Art of Fencing, Art of Life

7 Ways that Fencers Can Stop Thinking Negatively

thinking negativelyFencing is a sport of the mind, much much more than it is a sport of the body. We learn early on in fencing to control our minds so that we can control our bodies more effectively on the strip. It’s something that fencing coaches talk about, something that elite fencers focus on.

Keeping that positive outlook is important to all fencers. It’s important on competition day, but it’s arguably more important in the daily grind of fencing practice. A great outlook will make your fencing practice better and thereby your fencing better!

Most of us have a negative thinking bias

I recently read an article from Janis over at JBM Thinks. She pointed out the tendency that most of us have to a negativity bias. That means that most of us find it easier to recall the bad things while we let go of the good things in our lives, or even the things that aren’t good but that aren’t so bad either. As she puts it “Our brains are like velcro for bad stuff that happens and like teflon for good stuff.”

How accurate is that? Think about a time that your child’s fencing coach was harsh towards your child, either at a competition or just during practice. We know that most of us who’ve had that happen (which is every fencing parent) simmered in that, talked to our spouse about it, thought about it, and complained about it. In that moment of harshness, your child’s fencing coach wiped out all of the good things that they had done to buoy your child up until that point. This happens in all sports, and we’ve certainly seen it in fencing!

It’s natural for us to focus on the negative, to point it out and to think about it. That’s not just something that happens with coaches, but it’s also something that we do with our kids as well. We can be quicker to point out a missed point or a hit that they should have blocked then to praise them for all of the times that they did save that point or that they did block their opponent.

But you don’t have to have this negative thinking bias! There are some simple and effective ways to change how you approach your fencing or your child’s fencing without negativity. Here are seven ways for fencers to stop negative thinking.

1 – Seek out positives in your fencing performance

All fencers analyze their performance. All of us do that! It’s not a bad thing to go over and over your performance on the strip as long as you do it in a positive way. Of course you want to learn about the things that you did wrong in a match so that you can improve, but it’s equally important that you highlight the good things that you’ve done. There are three reasons for this:

  • Keeping your positive mindset
  • Reinforcing your good fencing
  • Showing you opportunities to grow

Highlighting positive things in your fencing performance as you analyze after a match will help you to maintain your positive mindset, keeping you from being dragged down into thinking that’s really just unhelpful. Did you parry on time? Was your speed good? Did your posture improve over your last match? Did you have a good distance control? Did you use the strip wisely? Did you change your game when your opponent changed theirs? Did you succeed to implement an advice of your coach? Did you succeed to hold your emotions when you were behind? These are great ways for you to explore how your fencing is improving.

During those after match breakdowns, when you’re watching the video or talking through it with people who were watching, you can reinforce your good habits. It’s very easy to get lost in picking things apart after a match and then take your eye off of the things that you are doing really well. If you don’t reinforce those good things, you might stop doing them! Notice them and keep them in mind.

We can help negative things to become positive things when we have the right mindset. That’s especially true in fencing, where so much of it is the mental chess game that we play within ourselves. A positive mindset means that you’re seeing the chances that you have to make changes in this moment, that these are opportunities to grow rather than simply deficits.

2 – Focus on what you can control (hint – it’s you)

There are things in fencing that you can control and there are things that you can’t control. Fencers tend to feel most out of control when they keep their mind on the result of the match instead of their fencing during the match. You can’t control how your opponent attacks or how the fencing ref calls the match. What you can control is your stance, your focus, your readiness, your speed, etc. Fixating on things that are out of your control on the strip is a powerful form of negative thinking!

Keep your eye on your fencing performance targets, things that you can talk out with your coach. Fencers should always keep in mind that even meeting every single performance target might still end up in the loss of a match. Focusing on that final score is not going to help with positive thinking!

3 – Don’t set yourself up for failure on the strip

There’s something known as setting yourself up for failure. That means that your expectations are not in line with what can really happen, leaving you feeling terrible in the aftermath.

Here’s an example. You go into a fencing competition with the expectation that you’re going to make it to the podium. That’s your goal, that’s what you’re expecting to happen. You’ve been doing really well all season and you’re just on fire. After a while, it can be tempting to expect to win. But then if you step onto the strip in that first pool and you find yourself eliminated after facing a bigger, more experienced opponent, the world can come crashing down. When we expect to win, losing is overwhelming.

Don’t develop a losing mentality, but adjust your expectations to things that you can control – which brings us right back to number 2. You cannot control the outcome of the match, only your part in it. And even then you don’t have total control.

Your coach and your club should be working with you to create a realistic goal plan for your fencing each season. That means creating a path to improvement that’s possible for you to stick to. Reaching goals is a huge part of keeping a positive mindset.

4 – Encourage your fencing teammates

Fencing is not a team sport, but it is a sport in which we have teams. The fencing club itself is a team in many respects, and your classmates in your fencing class are certainly teammates that you get close to and work with.

Encouraging your fencing teammates is going to give you a huge boost of positivity. When we express good things to our peers, it helps us to focus on the positive all around. It’s important here to think about that post-match autopsy that happens all on its own after a fencing competition. Most fencers are just naturally going to fall into this kind of picking away at their matches, and again we encourage reviewing performances. The trick is to be positive during these times! That’s especially true with your teammates. It’s easy for negativity to start coming up during this period of camaraderie.

What you can do is to be positive for your teammates. When you offer criticism, make sure it’s constructive criticism that encourages them to make positive changes. You want to be helpful without being critical, supportive without being patronizing, and offer encouragement and reassurance about their fencing now and in the future.

How does this help you to develop a positive fencing mindset? That’s easy – it’s often easier to see good things in others than it is to see it in yourself. That’s not all. When you set the stage for positivity with your communication with your fellow fencers, you’re going to see quickly that they reciprocate by being more positive. Fencing is a sport that’s individual, but it’s much better with friends there to support your progress in positive ways! We create the fencing community in which we live, and we do it with the way that we interact with one another.

5- Give yourself a break

Did you make a HUGE mistake on the strip? Did you just totally not do that footwork that your coach practiced with you a thousand times? Did you completely mess up your timing? Did you not eat well before the tournament and weren’t at your best? Did you skip the last two private lessons before the competition?

Cut yourself some slack! You can’t be perfect all of the time. Whatever mistake you made, whatever you did that was wrong, it’s not anything that is going to ruin your fencing career. Acknowledge your mistake, learn from it, and let it go. Beating yourself up about something that you did wrong isn’t going to help anyone with anything. Mistakes aren’t fatal, they’re really just opportunities for us to learn.

The best fencers don’t let a loss get them down! One bad day at competition, even a major fencing competition like an NAC or a RJCC isn’t going to ruin your fencing career. Remember – the more you hold onto negativity, the less likely you are to do well in the next competition.

6 – Practice gratitude

This is something that Janis points out when she talks about getting over negative thinking. Practicing gratitude formatively changes the way that we think about what’s going on in our world in general, not to mention in our fencing. This takes some hard work, especially if you’re mired in negative thoughts. But once you build a habit of being grateful, it becomes a habit and you don’t have to work so hard at it!

How do you get in a habit of gratitude? Here are some ideas for fencers to change their mindset through gratitude:

  • Write down good things related to fencing in your fencing journal. These can be very small things or great big things. Whatever they are, writing them down will make all of the difference in your ability to change your gratitude habits.
  • Actively thank others – your coach, your fellow fencers, your opponents, your referees. Say it out loud, send a text, give a shout out on social media, or even write and old fashioned note. When you are grateful to others, it comes back to you over and over again and builds your positive mindset!
  • Take a moment every single time you go to fencing to think about how grateful you are to be fencing.

These are just a few solid ideas to help you practice gratitude in your fencing and to transform your mindset as a fencer for the better.

7 – Smile, Laugh, HAVE FUN with fencing!

Smiling, laughing, and generally just taking joy in your fencing is one of the absolute BEST things you can do to bring positivity into your fencing practice. You will be more successful when you let go, have fun, and enjoy this amazing sport.

Though we certainly take our training seriously, that doesn’t mean that we as fencers have to be hardcore all of the time. Laugh at practice! Make a joke! Enjoy your fencing all around. Most fencing coaches that we’ve met appreciate fun mixed in with the serious business of practice. Even just a smile can make all the difference in feeling positive.

When you’re happy, you’re going to perform better. That’s just the truth. Positivity breeds success!


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1 Comment

  1. Hi Igor,

    having a USA Epee Women Team won its first Gold medal in a World Championship, Isn’t it time to admit that Fencing can be and is ( in my opinion) a splendid effort of team work, strategy and leadership? In fact, not every individual fencing champion is eligible for a Fencing Team encounter, just because – although with a high technical level- it can happen his team skills are not enough in line with the previous planified or adapted strategy concerning the nine match team encounters. In a Fencing Team, matches are between 2 opponents but every team participants acknowledges his individual rol (what is expected from him) and tries to stick to it just for the sake of team’s goal. Leadership drives team motivation and confidence between team members. I feel this is a good preparation to real life where synergic teamwork at its most is a very positive feature for making the best of it.

    Best regards

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