Deciding how much a young fencer should compete can be a challenge for parents and kids to figure out. There are lots of variables that factor into how often young fencers step onto the strip for competition – desire of the kids, desire of the parents, fencer level, readiness, region (and therefore accessibility to fencing tournaments), and so many more factors that are individual to a family.
Kids, though they’re the ones doing the actual fencing, are only one of the driving forces behind how much time they spend in competition. Parents are another important driving force in this, and sometimes the most important one. There are parents who are all over the place in terms of how they interact with their young fencers and fencing competition.
On one side of the spectrum, there are parents who think that competition in and itself will be too much of a discouraging experience for their child, so they intentionally keep them away from fencing competitions as much as possible. They either never sign their kids up for a competition or they rarely sign them up. What they’re really afraid of is that their child will lose and so their self-esteem will take a hit.
On the other side of the spectrum are parents who push their kids to attend tons of competitions, both big and small, both local and far away, on a weekly basis. These kids are out every week during the season, constantly competing all over the place.
Both of these are wrong.
Competition in fencing, just as everything else in life, demands balance. Parents who give their kids the best experience and maximize their young fencer’s growth through the sport are those who allow them to balance learning how to cope with loss and boosting self esteem through hard earned victory. That means competing enough to learn all of those lessons.
There are a great many hefty considerations for parents that we recognize when it comes to how many competitions their children participate in each year. Here we want to be clear – families must make decisions based on their values, their time commitments, and financial realities. What’s important is that parents look with a critical eye at how they’re coming to the decision for their young fencers to participate in competition, then to be open to finding the right balance for their needs.
Why all kids should compete
We firmly believe that all kids should compete, even if it’s only rarely. Here’s why:
- Check themselves
- Understand why they train
- Identify and work towards goals
- Challenge themselves
- Learn how to lose and how to win
- Meet other fencers
- Show their skills for family and friends
ALL fencers benefit from competing. That’s just an across the board truth. The feeling of competing in fencing is fundamentally different from what happens for fencers when they are only training in the club. Even kids who say that they are “recreational” only as fencers should participate in competitions from time to time. It could be an inhouse club competition, a school meet, or a small local tournament. It might only be twice a year!
The point here is that every child should experience fencing competition as part of their fencing experience, no matter what their larger goals are for fencing in general. Even if they only compete twice a year, they’re still able to test their skills and calibrate their training. With the right preparation, fencers who compete very rarely will have a lot of fun and will fuel their passion for the sport.
Why too much competing is too much
Though we want to see every child fencing in competition at least a couple of times each year, on the other side there are those young fencers who compete too much. Spending an overly ambitious amount of time competing can have a negative effect on kids, for so many reasons.
Here’s are the main reasons that too much fencing competition is a bad idea.
- Burn out
- Loss of perspective
- Inability to recover physically or mentally
- Inability to maintain training balance
- Diluting the value of competition
- Chasing the wrong goal – ie medals or rank
- Blowing budget
- Increased risk of injury
- Losing the thrill of competition – it becomes routine
Even if your child is chasing the dream of becoming a fencer with a national or international title, more competition is not necessarily better. The reality is that fencers who just go to every competition available to them without thinking about a plan for why they’re attending those competitions are not going to reach their goals.
Remember, fencing is just as much of a mental game as a physical one. Not only do we want to be smart about the way that we approach our opponent on the strip, but we also want to be smart about the way that we approach finding those opponents in the realm of competition!
So what’s the right balance?
Now we get to the good stuff – what is the right balance for fencers to compete?
Let’s look at the best fencers in the world, the fencers who have been most successful. How do they compete? How do they train? We can learn from their circle and then try to apply that to kids in fencing.
Here’s an example. There are world level competitions – think World Cups, Grand Prix, Zonal and World Championships – about once per month. There are five World Cups, three Grand Prix, one Zonal Championship, and one World Championship. That’s a total of ten each year. In addition to those, top fencers usually compete in one to three national tournaments during each season. Add all of that up and these top fencers are really competing once a month, one weekend in four.
What about all of that time in-between those competitions? What in the world are they doing if they aren’t competing? That’s actually pretty easy to figure out. Here’s EXACTLY what those top fencers are doing:
It’s easy to think that competition is where the action is because it’s the most visible aspect of the whole process, but the VAST majority of time that athletes spend is not on competition, but rather on getting ready for it. It’s this silent time, this invisible time, that’s lost on people who aren’t part of it.
If we take that method of senior level fencers and extrapolate it down to kids, then what does it look like? Of course it will vary depending on the level of the child and their commitment to the sport, but this can offer us a baseline. Let’s look at the two ends of the spectrum of kids in fencing, keeping in mind that within these there are relative beginners, moderate, and highly competitive kids.
Kids who want to be serious fencing competitors
We want to see a maximum of two competitions per month for competitive kids. Of course depending on the calendar that might be a challenge as sometimes one large competition is followed directly by another, but these are general guidelines.
- One big competition per month, for example an RYC, SYC, NAC, and of course Nationals
- One smaller competition between every two big ones, like a local tournament.
Beginners who want to try out competition
It’s important for kids who think that they might want to compete to try it out, but slower in the beginning is a good idea. That means competing every few months instead of multiple times in a single month to start off with, allowing more time and energy to build the skills and training regimen that works best for them individually. Smaller competitions for young fencers who are new to the sport are the rule, so go with in-house, local, or regional tournaments early on.
- One competition per quarter, in-house, local, or regional
Kids who want to fence for recreation
Again, even recreational fencers should compete for a wide variety of reasons. Whether the child is fencing to improve their mental and physical acuity, to learn a new skill, or just for the sheer joy of it, competing undoubtedly enriches the fencing experience.
- Two in-house or local competitions per year
Always, always remember that these are guidelines only based on our experience and our analyzing of fencing as a sport – talk to your child’s coach and create a plan that’s suited for their particular interests. Fencing is an individual sport! Your child’s competitive path will be highly individual.
The main thing that we want to see is that young fencers are engaged in and excited about the sport. Competition is a major part of that process in fencing, not only because it supports fencer’s development in the sport but because competition in and of itself is a growth experience. No matter their level, healthy competition generates improvement in skill and supports the growth of positive self-esteem. Even if a fencer loses the bouts they participate in, she or he will still score a touch and can be proud of the performance.
Parents can help their young fencers to create a balanced competition schedule that’s right for everyone, no matter what their competitive level may be.