Parents, what would you say is your #1 job at a fencing competition? To make sure your children have everything they need? That they have nutritious food and plenty of water? I would argue that your most important job is to make sure they know that you enjoy watching them fence and that you are their biggest fan.
I want to address one specific thing that is not your job, and that is judging the referees. As a parent, I understand how it can be tempting to stick up for your child. If you feel strongly that a call was wrong to the disadvantage of your child, it can be hard to watch without saying anything—but that’s exactly what you need to do.
Why? For a few clear reasons …
#1 Referees have the most knowledge and the best vantage point
Most referees train and pass exams, so they are the experts. Even referees who are young teenagers are typically advanced fencers with much experience competing and refereeing. For your own sake and for the sake of your child, assume they have a better view of the action than you. Most parents are not fencers and have no training in refereeing. Who would you trust to make the correct call?
#2 Referees deserve our respect
That being said, officiating a sport is a difficult job. The rules of fencing in particular are complex and nuanced. Referees will make mistakes because they are human, even at such high stake events as Olympic finals. In those moments when the referee gets it wrong, they still deserve our respect—which means keeping quiet. When a call truly needs to be argued, it is still not the parent’s job to do so.
#3 Your interference will not help, only harm
Arguing with the referee won’t change the situation. It may, however, alienate them. More likely than that, it may embarrass or distract your child. If they hear you yelling from the sidelines, it can only serve to demoralize them. Plus, one benefit of fencing is for the kids to learn how to deal with things like emotional reactions to feeling cheated by a call. To understand that it’s not personal, life isn’t fair, and people make mistakes. In short, parents should let their kids fence and remember that the most important thing is that they know you love watching them compete.
#4 Part of being a good fencer is clear actions
The best way for a fencer to avoid bad calls is to make the right call more obvious. Competitive fencing includes this ability to impress the referee with the clarity of your actions: the finesse and precision. Remember this when you or your child is upset by a call, particularly if you’re talking your child through this experience. Instead of being angry over what they can’t change, you can guide them toward using it as motivation to keep training hard.
All this being said, fencing calls are not black and white and the referee can get it wrong. Still, unless it is an extremely important competition, such as a world championship or the Olympic games, I suggest keeping your judgment and emotions to yourself. Yelling to change a call will have long-lasting effects: on you, your child, and other fencers around.
(Image of fencing referee by: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 3.0)