Being the parent of youth athlete can be extremely tricky business. That’s even more the case for parents who weren’t in highly competitive sports in their own youth but who are now faced with supporting a child who is pursuing the stressful and tangibly electric world of fencing.
There’s an incredibly delicate tightrope that fencing parents have to walk. Encouraging growth without being demeaning, managing expectations without being a pushover, supporting time off while still fostering grit.
Overbearing parenting is a big contributor to kids not wanting to participate in sports in general, and it’s definitely something that we’ve seen in fencing. That has far reaching effects, from holding them back from reaching the highest echelons of the fencing world to preventing them from getting scholarships for college, to even impeding their ability to continue with other activities throughout their personal and professional lives as adults. The most important consideration is that negative relationships surrounding fencing can put a strain on the parent-child relationship in general. It’s critically important that parents recognize how their actions affect their young fencers.
Here are the eleven fencing parenting commandments that all fencing parents should follow.
Commandment #1 – Realize Your Child’s Fencing is Not a Reflection of Your Parenting
Yes, we’re jumping right in with one of the really hard ones. If your child is an Olympic fencer, that doesn’t mean you were a perfect parent. If your child struggles with the basics of fencing, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. What matters more than anything is your reaction to your child, that’s what the real measure of your parenting skills is. If your child doesn’t excel in fencing, it’s absolutely no reason for them to feel as though they’ve let you down.
Commandment #2 –Always Cheer for the Entire Team
Yes, your child might be your favorite member of the team (that’s great!), but a fencing team is still a team! Those points go towards everyone’s medals. In the individual events, it’s still important for everyone to cheer for one another. Camaraderie is the heart of fencing and the heart of life!
While it might not always be easy to get along with everyone on the team, it’s still important that your child give it a try. Fencing parents are responsible for setting the example for their children to follow.
Commandment #3 –Focus on the Positive
Yes, there will absolutely be times when we need to evaluate and assess problems, but those are really few and far between in the long view. Nearly every situation can be viewed in dichotomy, a balance between positive and negative. We have the chance to choose which one we put emphasis on! If your child lost a bout, focus on the good things that happened that they can then build upon, not the mistakes that they made. We can guarantee you that they know exactly what they did wrong. Focus on the ways to fix it!
Did your child have fun during the bout? Did they learn a new skill? Did they cheer on and support their teammates? Who makes it onto the podium matters far less than who grows.
Commandment #4 – Don’t Live Vicariously Through Your Child
Because you wanted to be an Olympian when you were a child (or wish you were now), does not mean that that’s the path for your young fencer. While we always encourage big dreams and hard work, what we don’t ever want to see is kids fencing because their parents want them to. These must be your child’s dreams and their drive, not yours.
On a related note, if you want to fence then jump in and go for it! Adult fencing is a fantastic way to work out and to get all of those same self esteem benefits as you child is getting. Instead of living vicariously through your child, get out onto the strip yourself! You might not be able to go to the Olympics (or who knows, maybe you could!), but there is a healthy and competitive adult and veteran fencing circuit that offers so many challenges and rewards. Grab a sword yourself and try a lesson!
Commandment #5 –Show Respect for Opponents
This isn’t one of those old western movies where there’s a good guy and a bad guy. Those fencers on the other side of the strip – they’re people too! They’ve got feeling and they’ve worked hard to get to competition. Calling people names is just bad news, and setting a bad example for your kids in this area is one of the worst things a fencing parent can do. No name calling, and always respect for the opposition. Think about how you want your child to be treated in winning and in losing, then treat their opponents in the same way.
Commandment #7 –Let the Fencing Coach do the Coaching
No matter if your child has been fencing for one week or ten years, the bottom line is that the coach knows more than anyone what it takes to get that good performance out of your child. Fencing parents who interfere with coaching are asking for trouble. Shouting instructions from the audience or making corrections is only going to confuse your child and make them unable to perform at their best.
Fencing coaches are partners in this process. Sometimes coach’s personality and style has a perfect match with that of a student, but sometimes challenging relationships can help kids to grow more than easy ones. Whatever the case, keep in mind that your child’s coach always has their best interest at heart and treat them with dignity and respect.
Commandment #8 – Show Respect for Fencing Referees
Not every call is going to be perfectly spot on. That’s ok. Fencing refs are just people like you or me. They make mistakes, they do the wrong things, the get caught up in the moment. If a mistake is made in a bout, it’s the job of the fencing coach to bring it up to the ref, it’s not your job.
Treating fencing refs with dignity and respect is a central part of helping your children understand life and learn to roll with what comes. A bad call isn’t going to ruin their lives, just like a bump in the road of life isn’t going to ruin their life.
Commandment #9 –Be There Whenever Possible
Just showing up to watch practice, to watch competition, and to participate in club events can be a massive support to your child. Even if you don’t realize how much it means to them, it’s actually a very big deal! While there may not always be time for you to make every single competition, make a real effort to be there as much as you possibly can so that your young fencer knows that you care. More than anything, this is what shows your child that their progress and hard work are important to you.
Be there for your child, even when you’re not doing anything but just being there.
Commandment #10 – Remember that Your Kids are Always Watching
You might think that your child doesn’t see you chastising their coach or looking disappointed when they miss a point, but they do. Kids see WAY more than we realize they see, and it’s so important for fencing parents to keep in mind that those little eyes are watching at every moment. Kids internalize the things that their parents do, and the actions that you commit around them now in their fencing career will stay with them.
Whatever you do with regards to your child and their fencing, however you act, always know that they see you.
Commandment #11 – Teach the Art of Life Through the Art of Fencing
Contrary to what many people think, fencing isn’t at all about hitting people with a sword. Fencing is very much about teaching children to navigate life with vigor and resilience. The lessons learned on the strip don’t stay there! They transfer to the classroom, to the job, and to relationships with others outside of the fencing club.
The wider your view of what fencing is about for your child, the more effectively you’ll be able to see that they are getting what they need in their fencing journey. This isn’t about swords! It’s not about masks! It’s not about the Olympics! It’s not about the Ivy League College fencing! Fencing is about your child learning to be more than they are, to stick with something in the long term, and to feel better about themselves as they grow through this incredible sport.
What things have you learned as a fencing parent? What advice would you give to other fencing parents about how to do the best for their young fencers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!