There’s a common idea that getting kids to go to beginner fencing summer camp is about creating the next generation of great fencers.
It goes something like this:
- A parent sees a flyer (or reads a blog) and thinks “Hey, this would be a great thing to try, and who knows? Maybe they’ll love it.”
- The kid comes into the camp with wide eyes and picks up a sword, then they fall in love with fencing.
- Soon enough, they’re enrolled in classes and have found their passion for the sport. They start taking private lessons and competing.
- Fast forward a dozen years and they’re marching in with the United States at the Olympics.
Here’s the thing – beginner fencing camp isn’t about building the next generation of great fencers. Sure, we see kids jump into the sport after having done fencing summer camp and go on to become serious fencers, but that’s not at all what they come for.
Here are five ways that beginner fencing camps build strong kids.
1. A distraction-free stretch of time
Unlike school, beginner fencing summer camp offers kids a period of time where they can work on something without being pulled here and there. Because classes change every hour or hour and a half in school, there’s not an extended amount of time that a kid can put all of their mental and emotional energy into a single thing.
Beginner fencing camps run for an extended time in a day, giving kids a good three or four hours stretch to just do fencing. They’ll of course not be in their gear the whole time, but they will have their head in this one thing the whole time. In beginner fencing camp, there are tons of active games and exercises that engage kids around the sport.
This kind of focused activity is important for building attention spans and getting kids to stretch their mental capacity. Because fencing is so engaging and fun, they don’t get bored, even with the longer period of time. Though they aren’t adults yet, as adults they’ll be called on to focus on one activity for longer than they do in school or even in afterschool activities. Beginner Fencing Summer Camp is a perfect way to build that skill.
2. Bursting out of categories
We all have had the experience of siloing in schools. Kids find a peer group and stick with it, and this can be limiting for a lot of kids. The soccer kids hang together, the drama club kids hang together, the science team kids hang together, the video games or anime kids hang together, etc. Once they’re in those groups, it can be hard for them to break out of them and expand their horizons. Expanding those horizons is really important though, and a varied social group is great for kids’ development.
Fencing is a great activity for pushing kids out of their usual group of peers. Because it’s the confluence of the mental and the physical, it can be a cross point for kids who are more intellectual and kids who tend to be more physical. This kind of meeting of these two different kinds of kids enlarges their social circle beyond the usual cliques that we see kids falling into.
It doesn’t have to be either/or – we want to see kids become yes/and. Yes you can be a band kid AND you can be a fencer. You can be a passionate fencer AND be on the debate team. Often, kids become passionate about things that they didn’t even realize they could do until they tried it.
3. Piquing physical interest
Fencing really helps those more intellectually minded kids to find an entrance into a physical sport, integrating their mental acuity and their physical acumen. It’s a wonderful foot in the door to being physically active.
Beginner fencing camps are even better for those kids who are highly intellectual but unsure about their ability to do sports. There are a lot of nerves for children who have a history of not being the most physically dominant in PE or other sports. The real important thing here is that it doesn’t matter if they continue fencing after that initial camp or not – it’s a win if they are now suddenly open to the idea of physical activity thanks to participating in a fencing summer camp! Maybe they do this for a week and then decide, “Oh, I really can have control of my body. I want to try running/swimming/lacrosse/volleyball next!”, or even better, “I really love fencing and want to make it to be my sport. I can learn how to outsmart my opponent!”
Fencing camp is not like traditional sports camps because there is such an ingrained intellectual piece to the sport. Though fencing is inherently a physical activity, beginner fencers are also learning to interact with the weapon, and this gives them something to focus on that kind of shields them from it being just about their sports performance. This is a perfect bridge for so many high flying academic achievers who are reticent to try sports. We’ve seen it lead to a reinvention of their relationship to their bodies, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see.
4. Creating new relationships
Kids today have a wonderful breadth of options to help them build relationships. They can interact on social media, over text, even facetime their friends that they meet for just a few hours. Those connections are powerful, and kids got even more used to building them during the pandemic.
In beginner fencing summer camps, everyone is in the same boat, having no experience with a weapon and just starting out. Through that week of working together and learning together, they are able to build relationships that don’t have to end there, even if they choose not to continue fencing. Fencers in these camps find all kinds of commonalities and build friendships. It’s wonderful to see, and it’s lasting. These are kids who would have never connected if they hadn’t come to fencing camp together!
5. Confidence building
There is nothing like a sword to build confidence in a child. That first time that a young person picks up a blade and holds it against an opponent is magical. It feels powerful and strong, like they can accomplish things and become more independent than they thought possible.
It’s not just the way that fencers build confidence from the combat, it’s also the powerful mentorship that older fencers and adult coaches give them. They get to have all of that positive reinforcement and enthusiasm, an instant sense of belonging. The fencing community is welcoming and jovial, especially for new fencers. We want to see each child succeed, whether it’s during that week or over many years in the sport.
It’s a powerful thing to work in a combat sport and feel that connection to the opponent and to yourself. It really builds self-esteem and pushes kids to think of themselves differently than they did before. Even just a week of beginner fencing camp has this effect on kids. For their parents to trust them with the responsibility of holding a sword, that’s big stuff for kids! Then to have other adults encourage them to stand across from another person and fight – wow, it is a great way to build trust and to improve their mental resilience.
We love to see this in young fencing campers who are coming into the club and trying it out for the first time. It’s more than just the novelty of a new sport, it’s also the power within the blade. Kids who decide that beginner camp was the extent of what they want to do with fencing will still talk about the lasting impact that it had on them, long after the camp itself is over. There is something about holding that sword that is like nothing else in the world.
Whether a child goes into beginner fencing summer camp and decides that it’s only for them for that week or whether they decide that they want to keep on fencing for the next twenty years, it doesn’t matter. They all walk away from camp with a new set of friendships and a new sense of self-confidence. That’s what the camps are for, and that’s why we love having new fencers come try it out!