Ever had those moments when you just can’t focus? Your brain becomes fuzzy and you can’t quite concentrate on what you’re doing, leaving you frustrated and unable to do the things you want to do in the ways that you want to do them.
Fencing is a sport that demands split-second decisions and precise movements, and these can be greatly affected by your mental state. There are times when your focus might feel a bit fuzzy, your reactions seem sluggish, and your performance suffers because of these things. When you find yourself grappling with this struggle, it’s essential to consider that a range of factors could contribute to this state.
First of all, if this is happening regularly or if you have other concerning symptoms, definitely talk to your doctor about it, no matter what your age. However, for most people, there are simple solutions. Having your mind go a little sluggish is not unusual, but it’s also not something that we want to have to deal with!
The philosophy behind fuzzy-headedness
Before we get into the practicalities, let’s talk about something bigger, more substantial. I was recently prompted to think more deeply about this issue when I saw a quote from writer Kurt Vonnegut online. It’s from his book A Man Without a Country, and though I’ve never read the book, the quote says a lot.
Here it is:
Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet?
And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And see some great looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And I’ll ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know.
The moral of the story is – we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And it’s like we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.
What struck me about this when thinking about fencers who struggle with focus is that oftentimes it’s because they are just plugging in and going. They aren’t thinking too deeply about what they’re doing, just going through the motions in as speedy a way as possible.
Is your goal to fence it is it to get through the match? There’s a big difference between the two. If your goal is to get through it in a fast way, then you’ll do that. You’ll plug in and go fast and then you’ll be on the other side of the match and it doesn’t matter how you got there. You want to win a medal and then go home and do something else.
But it does matter how you got there, doesn’t it? You do want to be present during the match, don’t you? Life is meant for farting around, as Vonnegut put it. Life is meant for living. I could order a fencing medal online, just like Vonnegut could order envelopes online, but that’s not the point. Being present, right there, experiencing it, is so much of why we do this. The experience matters.
Ok, so there’s the philosophy behind why we want to be focused, apart from just being a better fencer and improving our performance. Now let’s explore three key elements that might be responsible for your lack of sharp focus during bouts and discuss effective strategies to combat this issue. Sometimes it’s not just an issue of being present, and so we need to do more.
#1 Rest, Hydration, and Nutrition: The Triad of Performance
When the edge of your focus seems to be slipping away, it’s time to take a closer look at your daily routine. Often, three critical factors come into play: rest, hydration, and nutrition. These elements form the foundation of your physical and mental well-being, directly influencing your performance on the fencing strip.
Though it sounds simple, these three elements are easy to let get away from you. Fencers and parents have to focus on making sure that they aren’t a problem, and that’s no small task when you’ve got a lot going on in life.
Fencing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, and inadequate rest can leave you feeling fatigued and unfocused. Prioritize getting enough sleep to ensure your body and mind are in optimal condition. This isn’t just a one day thing, but something you need to equalize over time.
Often rest is challenging when you’re traveling for fencing, and if you’ve got a significant time difference to account for, make sure that you’re putting in the time that you need to get yourself on a good schedule during those travel days. An earlier flight and some built in hours to acclimate are well worth the investment.
If you’re not traveling far for fencing, then you still want to be cognizant of what’s happening with your rest. Sometimes nerves play a significant role in how well you’re able to rest ahead of competitions, meaning fencers need to give themselves space to get their heads in the game in the right way. By the right way, we mean their heads on the pillow!
Dehydration can lead to reduced cognitive function, impacting your ability to concentrate and make quick decisions. Remember that hydration isn’t just about water – electrolytes are crucial for maintaining a balanced system, especially during intense physical activity.
We’ve written extensively about hydration for fencers in the past, and we’re here to keep pushing it. Getting good water and electrolyte intake going will make a major difference in your brain power. Remember, your brain is a ball of pink squiggles that sits in a bath of liquid. When you get dehydrated, your brain actually shrinks in size! Yes, that’s a real thing. Lack of concentration is directly related to a lack of water. Just keep drinking!
Not far from the issue of hydration is the issue of what you eat. Proper nutrition fuels both your body and your mind. A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients supports your cognitive functions and provides sustained energy levels.
If you load up on sugar to give you a push of energy, you’ll be able to get a boost for a little while, but that boost will quickly lead to a crash. Don’t let it happen to you! Make sure that you are giving yourself the right amount of healthy, complex carbs and protein during competition. Processed sugar should be an absolute no-go for competition. The same thing goes for caffeine. It might seem like it’ll give you a boost of energy, but fencing competitions are long and arduous. No amount of sugar is going to give you a long term boost, and you’ll find yourself on a roller coaster during the long competition.
Make sure that you’re eating consciously. It’s important. When traveling, it’s not so easy to eat on purpose, but it’s still something to work on. Put the effort into it and you’ll be less likely to struggle with brain fog and more able to focus.
#2 Heat Tolerance: Recognizing Your Limits
Fencing is an indoor sport, so we don’t have to worry about getting overheated, right?
Though we are usually fencing in air-conditioned spaces that are engineered to keep us cool, we’re still covered up in gear and performing hard cardio bursts. The temperature once you put on the mask, jacket, socks, and glove can be a lot for fencers, no matter their age or level of exertion.
Heat tolerance varies from person to person, much like other physical attributes. You may not feel the effects of heat at the same temperature as others in your club, or your body might cool down differently. Ignoring the impact of heat can lead to fuzzy focus and diminished performance.
Try out strategies to take the heat off, even if you’re not particularly bothered by it. It’s a strategy to try, and anecdotally it’s worked with lots of fencers. When participating in bouts, adopt strategies like wearing wicking clothing, using ice packs, and taking short breaks when possible. Don’t walk around with your jacket zipped up, but take it off when you get a break between pool bouts and DEs. Give your body the chance to cool off. Sometimes it’s comforting to sit there with your jacket fastened all the way up, and getting a little warm might feel nice, but it will also dull your senses. Think about how taking a cold plunge or a cold shower can really wake you up – the same goes with being an athlete. That burst of cold can really make it easier for you to think clearly.
These small changes can significantly improve your level of focus, because temperature really does matter. You want your points on the scoreboard to be hot, not your brain!
#3 – Breaking Routine and Rediscovering Enthusiasm
Finally, let’s talk about routine and why monotony can be a problem. This is true even if you’re hitting your goals and progressing in your fencing the way that you imagine you want to. As much as we promote setting goals and moving yourself forward over the course of a season, when you’re hitting all of those goals without any challenges, it can start to feel like you’re just ticking a box. It’s boring even though it’s what you set out to do.
This kind of routine can sometimes lead to mental fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm, which in turn affects your focus during bouts. You have to rethink what you’re doing and find ways to wake your mind up.
Incorporating breaks and injecting novelty into your routine can be a powerful solution. Consider planning training in the park or on the beach excursion with fellow fencers or mixing up the way you do your practice sessions by adding in some open bouting. Go after much better fencers in the older age category in the next tournament, challenging yourself in new ways. It might also be time to rethink your goals altogether. If you’re focused on qualification, is that enough? Maybe you need to expand to go further, putting increased focus on your ranking instead or even adding some new techniques into your roster.
There are lots of ways to frame what you’re doing in your fencing training that don’t involve moving your goals, though. If you’ve worked out with your coach your path to Fencing Summer Nationals and it’s working, then you don’t have to necessarily change that path. Instead, think towards how you can challenge yourself in training and in competition. Are you plugged into focusing on just the points and not your form? Are you totally focused on the opponent’s movements rather than you own? Changing where you put your focus during the match can be a real game changer for how engaged you are.
That’s exactly what this is about in the end – engagement. How much are you present in the moment? These changes can rejuvenate your mind, bringing back the enthusiasm and focus you need to excel on the strip.
It’s all about being present
However you can facilitate your being present and living in the match, that’s what you need to do. While your fuzzy focus might be driven by any number of physiological factors, the need to deal with those so that you can be clear all comes from the same place.
Fencers are finely tuned athletes who rely not only on their physical prowess but also on their mental clarity and focus. If you find yourself grappling with fuzzy focus during bouts, remember that it’s a signal your body and mind are sending you. Prioritize rest, hydration, and nutrition to ensure your body is ready to perform at its best. Be mindful of your heat tolerance and adopt strategies to stay comfortable.
Don’t underestimate the power of breaking routine and rediscovering your enthusiasm. By addressing these aspects, you can combat fuzzy focus and bring your A-game to every fencing bout. Remember, your performance is a reflection of your holistic well-being – both on and off the strip. Don’t get into the rut of just ordering your envelopes online.