Fencing, like any competitive sport, is a rollercoaster of emotions. Victories can elate fencers, filling them with a sense of accomplishment and pride. However, on the flip side, defeat can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for young athletes who may struggle to control the intense emotions that come with losing.
We’ve seen this recently in large competitions, and it’s always troubling when it happens. It can have serious consequences for everyone involved, and things can reach well beyond the player involved, as we saw with a recent incident at the Pan American Games that could keep the U.S. Men’s Epee Team out of the Paris Olympics.
An outburst at the Pan-American Games
Curtis McDowald, a 2020 Olympian representing the U.S. men’s épée team, had serious trouble controlling his emotions during the Pan-American fencing championships in Lima, Peru in June.
Following a crucial loss in the semifinals against Colombia, McDowald received a red card on the decisive point. Frustrated, he stormed off the competition strip and expressed his anger by kicking and damaging a free-standing banner nearby. We’ve seen it before in other competitions with other fencers, and though we can understand the emotions, the consequences of these actions are serious. Another member of USA Fencing attempted to calm him down amidst the heated moment.
As a consequence of his actions, McDowald was shown a black card, resulting in a complete disqualification for the U.S. men’s épée team. This disqualified them from participating in the bronze-medal match and dealt a severe blow to their chances of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. Prior to the incident, the U.S. men’s epee team held a strong position to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
In response to the incident, USA Fencing expressed disappointment in Curtis’s actions, acknowledging the harm it caused to Team USA’s Olympic qualification prospects. The national governing body revealed that McDowald had been removed from the Pan-American Championships team following a hearing. As a consequence of his actions, he was also ineligible to compete at the 2023 Fencing World Championships.
His actions have highlighted the importance of sportsmanship and maintaining composure in the face of defeat, as emotions can have significant consequences on an athlete’s career and their team’s prospects.
As coaches, parents, and mentors, it is crucial to teach young fencers how to control their emotions in the face of defeat, fostering resilience and empowering them to grow from setbacks. These are important life skills not just for right now in their pursuit of sports, but for their whole life as they have to learn how to control their emotions in all kinds of situations.
We want to grow a group of young people who can interact in healthy ways by handling their emotions effectively. It’s important for them and it’s important for society as a whole. Finding effective ways to support young people when their feelings are too big for them is a great way to help our fencers. Learning emotional control and how to cope with losses in a constructive way will help your fencers get to the next level on the piste and off.
But how can we do it? How can we learn from these kinds of incidents and show our kids that they don’t have to respond with this kind of outburst? Here are some effective strategies.