In a previous post, we discussed how important it is for your child to compete in a fencing tournament. It can help him/her learn how to manage time efficiently, target what needs to be improved in their repertoire, and instill a sense of respect for the awesome machine that the body is.

But what if your child doesn’t want to compete?

This is a question that a lot of parents ask.  Shouldn’t a parent respect their child’s wishes?  Is it healthy to push your child into doing something they don’t want to?  Or is this a case where the end justifies the means, knowing your child will have a good time once he or she gets over the initial anxiety; while gaining valuable life lessons.

Sometimes it’s not the competition itself that is intimidating but the expectations that seem to be wrapped up in it or fear of the unknown.  Below, we offer some suggestions that can help to take the intimidation factor out of the competition.

  • Bring your kid to the competition as a “cheerleader.” They can cheer on their teammates and offer moral support.  That way, your child can enjoy the atmosphere and get used to it so that eventually he or she will be ready to become involved with the competition.  Although generally after a kid has watched a competition, they will want to participate.
  • Have a “buddy” offer to “show your child the ropes” and take him/her under their wing for the first competition.  Some kids are shy, but they may have an admiration for another fencer in their class or a level above.  Feeling like they have a friend in the field might help your child overcome their shyness and be willing to try it out.
  • Do not emphasize winning as the criteria of success.  For one thing, it may not be achievable. There are many competitors and only a handful walk away with a win, so the probability of not winning is high. Losing could lead to discouragement not only of competing but of the sport as a whole.  Instead focus on individual goals.
  • Keep goals small and achievable – i.e. using a new technique learned in a private lesson, or scoring a couple of touches during the competition.  The perspective of the competition might change when success is measured by realistic and attainable goals that your child can be proud of.
  • Which reminds me, don’t forget to tell your child how proud you are of him or her.   After all, if you think about it, it’s a remarkable thing to go from knowing nothing about fencing a few months ago to entering a competition!  That’s a huge achievement and not everyone has the courage to do it. Emphasize that this is what really matters.
  • You can also discuss organizing internal competitions with your club coaches.  This allows your child “try out” a tournament in an environment he or she feels safe in.  Starting out competing within home walls is much easier and can be a stepping stone to entering outside competitions.

Not only are these suggestions useful for helping your child get over his or her fear of entering a competition, but they can be a good strategy for trying something new when your child feels nervous about it.

A few weeks ago, we presented a demonstration at a summer camp fair.  One mom was very excited about fencing and wanted her kids to take classes, but the kids were terrified to do so.  After a short discussion, it turns out the kids thought that the fencing touches were painful.  To dispel this myth, I put a mask and chest protector on each of them and demonstrated how weak the touch with the weapon is.  Seeing that the touches didn’t hurt at all – in fact, they were hardly felt — convinced the kids to come to our club and engaged in the first class.  They had a blast and saw first-hand how fun fencing can be – and even those touches that were felt didn’t bother them because they were having too much fun.

The fear of the unknown can be powerful, but there are ways to eliminate that fear with experience. We often suggest that parents come to the club with their kids and take a tour, let their child see the weapon close up and watch a class to get a feel of what to expect.  Usually this is enough, the kids see what fun it is and want to join in.  All it takes is seeing it with their own eyes.