Focusing on you in fencing competitionIt’s important to remember that a fencing competition is a competition for YOU. When it comes to getting ready, to stepping onto the strip, there’s no one that matters as much as you do in that moment. That means focusing on yourself in the time leading up to the competition, and especially on the day of the competition.

  • You owe it to yourself to be in the best shape possible.
  • You owe it to your coach to be as focused as possible.
  • You owe it to your family to make the most of the support they’ve given you.
  • You owe it to your teammates to do the best for your team.

You DESERVE to do your best in fencing competition. It’s not a selfish thing for you as a competitive fencer to do the most you possibly can for you, to put all of your attention on yourself. The fencing community is so full of giving and loving individuals who are passionate about building our fencing community through camaraderie and mutual support. What fencers have to understand is that building community starts with taking care of yourself and performing your best at competition.

Fencing Competition Burnout

At the recent October NAC (NAC = North America Cup), which by all means is a very big fencing competition, we had several events with our fencers all through the day. Competition days can be long days, and this was an instance of a very long day. Cadet boys started bright and early at 8am, while Division 1 women’s epee didn’t get going until 4pm. That’s a LONG day! Many of the girls who were competing late in the afternoon came out to cheer on their teammates early in the day. That’s a wonderful gesture and truly appreciated – we definitely love to see our fencers be there for one another socially.

But take a moment to think about it – was getting up that early and heading to the venue the best thing for the girls? That meant that they had less sleep, more stress, and more mental strain by the time their competitive time came around. They were burned out by the time their event started!

No matter who you’re fencing with, we definitely want everyone to be a part of the team. But what we NEED from you is to be fresh for your competition. You need to eat, sleep and rest well before your event. You need to be mentally fresh and emotionally stable when it’s your turn to come up to the strip. As a competitive fencer, you need to always have your next event on your mind. If you’re fencing a few hours after your friends, don’t go root for them, as much as you might want to! This might seem cold to some of you, but it’s not at all anything you should feel guilty about!

Leading up to your time to fence, you need to stay in your hotel room, get plenty of sleep, read a book, listen to music, stay calm and loose. Do some yoga or meditation, or go for a walk. Whatever it is that gets you most into “the zone” is what you need to be doing. You competing at your best is the best thing for everyone!

It’s already a tough thing to carve out time for the mental clarity aspect of competitive fencing when you’re traveling far and wide for competitions. There are time zone changes to contend with, new surroundings, equipment concerns, different food, etc. etc. Oftentimes fencers are already hyped up and on edge when they’re getting ready to compete. Burnout is a big cause of fencers struggling at competition. All of the preparation in the world can’t help if you’re not in good mental and physical condition when you step on the strip!

Teens, Tweens, and Fencing Focus

For a fifteen year old or a twelve year old, putting aside the social pressures is no small task. At this age, which is also the age that many of our fencers are getting more serious about competition, the social aspect of their lives is very important. For teens and tweens, their social life and friends are super important to them. And yes, they do legitimately expect their friends to be there to watch them fence. That’s totally developmentally appropriate, and it’s not something that we want to get rid of in our fencers. What we do want to do is to give them outlets for maintaining important socializing connections that don’t impede their focus at competition.

This is one of those moments when competitive fencing can really give young people important skills that will transfer to other parts of their lives as they get older. Learning to focus on goals while balancing social responsibilities isn’t just important at fencing competitions – it’s important in college, in their jobs when they’re older, and even right now as they work to balance their academic responsibilities.

We’ve found that’s it’s very helpful to just be direct with teen and tweens. They appreciate it. Talk to them about how it’s not about not wanting to be with their friends, it’s about balance. This same kind of directness is how they can then learn to talk to their friends. If they spend the whole day watching others compete (in our scenario it was an extra six to seven hours!), then by the time their own event starts they’ve lost their sharpness, they’re tired, and they are just plain burned out both physically and emotionally. It’s a lose/lose situation. This gets balanced because then they don’t expect their friends to get up so early and come cheer them on. Instead, they learn to encourage good competitive habits in their friends.

How about we boil it down to something that’s a bit more concrete.

  • You want to perform your best without feeling guilty.
  • You want your friends to perform their best without feeling guilty.

Learning to live life without feeling guilty for taking care of yourself is so important! Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good in that moment, but the rewards in the long term are wonderful. The key to everything is solid communication, and that goes for all kinds of relationships. Good friends who are with you for the right reasons will always support you doing your best!

How to Create Good Boundaries

All of this starts now, at the beginning of the season ideally. Start off by setting up rules for yourself at the start of the season, making a conscious and hopefully collective decision as a team and a group of friends to support one another in the right ways. Supporting good competition habits and healthy boundaries isn’t too hard when you do it from the start! Then you don’t have to break habits later down the line.

Talk about it. Brainstorm ways with fellow fencers to get the most out of competition. Talk to your coach about what you should be doing to prepare, particularly from the mental side. A text message can be a powerful thing. So can a handwritten note. Supporting your friends in competition can come in so many forms. Forms that don’t include burning you out.

Here are some guidelines for fencers during competition season:

  • Sleep is important – get as much as you can
  • Stay in your hotel room until it’s time to compete
  • Think of ways to help improve your friend’s focus
  • Look for other ways to show support – notes or lucky charms or social media messages
  • Cheer on your friends when you’re done competing
  • Make a pact to support your fellow fencers in healthy ways!

Staying at the fencing venue all day before you compete isn’t helping anyone. On the other side, if you’re not fencing till the afternoon then you might stay up and socialize the evening before to relax. However if your friend is fencing at eight am, then they shouldn’t staying late – they should be sleeping! This kind of support goes all the way around, no matter what time you’re hitting the strip. The key is to respect everyone’s needs.

Friendship is an important part of fencing, and it’s something that we all value. Whether it’s a sibling or a fellow fencer who’s a close friend, we want to help everyone do their best at competition. It’s easy to get hung up on being right there in the audience for support, but we have to remember that there are tons of other ways to build camaraderie!

Make a conscious and collective decision to do this – for you all sakes! This is not about one fencer, it’s about doing the best for all of your fellow fencers. Come together in good habits and watch everyone grow and get better in fencing competition because of it.