A major challenge before a competition is calming the sometimes frantic nerves that can come with finally getting to the big match. That can be especially true for inexperienced fencers, but it’s important to note that’s it something that even veteran fencers can struggle with. Finding that perfect balance between harnessing the energy that you get leading up to a match and losing control of yourself is difficult to say the least.
Focus and control are central tenets of fencing. We want to learn to control our bodies as much as possible to allow us to take aim and hit the target we’re aiming for, and to block our opponent from hitting the target they’re aiming for.
Here are some concrete tips for both novice and experienced fencers who need to chill out in order to get to that hot performance!
Learn your patterns
Everyone has patterns of behavior. The trick is in learning what those patterns are before a competition so that you can address them. Do your nerves go crazy when you’re warming up by yourself? Try warming up with a partner from your fencing club. Do your nerves ramp up during travel? Then it might work for you to add some relaxing music to your travel. Are you always afraid you’re going to forget an essential piece of equipment? Write it all down and create a checklist for every competition. Learning your patterns will allow you to make real changes and eliminate the triggers leading up to that fencing match.
A great way to find out your patterns is to keep a fencing journal! Even if you don’t think that you suffer from too much nervousness before a fencing competition, a fencing journal can help you to uncover patterns that are keeping your fencing from being its best. You might be dealing with an overabundance of nerves and not even realize it.
Manage your mind
The most powerful tool that a fencer has is his or her mind. Harnessing the mind effectively is one of our big goals, and nowhere is the mind more likely to get out of control than at a fencing competition.
Some of the out of control thoughts that fencers often feel before competition are:
- Worry about weapon failure
- Fear of performing poorly
- Comparisons to past bad experiences
- Nervousness about facing new opponents
- Meeting an opponent who always beats you
The best way to combat negative thoughts is to foster positive attitudes. Most people try to do this in the time leading up to a stressful event by arguing with their inner voice, offering facts. That doesn’t really work though, as these fears are inherently irrational. A better method is to plan ahead, creating feeling driven phrases to use instead. For example, you might remind yourself of how much you’ve trained for this match, or recall the way that it felt the last time you won a bout. You’ll want to repeat something positive over and over again in order to override those negative ideas.
Again, the key to controlling the mind is NOT to wait until you’re in the thick of a problem, but instead to plan it all well in advance.
Manage your body
Though the mind is definitely in the driver’s seat, we don’t want to neglect the body either. In combating stress before a performance, one of the best ways to control the mind is through manipulating the body. Here are some ways to use your body to calm yourself before a bout.
- Deep breathing – Slow, controlled breaths that reach all the way down through the belly have a physical effect on the brain, reducing stress hormones
- Stretching – Tension in the body might come from tension in our minds, but it’s a two way street. Neck and shoulder stretches will not only help your fencing form when you hit the strip, they’ll also lower your stress level.
- Cardio – When you really get the body moving, it releases endorphins that combat stress. Leading up to a match as you’re preparing, find a safe place to go for a run to loosen up your body and relieve your mind. If you don’t have anywhere to run, try doing twenty jumping jacks. The effect is instantaneous.
Your best bet is to do all of these in conjunction with one another. Get that cardio going, then do some deep breathing while stretching. Keep the deep, cleansing breaths going as you continue to prepare for the match. All three of these body/mind management techniques can be done right up to the start of the match! If you get a sudden breakout of nerves as you step onto the strip, try a couple of deep breaths, stretch your neck muscles, or even jump up and down a bit to get that heart rate up.
Take control of nerves before fencing competition
Though it can be a bit counterproductive to think about taking control during a breakout of nerves, at the same time that’s exactly what you need to do to get over those nerves. The trick success is to look at this problem well before you get to a fencing competition. If you only ever think about tackling nerves when you’re actually at a competition, you’re not going to be successful.
You DON’T have to live with out of control nervousness at a fencing competition! Fencers often think that this is an issue that they have to deal with, but that’s just not the case. Nervousness that’s out of control can lead to a fencing performance that’s not your best, and no one wants that. We want to live up to our full potential. Thinking about a combating nerves along the way, well before you get to the competition venue, will help you or your child get ahead of this major issue.