Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Category: For Parents Page 1 of 65

Silencing the Sidelines: Navigating Parental Involvement in Strip Coaching

Mom, Shut Up! Navigating Parental Involvement in Strip Coaching

In a competition in Washington DC, I witnessed a situation that immediately prompted me to write a post about it. Unfortunately, this is all too common in our sport, and I’ve never seen a competition without it. However, this time, the girl put it so eloquently in her response that I felt compelled to write about it.

It was a tense moment during a fencing match. A young athlete, let’s call her Sarah, found herself locked in a fierce Direct Elimination bout. As she faced her opponent, her coach offered guidance and encouragement from the sidelines. But alongside the coach stood her mother, eagerly seconding every word, often offering her own commentary, and even questioning the referee’s calls. The atmosphere was charged with intensity as the match progressed.

As the bout entered the third period, the score stood at 13-13. Both athletes were neck and neck, with victory hanging in the balance. Within the first few seconds of the third period, Sarah’s opponent scored a crucial touch, taking the lead 14-13. It was a pivotal moment, and tensions ran high.

Amidst the pressure, Sarah’s mother couldn’t contain herself. She shouted instructions, a mix of what the coach had said and her own observations. The cacophony of voices only added to Sarah’s confusion and frustration. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, Sarah turned to her mother and delivered a resounding “Mom, shut up! You confuse me!” The words reverberated through the convention center, cutting through the tension like a blade.

It was a moment of clarity amidst the chaos. Sarah’s plea resonated not just with her mother but with everyone present. It served as a stark reminder of the importance of boundaries and trust in the athlete-coach-parent dynamic.

While perhaps extreme, this scenario highlights a common issue in youth sports in general and fencing in particular (or maybe especially): overcoaching by parents. While it’s natural for parents to want the best for their children and to offer support during competitions, there are times when their well-intentioned efforts can do more harm than good.

I happened to witness this with another coach, when we both were watching this bout with an interest. When the girl said it to her mom, we both smiled and discussed the situation after the match, so here are some common reasons that we exchanged in our aftermath conversation for why parents should resist the urge to coach their child from the sidelines, especially when a coach is present. I’m not sure whether this list is comprehensive or if additional people (coaches, parents, athletes) will find more reasons why not, but still, these reasons are sound enough to realize your boundaries.

The Measuring Mentality – How Constant Calculations Hurt Youth Fencers

The Measuring Mentality - How Constant Calculations Hurt Youth Fencers

Before kids are even born, we’re bombarded with the idea that everything has to be measured. How long is the baby during each sonogram? How many times did they kick in the last 24 hours? Are they on time for their due date?  Once they get here, we’re told to monitor their height and weight percentile, count how many teeth they’ve lost, list the words that they know. How do they compare to the norm? From academic milestones to physical changes to social interactions, we are constantly measuring how much our children are doing as compared to other kids their age. Society conditions us to constantly evaluate our children’s progress and compare them to their peers. 

This measuring mentality extends to the world of youth fencing, where parents often find themselves caught up in a web of constant calculations and comparisons. Are they doing as well as other kids in the Y8 age category? They started fencing at the same beginner fencing camp as another child who just earned a new rating, are they measuring up? 

All of this measuring misses the point, and more importantly it can even be detrimental. We must understand that nurturing our children’s unique abilities and focusing on their individual growth is much more relevant to their overall happiness than any measure that we might have against other kids. Embracing individual progress is much more important than pitting kids against each other, even if it’s done with the best intentions.

How to Transition Kids from Other Sports to Fencing

How to Transition Kids from Other Sports to Fencing

Most kids start sports somewhere like tiny soccer leagues or toddler gymnastics classes, but most of them start learning to work with teammates and play right on the playground. They naturally transition from one activity to another, but all too often we see kids and parents get stuck in the idea that one sport is the be-all-end-all, and not in a positive way. 

Let’s talk through a scenario:

Your recently turned eleven-year-old child has been really into soccer for the last four years. They love the team aspect and the physicality of it, but they’ve started to get bored with running back and forth across the pitch. Yes, it’s exciting sometimes, but they aren’t challenged anymore with the sport. They like it, and they have a ton of friends in it, but it’s just not the same as it was before. 

This past season was quite a slog towards the end, and you tried to encourage them to stick with it, but their interest just wasn’t in it anymore. 

Now it’s time to start signing up again for the next season of soccer, and you’re stuck – your child loved this sport for so long, but you can tell by their demeanor that they aren’t going to sign up for soccer for themselves, but rather because of lots of other pressures from teammates and their coach. Their sibling or friend has been doing fencing for a long time and you want your child to try it out because you think it’ll be a good fit for them. 

How can you transition them from this sport that they used to love into something that will ignite their fire? How do you transition them from being in something that they no longer are passionate about into something else that will help them reach their full potential?

Transitioning a child from another sport to fencing can be an exciting, intimidating, but delicate process. Here are some ideas for the parent in this situation, and maybe they’ll help you work out how to help your child with their own transition.

Exciting News: Join Me in the “Parents’ Corner” at American Fencer!

Parents' Corner at American Fencer!

I am thrilled to share some exciting news with all of you in the fencing community. Recently, I received a wonderful invitation to become a regular columnist at “American Fencer,” the online reincarnation of the renowned “American Fencing” magazine. American Fencer now offers more in-depth stories, allowing us to explore a wider range of fencing-related topics. It’s truly an honor to be a part of this prestigious platform, and I’m looking forward to contributing valuable insights on fencing parenting and related topics.

As many of you know, I have been passionate about fencing and dedicated to fostering the growth of young fencers through my work at the Academy of Fencing Masters (AFM). Over the years, I have had the privilege of sharing my thoughts and experiences through my AFM blog. Now, I’m excited to expand the reach of these discussions and delve even deeper into the world of fencing parenting with “American Fencer.”

My first article, “How Hard Should Parents and Coaches Push Young Fencers,” has already been published, and I invite you all to read and engage with it. This is just the beginning of what promises to be a great journey, and I can’t wait to continue sharing valuable insights, advice, and stories with the fencing community.

I want to express my gratitude to all of you for your ongoing support and encouragement. It’s your passion for fencing and dedication to the sport that motivates me to explore these important topics further. Together, we can continue to nurture the next generation of fencers and create a positive and enriching environment for all.

Also, I want to thank Serge Timacheff, the Editor-in-Chief of American Fencer, for believing in the value of our discussions on fencing parenting and related themes. I look forward to collaborating with the American Fencer team and sharing valuable insights with the fencing community.

Stay tuned for more articles in the “Parents’ Corner” at American Fencer, and let’s embark on this exciting journey together!

Thank you, and happy fencing!

Fencing, Music, and the Divide Between Enrichment and Competition

There’s a great misunderstanding about what fencing does for kids and where it should fall in their lives, both now and in the future. Not so much within the fencing community, but definitely with people who are looking at it from the outside. 

With other activities, like music, for example, it’s perfectly acceptable for a child just to do the activity, and it is understood that simple enrichment is worthwhile. It doesn’t matter if they will become the best violinist or pianist who plays in Carnegie Hall. Parents understand that it’s enough for them to simply do this activity now. Even if they don’t play the piano into adulthood, it’s ok. 

The discipline and creative thinking skills, not to mention the joy, are enough for everyone. 

Yet, for some reason, fencing is not seen in this same light. Oftentimes, parents will come into the club to start their kids in the sport, and they’ll be laser-focused on how fencing’s biggest benefit is if their fencer goes all the way to the Olympics or at least gets recruited into a college. Anything short of these massive goals is not going to be enough. 

It’s a frustrating situation, but one that I think we should explore. Not because music or other activities aren’t worthwhile, but because fencing is one that is just as worthwhile and which deserves to be seen in the same light. 

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