Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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Sometimes the Best Way to Support Your Fencer is to Step Back

Sometimes the Best Way to Support Your Fencer is to Step Back

As parents, we always want to be there for our kids. There’s no doubt that we love them, and to express that love we’re drawn to be right there with them, giving them everything we possibly can to support them as much of the time as possible. 

This tends to be especially true of sports parents in general and fencing parents in particular. Showing up, both physically and emotionally, is important. There’s a cliche about the enthusiastic sports parent on the sidelines with the camera, clapping and shouting out their kid’s name, for a reason. It’s absolutely true. 

Certainly, this kind of enthusiasm and this constant presence is a good thing. It must be, right? Not necessarily. 

When support turns to stress

I recently had a long discussion with a fencing dad who said that his son always underperforms in competition. In class, the young man went at his opponents with wonderful focus and confidence, but once he got into the competition he was suddenly not as confident or as capable. 

This father couldn’t imagine what must be happening because it seemed so night and day. The father didn’t come by to watch at practice often, but he was at every single competition right there on the side of the piste, cheering and watching intently. 

My suggestion to the father was this – walk away. Though it can really help fencers to have someone there for them, it can also put a lot of pressure on them.  

Why Fencers are Better Students

Why fencers make better high school students

High school is no walk in the park for anyone. For almost everyone who’s lived through the ups and downs of high school, it’s a challenging time. There are transitions, there’s pressure. Young people suddenly feel the weight of adulthood coming for them, and the world itself gets more real than it ever has been before. College and choices are coming, and teenagers are just dipping their toes into making some of those huge decisions. 

What it really boils down to is that there are real consequences for the choices that young people make when they get into high school. What they do during those years will determine which college they’ll get into, which will determine so much of their future. 

How do fencers succeed?

I recently had an interesting discussion with a fencing mom in our club. Her son is in the eighth grade, getting ready to start high school in just a few weeks. Like any parent, she’s invested in his success and concerned about how he’ll fare when he makes the big transition in the fall.

“How do all of these fencers succeed?” she asked me. “How can they combine competitive fencing, with the training, competing, and traveling, and the rigorous demands of high school?”

Her question made me reflect on all of the competitive fencers that I’ve seen do this dance in the past decade. I thought back to the conversations I’ve had with our students over the years and their families. Not just those who transitioned from middle school to high school, but also those who transitioned from high school into college. 

Looking back through all of our students, I can see a theme in how they handled high school. I’d say that 90% at least of our competitive fencers had a smooth and successful experience in high school. There are always challenges, of course there are always challenges, but on the whole we have seen almost no problems. And the same theme is seen in the USA Fencing All-Academic and All-American Program, which recognizes high schoolers with high achievements on-strip and in school.

This is counter to what you would intuitively think. It turns out that having lots of things to do doesn’t make it harder for competitive fencers, but instead it leads them to a better balance. Most of these fencers spend tons of time in competitions, doing all kinds of training, going to camps, and spending hours doing cross-training, and yet they successfully graduate and get accepted to top colleges

The sentiment I hear from both students and parents is that, since they started competitive fencing, their grades went up and they found more success in school. They’re better students who are more interested in their school work and more invested in their future. 

Every young person is different, but it’s well worth analyzing what’s behind this. 

Five Safe Steps for Fencers to Keep Training While Injured

Five Safe Steps for Fencers to Keep Training While Injured

No matter how safe a sport might be, it still involves moving the body in a wide variety of ways, and there will always be injuries. 

In our club, we have been incredibly fortunate to only have (knock on wood!) a few injuries during training or competition. Most of the injuries that we see are from things that happen outside of the club – something during gym class at school, an accident at home, a fall on a bike or a tumble on rollerblades or a skateboard, a skiing injury, etc. Though these didn’t happen during fencing itself, they are still injuries that require modification of fencing training. 

The options for injured fencers

Whether it’s a sprained ankle, a broken wrist, a pulled muscle, or any number of potential injuries, the immediate concern has to be safety and long-term healing. The first priority in any situation is to keep the body safe. Though in the past there was a great deal of pressure on young athletes to push through their injuries and keep on going, things have thankfully progressed now to a point where the long-term health of athletes takes priority over pushing past the breaking point. 

However, that does not mean that we are giving up. 

What do you do? There are three options: 

  1. stop training altogether
  2. do some modified training
  3. keep training as normal. 

Which option you choose to do will depend on the specifics of your injury and the demands of your current situation. If it’s a week before Fencing Summer Nationals, that’s a very different place to be than if you’re hurt at the beginning of the season. 

No matter the situation, time wasted is time wasted. The reasoning is irrelevant. People tend to think that only options one and three are viable, and that is so wrong! We have many more possibilities, and they all center around modified training. Injury downtime can be a great opportunity to enrich your training and expand your abilities in new directions. 

A Thorough Guide to Fencing Summer Nationals and the July Challenge 2022 in Minneapolis

A Thorough Guide to Fencing Summer Nationals and the July Challenge 2022 in Minneapolis

Fencing Summer Nationals and July Challenge 2022 is fast approaching – in fact, it’s almost here! 

Part of the magic of Fencing Summer Nationals is that it happens in a different city every year. Those cities provide opportunities for exploration and learning in new places, but it also means fencers and fencing families have to get their feet under them in a new city with a new venue every year. The learning curve is part of the fun, but preparation can help the whole thing go much smoother. 

Especially those fencers who are going to Fencing Summer Nationals for the first time, understanding what to do to prepare and how to navigate it all can be a little overwhelming. Even fencers who are old and have been going to Fencing Summer Nationals for years can always use some new ideas or some reminders about old ideas for preparing for the competition. 

Below, you’ll find information about Minneapolis and how to better navigate the venue and the competition.

Thin Line

In the center of the parking lot at our fencing club in Sunnyvale, there’s a cement sidewalk that’s about two and a half feet wide, separating the neatly parked rows of cars, a sort of thin line in the middle of the wide asphalt area. 

If I were to take one of our fencing classes out into the parking lot and ask them to run up and down that strip of concrete, they’d jump up and go do it easily. In fact, during the height of the pandemic when we were doing a lot of outside practice, fencers were constantly up and down that path. It’s a no-brainer for them to run down this path. 

Now, imagine that I took them up onto the roof of a building, just three stories up, not super high, but well off the ground at twenty-five feet or so. At the edge of the building, I show them a path that’s exactly the same width as the one they’ve just been running up and down. It’s sturdy and not wobbling, but there are no railings and they can see straight down to the ground. Will they charge across it, stomping their feet and laughing like they do at the club? Three stories is pretty high, and if they fell they’d certainly get injured.  Many of them might walk across, but they’ll be slow and steady. Their parents would surely have something to say about it. 

What if we went much higher? Say we went ten times as high, 300 feet and twenty-five stories into the sky. How many would walk across the path at all? Who would even get close to the edge to start? The stakes are suddenly much higher, and it’s almost guaranteed that no one is going out there. 

The kid’s running skills are the same – those didn’t change at all. They haven’t suddenly “forgotten” how to move their legs. The length is the same, the path is the same. What changed in the environment and circumstances, as well as the price of error. Now, there is a steep penalty for a mistake. Every misstep is now severely punishable. 

Suddenly, their minds play out different scenarios and their imagination calculates everything that could possibly go wrong. Each step is frozen in place. 

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