How much responsibility does your coach/club/family have for your success?
What responsibility does the fencer have to their club, to their fellow fencers, to their support network, and to themselves?
In the Venn diagram of a fencing club, the fencer is necessarily at the center – aren’t they? At least, that’s the simplest way to look at it. After all, the fencer is the most visible part of the whole process as they stand up on the piste and go head to head with their opponent. The club, the family, the teammates, the coach – everyone is cheering for them to evolve and grow, becoming the best version of themselves in the sport.
This isn’t just the case with fencing, it’s the case with all individual sports. There’s a deep support network of people who are pulling together to get this one person to where they are. It can make it seem like that individual athlete is getting all of this energy poured into them, like everyone else is building a foundation and they are the top of the mountain.
It’s not that simple, however. It’s not even close to that linear.
Every fencer has bad days, but if your bad day falls during Fencing Summer Nationals, it can feel devastating.
Too often, we see fencers who don’t perform to the level that they’d like to at Fencing Summer Nationals go on to struggle with the idea of facing the climb back up to the tournament next year. It’s understandable how hard it can be to put all of this work into getting to the national competition, only to have it all seeming come to nothing.
This isn’t the time to give up! If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve shown that you can make it this far. Whether you made it through the pools and got knocked out in the first round of the DE or faltered just before the medal rounds, you still got all the way to the big competition.
It’s easy enough just to say that, but how can you transform your thinking to come at this competition in way that sets you up to take another stab at it?
There is a time to worry, and there’s a time to let go and go with it.
The competition is too late. All of the touches that you lost along the way to get to this bout, all of the phrases your opponent wins, it’s not the time to think about them now. Part of being a great athlete is trusting yourself and your coaches when the moment comes because that’s the only way that you can really be in the moment against your opponent.
The weight of all that came before
Right now, I want you to stop and take a moment to think about all of the mistakes that you made in the last week. Maybe you forgot to close the back door and the dog got out, so you had to run through the neighborhood and go catch her. Maybe you forgot to pack your lunch and realized it in the middle of the day, so you had to scramble to find something to eat.
Take a moment and think back through yours. If you’re like everyone else, you’ve made a ton of little mistakes in the last seven days, and maybe even a few big ones as well. You’ll probably notice that it makes you feel heavier and less sure of yourself when you think back about the time you wasted and the people who had to accommodate you when you made all of those mistakes.
Now, imagine that those mistakes were something that you didn’t let go of. You just kept going over them in your mind, again and again. If you went around and around about the things that you didn’t do right, could you ever do anything else? How would that affect your ability to do other things?
Obsessing about what we did or didn’t prepare puts a weight on our minds. It steals away our focus and keeps us from enjoying where we are. Those feelings of inadequacy tend to grow, becoming heavier and heavier. It’s something that we don’t need to carry with us in everyday life.
It’s not normal for us to carry the constant weight of every little thing we’ve done wrong with us in our daily life. We tell people to stand up, dust off, and move on. Yet, somehow, we see fencers so often carrying the weight of their mistakes in training with them into competition and think that it’s ok. It’s not! Just as it’s so counterproductive to go to school or work with all of the worry about past mistakes, so too is it counterproductive to do that in a fencing competition. Fencing competition is definitely not the right time to worry about all your previous mistakes.
Fencing matches are fast-paced, quick to go forward, and exciting. We focus our minds and our bodies to become this tight little ball of explosive power when we are on the strip, a power that only has a few minutes to make an impact on the opponent.
That compressed length of time is highly exciting, but when competitive fencers get into the thick of it, they often find themselves spending hours upon end without fencing. There is a huge amount of downtime during fencing competitions for competitive fencers. It’s in stark contrast to the intensity of competition.
This isn’t a thing that we think too much about for the most part. After all, we’ve all got plenty of other matches to watch, not to mention smart devices to scroll through. It’s an issue that we should think about, however. Not just because we want to be frugal with and conscious of our resources, but also because changing how we think about this can represent a happier and more fulfilling experience all the way around.
Have you ever picked up your fencing weapon at the start of a bout and heard your heart pounding in your ears? Your thoughts start racing and your breathing starts to quicken. That hand holding your sword can get sweaty inside the fencing glove, perhaps even beginning to shake a little bit.
Even if your experience hasn’t gotten this far, maybe you’ve struggled to clear your mind and be present in the moment during a match. You might be in the pool round but thinking about your possible opponents in the direct elimination round instead of focusing on what’s in front of you. As a result, you give up more points than you’d like to and lose the bout.
When you’re traveling for a fencing competition or if you have a lot of other things going on in your life, those thoughts can become obtrusive, weaseling their way into your brain when you’re trying to put your attention on the opponent. You might be thinking about the bad weather outside that could delay your flight home or the pile of chores or work that’s waiting for you at home.
Every fencer gets nervous
Nerves are a reality for fencers who are competing at any level. Those first few fencing competitions are nerve-wracking because it’s all so new, then there’s a pressure that ratchets up as fencers continue to progress higher. The stakes can feel overwhelming, but in reality, it’s just another match, even when it’s not.
The most experienced fencers at the highest level get nerves. Olympic fencers and World Champions learn how to overcome those nervous feelings to help them compete with less anxiety. In fact, overcoming anxiety about the process is incredibly important because we cannot perform at our best level when we’re unsure of ourselves. That mind chatter and frantic energy is fundamentally detrimental to a good fencing performance.