Work hard at your fencing and it shows to everyone that sees you.
This means doing the diligence to show up at practice, listening to your coach, getting to those competitions, and giving your best performance each and every time you take to the strip. A few special tips about working hard that will help your reputation are:
- Do more than you say you’ll do. – If you tell your coach you’re going to go home and practice for an hour before the next private lesson, then practice for two. If you say you’re going to volunteer at local fencing competition, get there a little early and stay a little late.
- Be consistent. – Consistency is hard to do, but it’s the backbone of success. Go to competitions with regularity as much as you can. Keep your fencing schedule regular as well, taking as few breaks as you can manage. People notice consistency, and it’s beneficial in all kinds of other ways too.
- Get engaged in the fencing community. – Be a part of the fencing world! Show up to those events, both to support your fellow fencers and to make connections. You’ll notice that the people who hang around to see all of the fencing at a competition, even though they might be done competing themselves, these are the people who are networking and connecting. It’s hard after a long day, but worth it.
Those little things that you do both in and out of training, where the hard work is at its hardest, that’s a place where you can grow your reputation. And of course working hard is going to make your fencing better anyway, which will make your reputation better.
Fencing Reputation Tip #2 – Your history can win you matches
It’s something that we really love and something that kind of bugs us at the same time. That kind of depends on which side you’re on at the moment. Either way, it’s still a reality that fencers should understand and so prepare for.
For example, say in the pool you start winning 5 bouts in a row. Everybody is going to know this – your opponents, their coaches, and the referee. Now when you hook up your cord for the 6th pool bout, what is everyone going to be thinking? Right, that you are a leader in this pool, that anyone you face is going to have an uphill battle to beat you, that you are “unbeatable”. From the perspective of the referee, which is the most important of course, you are less prone to mistakes. Though to be fair, not every referee is made the same and so you might well have a ref that doesn’t see it that way. Believe it or not, in some questionable calls they might be inclined to rule in your favor, even unintentionally!
From the perspective of your opponent this can go two ways. One is that they think you’ll beat them easily anyway so they give you an easy bout without much of a fight. Some of them are going to come at you the opposite way though – they’ll be eager to take you down to prove they can and so they give you the fight of their lives. Whichever way it goes, your reputation is playing into how it happens.
This same system works in the DE bouts. If you were on the top coming up from the pools, people are going to assume that you’ll win your first DE as you’ll be facing an opponent with a lower seed that is presumed to be weaker than you are. You’ll have that same set of expectations going in, and you’ll want to be aware of them.
The more you compete, the farther your reputation is going to go. If you are going through every SYC with a win in your age category, then people are going to know who you are. That’s whether they fenced against you or not. People take notice! And then they bring that bias, whatever it may be, onto the strip.
The conclusion? Read again tip #1.
Fencing Reputation Tip #3 – Troublemakers get trouble in return
Reputations aren’t always a good thing. They can be relatively neutral at times, but they most often fall into the category of good or bad.
We see this all too often in fencing. For example, a fencer who throws a tantrum after every single touch received, or who challenges calls without cause. Whining, throwing masks, cursing, yelling, all of these kinds of behaviors will create a bad reputation. The tide of opinion can turn against a fencer for this kind of behavior, no matter who it is directed at. People are watching! A fencer might not go pitch a fit at the referee, but instead go after their coach or their parent. No one wants to see that, and no one deserves to be on the receiving end of it.
People have long memories. This is especially important in a sport like fencing, where a fencer might start off at a young age and then mature over time. People will still remember that Y10 competitor who yelled at the regional competition even once they are a cadet! Once you get a reputation as a troublemaker, it will take a lot of effort to reverse people’s opinions.
This kind of bad reputation can result in fencers not being invited to train with great coaches, to not be included in training with other fencers, and it can even result in calls being made against them. If a referee has seen a fencer throw a tantrum in the pools, he or she is going to be on the lookout for unsportsmanlike behavior in the DE and will probably call offenses more quickly than they would on a fencer who has behaved well.
Stop and think about the Olympic fencing team. Do you see members of the team throwing their stuff around or yelling at the coach? Of course not. Olympic coaches and your fellow fencers are not going to work with you if you have a reputation for being trouble.
Fencing Reputation Tip #4 – Manage social media
This one we cannot, cannot say enough. As social media and online interactions become more and more of a big deal, the reality that everything you put up there can be taken out of context and leave you in a bad place is a serious problem. This is especially true for teen and tween fencers who might not realize the ramifications. Only positive, community building things belong online. Celebrate your match, but don’t put another fencer down. Enjoy your friend’s success without calling out a coach. Keep it light and keep it positive!
Never, ever post anything negative about another fencer, a coach, a ref, or a competition online. Even on accounts that you think are private. Someone can take a screenshot and make your words or images public with just a couple of clicks. These things follow you not only right now, but down the road. The internet is forever, but that frustration at a bad call or a lost match will only last for a few minutes.
The speedy nature of social media means that a fencer can undo years of rapport building with a single post and in just a short time. If you’re wondering whether it’s appropriate to post it, the answer is you shouldn’t post it.
On the other side, you can also connect in positive ways online to build your reputation! Connect with fencers you meet at competition and build that rapport outside of competition, even if you’re far away. You can post pictures of your adventures in fencing, things you’re struggling with, and resources you find helpful. And of course you can congratulate and support your fellow fencers with their fencing journey!
Fencing Reputation Tip #5 – Present yourself well
Do not discount the importance of professionalism always!
This goes for appearance and for behavior. Look the part of a professional fencer with a clean uniform, with well maintained gear, and with a neat appearance. If you’ve shown up to every major competition with an equipment issue, people are going to notice and think that you don’t have yourself together. If you’re part of a fencing club, wear that club jacket so everyone knows who you represent! Clean your fencing uniforms so it is not smelly, make sure your fencing bag is well packed and not messy, prepare your gear so you don’t have to scramble.
Preparation is half the battle, and if people perceive you as being a fencer who is put together off the strip, they will be more likely to perceive you as being put together on the strip too.
Punctuality matters here too! Don’t be that fencer who is missing their call to fence or has to beg to sign up the day of because you were late on your fee. While it’s always ok to ask questions, be prepared and try to figure it out for yourself.
This extends to being considerate and inclusive. There are many different cultures and languages working in concert in fencing – the diversity is something we love! Be welcoming and kind to everyone, and people will always take notice.
Most of all, realize that your reputation as a fencer is something that you own. You determine this, you make the choices that lead people to perceive you in certain ways. It’s really an area where being good can pay off in good ways!