Perspective is everything.
How a fencer thinks about fencing has a massive effect on how they perform. Two fencers who have the same amount of talent and skill can do dramatically differently in competition depending on how they think about it. It’s not only how many hours you put in in practice or what kind of equipment – how you frame your thinking about competition is equally as important.
On the other side of every fencing match are two options for the fencer:
- A win.
- A loss.
Are you driven to win or afraid to lose? While it might seem that both lines of thinking lead to the same end, that’s not entirely true. Which one you put the emphasis on changes how you feel, how you think, and how you fence. There is a huge difference between the two! One mindset is great for achievement, the other is terrible. How you approach the challenges and demands of fencing is critically important.
Which is which? Let’s talk about that.
Fencing mindset – afraid to lose
The fear of losing functions as a barrier to success. When you’re afraid to lose, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder to see if that other fencer is a threat. You can’t move in a positive direction if you’re always looking back, which funnily enough is what allows your competitor to gain on you.
It’s an easy habit to fall into, particularly when you are in the top position. Have you ever wondered why the underdog always has so much power? It’s simple – hope is a powerful thing. However those in the top seed don’t have that same kind of inspirational fuel to drive them forward. The sense of going from the bottom to the top is nothing short of exhilarating.
Think about when an underdog doesn’t win, how they’re cheered for their effort anyway. That’s not the case with a top competitor, who most often gets a healthy dose of shame with their loss of the high spot. The fear of failure doesn’t help top seeds to feel empowered to win, it scraps their ability to concentrate and disrupts their emotional wellbeing. Not only that, but it keeps them holding on to the status quo out of fear of making a mistake.
Fear of losing can cause:
- Inability to think clearly
- Difficulty sleeping
- Negative thinking
When you become afraid, your fight or flight response kicks in. When this happens, a fencer’s body goes into an automatic response mode. The ability to think clearly and process information gets a lot harder, and emotions become desperate. Desperation leads to mistakes that a fencer wouldn’t otherwise make. When a mistake does happen, whether it’s a touch, a bout loss, or a bad performance in a round, etc., the thoughts of the consequences start to paralyze them.
Fencers who fear failure are concerned with the opinions of others, their parents or peers, their coaches or refs, their opponents or their teammates. When they’re thinking about all of those people, guess what they aren’t thinking about? They’re not thinking about their form or their training or their technique.
What’s important for fencers to understand is that it becomes easier to fall into the fear of failure the longer you compete. That’s because you become less of an underdog and more of a successful competitor, the more you have to lose. Learning to change your perspective, or preserve your positive perspective, with change your fencing.
Fencing mindset – wanting to win
Hope is what gives our fencing purpose. We have visions of accomplishments that will one day come with our fencing, and we have dreams of the big things that we’ll one day see happen if we work hard enough. Science has shown that hope can even promote physical and psychological well-being. It’s the opposite of desperation. That drive that we feel to succeed is in large part driven by hope.
Looking towards the win energizes you. If you’ve incorporated hope into your fencing strategy, then even in loss you’ll be able to pick yourself up and get training again for the next competition. You’re looking towards the win, and when you do that it’s surprisingly easy to move that yardstick from this win (if you lose) and plop it down into the next competition. You can more easily start over with a determined purpose when you’re looking ahead than when you’re looking behind.
Fencers who know how to succeed understand that failure is a part of the path to winning. It’s inevitable, and so you’re not locked up in fear of it. The desire to win is part of a wider strategy of goal setting, and when you’re setting goals in front of you then you’re a happier fencer. It’s wrapped up in the notion of positive thinking. You’re not freaking out about unfavorable consequences like bad seeding, lost medals, or isolated poor performances.
Characteristics of fencers who want to win are:
- Analysis of mistakes
- Constant improvement
- Consistent goal setting
- Forward thinking
- Calm demeanor
- Open to change
- Ability to receive advice or critique
When you’re playing to win, you’re flexible in your fencing. It doesn’t matter to you how you get there, and you’re not so attached to your outcome that you freak out about it if it doesn’t happen.
Fencing requires fluidity. Every opponent, and every match is different. There’s not way to know exactly how an opponent is going to fence against you. There’s not a way to know how you’re going to react ahead of time, not totally. The ability to let go and look forward towards the end of the match fuels innovation and adaptation.
Channel positive thinking to prevent fencing burnout
When we expect failure, we accept failure. But if you have an expectation of growth in every fencing match, you always win! Even if you don’t actually win.
Here are five ways to channel positive thinking in your fencing and so turn the fear of loss into a focus on winning.
1. Ask yourself “what am I afraid of losing?”
When you’re afraid of losing a fencing match, you’re probably not really afraid of losing the match. Are you afraid of disappointing your coach? Are you afraid of going back to school on Monday and having to tell your friends that you didn’t make it to the podium? Are you afraid that your parents wasted a bunch of money on your fencing?
You’re motivated by the fear of losing something or the reaction that someone will have. Getting to the underlying feelings that turn you towards the fear of loss is key to changing your thoughts about fencing.
2. Determine if you’re seeing the whole picture.
The point that you just loss on the strip didn’t mean anything. Really. It didn’t. Not in the wider picture.
Fencing is always, always going to involve losing sometimes, even at the highest levels. It’s a healthy and positive part of the sport, and it’s valuable. Every loss is setting you up for the next win. When you learn to look beyond the fear of this loss in this moment, it’s completely freeing! You won’t feel stuck anymore.
3. Chart your progress
One reason fencers get hung up on losing is because life is lived in this moment, and we can’t always see how things are going. This refers back to the need of seeing the bigger picture.
Putting up a chart of your fencing progress can really help you to see how you’re moving forward overall. When you get a streak of wins going (and you will), then your internal motivation to keep that streak going is a powerful thing. You’re training yourself to be attached to win rather than focusing on losing. You’ll also see positive trends much more readily!
4. Check in with your intentions
Why do you want to fence? Why do you want to compete? Be honest. It’s easy to get into a habit of fencing rather than being really invested in it. When that happens it fosters a fear of losing this thing that you have put work and dedication into instead of driving towards the fencing goals in front of you.
Once you check in with your intentions, you now have the power to realign them. Is it time to change up your fencing routine? Are your goals too big or not big enough? You’re the only one who can know for sure what you really want out of this, and letting go of other people’s expectations for your fencing journey is a powerful step in the direction of positivity.
5. Change your relationship with losing.
You will lose.
There is no way to win every match or tournament and there’s no way to avoid every opponent’s touch. You have to come to a place where you see that loss as a step towards your next win rather than as a terrible blow that renders your fencing journey as meaningless. Every loss that you have, whether it’s the loss of a point or the loss of a major tournament, is still a chance to learn and grow. Oftentimes the loss can feel devastating, but somehow we always survive. Always!
It’s all up to you to create the connections and to see your own potential for growth! Making a proactive choice to act on the feeling of loss in a positive way instead a reactive way that fuels your fear.
You’re focusing on what the end is going to look like either way, but do you put your energy into the negative or into the positive? While no one loves to lose, those fencers who aren’t living in fear of it are setting themselves up for more success.