Building Positive Team Culture For FencersThough fencing is technically an individual sport,  it’s always important for kids to build positive interactions and to learn how to navigate the world of people. After all, even though each child is on their own on the strip, they’re constantly surrounded by their teammates and other people. No one lives in isolation!

Individual sports like fencing don’t always give much energy or attention building a strong team culture, but it’s something that is really worth giving attention to. Fencing is built around the team structure, even as our competitors technically are fighting for themselves.

When fencers go to competition it is quite common for them to find themselves competing against their teammates, eliminating one another in order to advance. To keep hurt feelings at bay, it’s super important that they learn how to get along during those kinds of stressful times.

When we say “team” we mean a club, and not 3 or 4 fencers squad for a team competition. Members of a club practice together, sweat together, celebrate together and get through hard times together. When there’s a good team culture, there’s great camaraderie and just a beautiful nurturing of growth for fencers.

What is Team Culture?

Each fencer has a responsibility and the power to influence those around him or her! Whether that influence is toxic or healthy impacts not only their own performance, but it also has a serious impact on others.  While of course no one expects any single one of us to be always up and positive (after all a team is about supporting people when they’re down!), it’s still really important that the broader team dynamic is supported by each one. Here effort is important! And good effort is really rewarded.

That overall feeling of a team can be either one that brings the people who are on it down, or it can build everyone up. Most people have had experience with both of these kinds of teams – great teams and not so great ones. Great fencing teams focus on good sportsmanship and really working hard to support one another.

A lot of what fencing team culture is comes from where the team’s focus is. Everyone on the team needs to kind of have their head in the same direction in order for things to work out well. Is it all about fun? Or mastery? Or winning? Maybe the team focuses on the accomplishment of individuals within it or on the success of team as a whole. Are you as a team focused on getting to Summer Nationals or on just enjoying the sport?

It’s important to realize that team culture creates itself, whether we mean to create it or not. When you throw a group of people together and have them work together in towards something, they’re going to naturally come up with a team culture to get it done. That culture can just sort of happen, or what’s even BETTER is when we really think about it and choose to make it in a positive way.

What We Can Do

Team culture is really about how people get along, and the kinds of ways that they work together. What’s ok to do and what’s not ok to do? Here are some ways for fencers to create a positive team culture, including great ways that we parents can offer support.

●    Be Clear

It’s SO important that teams have really clear guidelines about what kind of behavior is good and what kind of behavior is no ok. For fencers, these rules really come from coaches and leaders within the club, though parents have a really big influence here too. When someone does something that’s not ok by the team, it’s absolutely essential that coaches, other students and parents step right in. For instance if a fencer laughs at another fencer for making a mistake, then that must be addressed immediately so that it’s clear that the fencing environment is a supportive one. Sometimes kids are going to make mistakes, and we realize that! But really showing that we place a high value on being there for each other and not tearing anyone down is going to make everyone feel great and supported.

●    Talk About It

Any team is going to have issues from time to time. We are all human, and we make mistakes or misjudgements sometimes. It is inevitable. The difference between good and bad teams is what happens after such mistakes occur. Teams with good culture talk about it and resolve issues constructively. Moreover, often times teams with strong team culture will emerge even more united and stronger! Talking among the team so that everyone has the chance to be heard is an important part of creating a really awesome team culture within the fencing team.

●    Hang Out

Creating a team that sticks together happens when we do more things together than just practice. In order to really create the kind of team that really “gets” each other, you need connect and have time to learn about and talk to each other. Competition is a great way to make this happen, because fencers get to connect with each other over meals and during travel. Fencing clubs can also help make a great team culture by holding events that give fencers the chance to connect to one another – think holiday parties or summer picnics. These are just so, so much fun for everyone – adults and kids. Young fencers can benefit from seeing each other outside of the club, hanging out as friends rather than just during the more structure training time. Plus is just great to see the kids interact with each other when they’re not holding a sword.

●    Be Positive!

Staying positive can be hard work, mainly because it can be a lot easier to let a negative bit of speech slip out than it is to find something supportive to say. The great news is that when everyone intentionally create a culture of positivity for fencers, then it becomes so easy for people on the team to let that same sunny, positive good stuff shine!

Team culture can be seen everywhere in fencing, from how fencers cheer and support each other at competitions, even when they find themselves meeting on the strip and being eliminated as they advance. We see it in the locker room, during training and when everyone is hanging out. Working together in a positive way makes everyone feel great, and for us, parents, it is so rewarding to see our kids being the great people we know they are.