As I mentioned in a recent post, I know that talking about protecting our intimate areas is not the most comfortable subject. However, as a parent of two young boys, I’m up to the challenge of addressing the subject head on. The previous post tackled the question of “To wear or not to wear?”, and our answer is that groin protectors are highly recommended for safety and to minimize pain from any accidental hits. If groin protection is helpful, safe, and can save you from discomfort, why are so many fencers averse to wearing them? I think it’s due to these five common misconceptions.
Some fencers say that groin protectors are awkward and uncomfortable to wear, but with the right purchase and the right fit, the gear should fit comfortably. There are two basic options when shopping for a groin protector: hard cup and soft cup.
Hard cups are typically used in baseball, boxing, and hockey. We purchased some and tried them on. Our opinion? They are pretty uncomfortable to be honest, the hard plastic presses on the inside of the thighs, which can also restrict motion while fencing. Also, because of the rigid material, they don’t stay in place very well during physical activity (and that’s the whole point, right?). The upside? The hard material provides full protection. That might be necessary in baseball when you can take a line drive hit or hockey with pucks going at lightning speed, but these risks aren’t present in fencing. We vote against the hard cup as the best option for protection.
Pro: 100% protection (if it stays in place)
Con: Not very comfortable or stable
Note: With the holes for aeration, it seems possible that you could take a direct hit with unfortunate precision that misses your protector. We’re guessing that’s not too likely.
Soft cups (gel or bioflex) are made of more flexible material (silicon) and are padded, often used in baseball and martial arts. You can also find gel cups, which are common in boxing. We recommend trying either of these options as a more comfortable alternative to a hard up. This way you get some extra protection in the event of the uncommon hit, but you don’t need the awkward hard piece of equipment bothering you in a bout.
Pro: Comfortable, you will quickly get used to it almost as if it’s not there and it won’t restrict your movement. BioFlex cup with silicon around is our favorite.
Con: In the case of a very aggressive hit, may not absorb all the shock. As you might guess, we opted not to test this specific event.
Note: A cup is often worn with a jockstrap to hold it in place, a support made of light material similar to cotton underwear. This adds one more piece to your gear and can be uncomfortable for males who are not used to wearing one. Also, I’ve realized that some boys don’t like them because they remind them of women’s underwear! What we’ve found to be a great option is to buy boxers/compression shorts with a built-in pocket for a cup. Simpler and more comfortable. You can purchase them for as little as $10 and you can get high-quality shorts for as low as $20-25.
Here is an example of the style we’ve found to work best based on our research. We’re not necessarily suggesting this specific brand, but this design works well.
Note: All brands, links, and photos are for illustration only and are not intended as a specific recommendation or advertisement.
I’ve learned that many male fencers just don’t think groin protectors are needed. The misconception is that the likelihood of a hit is so low that it’s not worth it. The truth is, it happens. And even if it only happens to your child once, wouldn’t you want him to be protected? I discussed this in the previous post, but less experienced fencers are not as structured or precise, so it can be more frequent with younger fencers. Some say that good defensive skills replace the need for a cup, but your fencer can make that decision as he gets older and improves his technique. We say better safe than sorry.
3. Restricts movement
As I mentioned above, the key is to pick the right type of protection and take the time to find a good fit. In our experimenting, with a soft cup and a built-in cup pocket, you will barely know it’s there after a short time. If it’s affecting your game, maybe you need to go shopping!
I know, fencing equipment can really add up when it comes to your bank account. But you can find good quality, comfortable groin protectors for minimal cost. Sure, you can find expensive ones, but there are plenty of economical options. Here are two examples from Amazon.com:
Cup: http://tinyurl.com/pfl5b45 – $2.27 + $5.19 shipping
Groin Guard: http://tinyurl.com/lhsg6ux – $3.99 & free shipping
Shorts: http://tinyurl.com/omfsgev – $5.69
Prices change often on Amazon, but at the time of writing these three are priced at $4 -$8. A small price to pay for your child’s safety, wouldn’t you say?
5. Not manly
This might be the toughest bridge to cross when addressing groin protection with your child. First, he probably won’t be too excited to discuss it with you for the first time. Second, since it’s not a required part of the fencing uniform and some males think the manly thing it to say, “Nah, I don’t need it!”, your child may be in the minority if he starts wearing a cup. We all know how much young children and teens don’t want to stand out from the rest. If your club doesn’t have a solid guideline and most males aren’t wearing cups, your child may feel awkward at first. Even adult males often take on this macho attitude of not needing the extra protection.
I suggest simply having a candid conversation with your fencer about safety and not placing importance on what others think. We all wear seatbelts in the car and helmets on our bikes because we value our bodies, why should fencing be any different? Tell them real men are smart and protect themselves when needed. If they need some guidance for talking about it with their clubmates, just tell them to say, “Hey, talk to me about that if you get hit.” That should end the conversation pretty quickly.
One last note, while we recommend groin protectors for all fencing activity, it’s of course not necessary for warm-ups, stretching, or any other training that doesn’t involve bouting. If you follow our suggestions, the boxers/compression shorts can be worn for the entire practice or lesson and the cup easily slipped in when it’s time to fence. No straps, no changing.
So there you have it, misconceptions addressed! No need to buy full body armor, but this small step to protect an important place is a no-brainer. Yes for groin protection for fencing!