Just before you step onto the strip for a bout, what’s going through your mind? In those few minutes before the bout, as you’re ready to step onto the strip and face your opponent, there are a lot of things to consider. How can you maximize your preparation? That’s exactly the question we are going to answer.
What we’re talking about here aren’t the big, sweeping parts. We’re not talking about what you need in order to prepare for the fencing competition, like how to pack your bag or what you need to do in the days before. This is right in those few moments before the match itself, the heat and height of the competitive experience. These things go for bouts that you might experience in your club on a daily basis, but they also apply to big bouts that you participate in at regional or national tournaments. This is what you do each time, every time before you go to fence, no matter where you are.
This has got to be a habit. Just as you want to get your footwork or your form so ingrained into your mind that you don’t give it another thought, so too do you want to get these things to be automatic. Doing so is going to free your mind to focus on other things like strategy.
We’re going to break down fencing bout preparation into two parts here – the small physical things and the mental. Each of these is important in its own right and has to be taken into account, and when you put them both together it’s absolutely wonderful.
Small things matter when you prepare for your bout
This portion of fencing preparation is really about not thinking. Your goal here is to get everything set up ahead of the bout so that you don’t have to think about it! You just know that you’ve got what you need to have, it’s about trusting in your preparation.
The “things” of fencing preparation are important.These are six little things, six tiny aspects, but they are very important habits. Oftentimes fencers, especially young ones, neglect them and are distracted during the bout.
- Shoelaces – Shoelaces are notorious for forgetting. It takes just a moment to check them and tighten them if need be. If they interrupt your match, either by actually becoming loose or even with you flashing some worry through your mind that they might come loose, well then you’ve broken your concentration. Not to mention that you are more prone to ankle injury if the shoelaces become loose.
- Hair – Hair is another concern, and it’s one that everyone deals with it, no matter how long it is. Take a split second to check your hair underneath the mask, just to ensure that it’s not going to get balled up or become a problem.
- Water – Water, during breaks, is important too. Kids cannot rely on their parent to always make sure that water bottle is full and near the strip. It’s so important that they get into the habit early of taking care of this.
- Towel – Once you get onto the strip, if you need your towel on a break to wipe your forehead or dry your hand from the sweat inside the glove, you cannot be wasting time and headspace to do this.
- Retape – Retaping is an important step here to, because having the tape come loose will be yet another distraction during the bout. Fencers should take a moment and double check the tape, every single time.
- Check your weapon – This same thing goes for the weapon. Check your weapon in those final couple of minutes and ensure that you’ve got your backup weapon nearby. Check the screws, weight and shim compliance to avoid being carded.
These things need to be habits. If you have to stop the bout to fix everything, then you’re going to find yourself with broken concentration and a tough time getting into the right rhythm. When you put everything near the strip, you’ll be ready for whatever comes. This is especially important for when you move to larger competitions where you will be moving from the pool rounds to the DE in a different far away pod. It’s easy to forget about your equipment and move on to the new strip. Then you don’t have what you need and it’s a huge distraction!
Make the list (or help your child make the list) and then memorize it. It is said that when you do something a dozen times then it becomes a habit. With that wisdom, try creating a simple list of things that you need by the strip and then practicing it methodically a dozen times. You’ll find that after that you don’t have to think about it and can focus on your bout!
Mental Fencing Bout Preparation
It’s important to think of the mental aspects of the process as you go up to the strip as well. You should get into the habit of the physical preparation first, but once that its ingrained and is something you aren’t thinking about, then you should add in mental preparation to your habits as well. You can even get in the habit of practicing mental bout preparation at the time that you are moving your objects. This is a great way to maximize time – but only when you have firmly rooted your physical prep.
Here’s what mental preparation can look like.
- Visualize your outcome – We know that fencing is not strictly about winning, but winning is still a good goal to have. Look at your opponent prior to the bout and imagine that you are scoring a touch. Think about how the lights will light up and how your score will be higher than theirs. Imagine yourself winning. Not in a generic way, but on this strip and in a few minutes. This only should take maybe ten to twenty seconds, but it will put you in a good mindset just before the bout.
- Give yourself a pep talk – You talk to yourself more than anyone else, and it matters what you say. Just before you step onto the strip, talk yourself up. Think about what your coach would say to you or has said to you, and build your confidence as you’re hooking up.
- Relax your body – This is the mix of the physical and the mental. Take just a moment to pull your shoulders down, release the tension in your knees, and breathe deeply for a few breaths. Tension is not your friend in the bout.
- Technique at the front – Your training and technique will carry you through. You know what you know at this point as you step into the bout, but you can feel those techniques in your body as you walk up to remind you.
- Lean into the adrenaline – the rush of adrenaline just before you step onto the strip can serve either to focus you or to make you anxious. It’s more likely to make you nervous if you fear it, so lean into the adrenaline spike as you step onto the strip.
Here’s an idea – doing these things together will make them a whole habit.
- When you check your shoelaces, visualize your outcome.
- Fill your head with positive self talk when you arrange your hair.
- Grab your water and relax your shoulders with deep breaths.
- Put your towel nearby and do some more positive self talk.
- Retape as you feel your techniques in your body.
- Check your weapon and lean into the adrenaline.
This is just one example of what you can do, it’s important that you make your own techniques and get habits going that work for you. Make sure that you are doing this consciously instead of just letting things go however they go. The mental and physical chess of fencing extend beyond the strip.
Don’t make your fencing life harder than it has to be! Learning to prepare everything for the fencing bout is going to help to take some of the pressure off. Actually, it’ll help you take off a lot more pressure than you would think.
When you are called to fence, you need to be able to focus on the only important thing – your bout.