A guest post by Corwin Duncan.

Goal Setting in Fencing

I saluted my opponent, put on my mask, and got on guard. I listened for the referee’s command to fence, and for just a moment I felt the intense desire to win this bout; this bout I had been waiting for for years, working tirelessly so this one moment I could do my best. I felt that intensity, and then I let it go and focused, and as the referee said ‘fence!’ – I was ready.

It was July 5th 2008, and I was fencing the final of Junior National Championships. That bout was strange for me – every touch seemed to last minutes, but only seconds passed on the clock. Most of the time I made the wrong action, but it seemed like my opponent was moving through molasses, and somehow I could always find a way to land the touch. My mind and my body were more prepared than they had ever been before, and everything flowed together.

One minute and 38 seconds into the bout – just past the first half of the first period – I scored the final touch of the bout, winning 15-1.

It felt amazing to be fencing in the final of national championships, and it felt even better to win. But what I mostly felt in that moment was the culmination of years of preparation. You see, I didn’t just have a good bout, or competition, or season – since I was 15 my goal had been to win Junior National Championships. Every time I took a lesson, fenced a practice bout, or competed, I could connect it to that one goal – and that gave me focus, direction, and motivation.

The Importance of Goal-Setting

Having a goal – an end point, a desire, one thing to focus on – is important in many parts of life, but for competitive athletes it’s especially crucial. When you’re in the club fencing day after day, or going to competitions and not getting the results you want, or missing out on other things you want to do, it’s easy to become frustrated, or question your motivation – but when you have a clear goal, you have something to focus on, something that you know you want to achieve, something that will make all those sacrifices worth it.

Some specific benefits of setting goals are:

  • Number 1 – A goal gives you something to focus on and helps you because it helps you prioritize your time and attention. If you have a specific goal, you can prioritize things that will help reach that goal, and set aside anything that doesn’t, leaving more time and energy to pursue what is most important.
  • Number 2 – It feels great to accomplish something! When you set a goal for yourself, even if it’s not something other people will recognize and get excited about, you can celebrate, knowing you accomplished what you set out to do – and that will boost your motivation, confidence, and self-esteem.
  • Number 3 – Having a goal and not achieving it helps you see when you need to change something. If you don’t achieve your goal, that’s okay – It simply means that if you want to try again at that goal (or something similar) you need to do something different this time.

So, setting goals is valuable because it give you focus and motivation, because it feels good to accomplish them, and because it helps us know if we are on the right path, or if we need to change something about what we are doing.

Different Kinds of Goals

Not all goals are created equal. Something you hope to achieve within a week of starting is different than a goal for a year – or five years – from now, and there are some other factors to consider as well.

Short vs. Long-Term Goals

I divide goals into short, mid, and long-term. A short term goal is anything under three months or so – a goal for the next few weeks or the next competition. Mid-term is about three months to a year, and long-term would be anything over a year. For example I might say my short term goal is to place top 8 in the next NAC I compete in, my mid-term goal is to get into the top 10 on the points list by the end of the season, and my long-term goal is to make the senior national team and qualify for world championships.

In the story at the beginning of this post, winning national championships was a long-term goal for me, because I set that goal when I was 15, 5 years before it happened.

What Makes A ‘Good’ Goal

There are two important factors in setting a goal.

Firstly, it needs to be positive. Your goal needs to be something you do instead of something you don’t do. Why? Because if your goal is to not lose, for example, that’s easy – never compete! A negative goal doesn’t encourage you to take action. If you want to compete and not lose, your goal is really to win. A good way to test out whether your goal is positive or not is to ask the question ‘Can a rock do this better than me?’ If the answer is yes, a rock is better at it than you are, you may want to change it to be more positive. To go back to the example above, if your goal is to not lose – well, a rock can do that better than you can. But if you say your goal is to win, you can definitely do that better than a rock.

Secondly, your goal should be SMART. ‘Wait’ I hear you cry – ‘Obviously it should be smart – who wants dumb goals?’ But that’s not what I mean. I mean your goals need to be






Let’s break these down:

Specific – Your goal should be as precise as possible. For example my goal that I’ve referenced above – ‘Win Junior National Championships.’

Measurable – There should be some way to measure if you achieved your goal or not. For me, if I won junior nationals, I achieved my goal.

Achievable – Make sure the goal you set is realistic! In my case, I was winning national medals in cadet when I set that goal, so it was realistic to think if I worked hard, I could win junior nationals.

Relevant – Your goal should help you get closer to a long-term desire. In my case, winning national championships was in line with my lifelong goal of qualifying for the Olympics.

Time-bound – Have a timeline! In my case, my goal was to win junior national championships – so I had to win before I aged out of juniors in order to succeed. If I didn’t win before I aged out, I would need to set a different goal.

Are your goals SMART and positive?

Take a moment and think about a goal you are working toward right now. Can you do it better than a rock? Is it Specific? Measurable? Achievable (for you)? Relevant (to your long-term goals)? Time-bound? If not, try to come up with some ways you could make it positive and SMART.

If you’re not sure what to set as your goal right now, head over to the SharperMind Training blog for a step-by-step guide on how to set goals.

One last thing – when you set a goal, get excited! Achieving goals is one of the most fun parts of any sport, so anytime you set a goal for yourself, you’ve got a chance to get excited about the moment when you will achieve it.

Now get out there, set a goal, knock it out of the park, and celebrate!


SharperMindTraining offers mental skills training clinics, online classes, and one-on-one coaching. It was founded by Corwin Duncan, (2x Junior National Champion and Junior World Team member) and Jason Pryor (National Champion and 2016 Olympian). Go to sharpermindtraining.com to learn more, sign up for our mailing list, or email direction at corwin@sharpermindtraining.com to inquire about mental skills coaching.