Fencing can begin as young as seven or even six years old, and we want to encourage those littlest fencers to get the most out of the sport.
Any parent will tell you that elementary school-aged kids have very different needs than middle school or high school-aged kids. Often, fencing is focused on those older youths in the sport, but as kids sign up for fencing at younger ages and the Y8 fencing category becomes more popular and now an official event in regional competitions, it’s increasingly important for us to have the right tools to meet the needs of younger fencers.
Supporting your youth athlete as a fencing mom or dad starts with being there for them when they struggle. While coaching is one piece of the puzzle, coaches can only do so much. It’s parents who are in the throes of being there during the hard times and helping kids get through the tough moments.
While it’s important to encourage your young fencer to be dedicated to the sport, it is also important to remember that they are still little children and need time balance. The following tips will help you encourage your child in their fencing journey while showing them how to be resilient.
Young kids cue off of their parents directly. While a seven year old isn’t going to follow you around the way they did when they were four, imitating everything you do, they will still take the lead from you.
This is why it’s so important that parents be positive with Y8 fencers (well, with any age kids, but for the purpose of this post we’d focus only on the youngest). They look to us to figure out how to react, and this is a blessing when they’re trying to learn to be resilient.
Fencing is a challenging sport that requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Kids need support on good days and on bad days. On tough days, focus on the effort put in, and don’t get too down on yourself as a parent. That’s right – being positive extends to what the parent is doing as well as what the child is doing. If you’re down about your own experiences, then your little fencer is going to model that behavior.
We say this all of the time, but it’s critical to reiterate it to kids – losses are a natural part of the learning process. Even in the Olympics, athletes have to face losses and keep on going. The sport of fencing is fast-paced and there are many opportunities to get back up and bout again. For inexperienced youth fencers, it’s hard to see that there will be many other bouts.
Staying positive doesn’t mean that you ignore heartache, but rather it means that you hold space for kids to feel what they’re feeling and then let go and move on.
Don’t take fencing too seriously
Fencing should be fun, even though it’s a serious sport! While we are often aiming for national tournaments, the Junior Olympics, or an NAC, those things are far away for our elementary-aged fencers. They don’t need to be pushed quite so hard just yet, and there is time for them to grow in the sport.
There are so many silly moments and opportunities for camaraderie in a club or in a private lesson. The best fencing coaches approach fencing with a sense of humor and an understanding that pressure doesn’t equal success. At the end of the day, fencing is a fun game where we poke each other with pointy things. For kids it should be absolutely that!
If you want your child to continue to do this sport through their teen years and beyond, then they have to find a love for it. No one is going to train hard enough to make it to the Olympics or to college fencing unless they love it, and loving it has to start with enjoying it.
At this age, kids are less motivated by goals and big dreams than they are by camaraderie they have with their friends and the feeling of fun fighting an opponent. Take the stakes down, cool off with talk of fencing tournaments and Summer Nationals, and give kids the chance to foster a love of the sport by having fun!
Encouraging the youngest fencers to take downtime when they are struggling is essential. Taking breaks will help them avoid getting too overwhelmed or frustrated with the sport.
This doesn’t mean going away from training completely, but it does mean building in structured downtime. Kids need space to be creative and to figure out who they are and what they enjoy. It can’t be all footwork and goal setting, and it also can’t be all schoolwork and studying. Give your young fencers the time to play video games or watch movies, and most importantly make sure that they have built in time to do nothing. Especially in these days of highly scheduled kids and lots of screen time, turning it all off isn’t easy.
Remember that when you put in these pieces of downtime, you’re actually forwarding those big goals that will get them to the big venue when they’re older.
Having a space at home where kids can work on their fencing safely is a good thing, too. Y8 fencers can get into real trouble by ingraining bad habits if they practice at home without proper coaching supervision. Talk to your child’s fencing coach about what and how to practice at home. What kids can do at home to help their fencing is to work on agility drills, hand eye coordination practice, and cardio exercise like running, jumping on a trampoline, or practicing jump rope. Cross-training can help kids to see how different parts of their hobbies are interconnected while also giving them a break from the pressure of formal training.
Variety is the spice of life, particularly for kids in elementary school. Letting them have downtime will help to support their interest in fencing, as well as giving them the balance that they need.
It can be tough for young fencers when they don’t see immediate progress. Kids want immediate gratification because they don’t have the experience to see that improvements take time. This is most especially true for Y8 fencers who are just starting off in competition. Kids are naturally trying out lots of things, and they want to feel successful in them in order to keep going.
The beautiful thing about fencing is that you can always find something to celebrate that feels like progress. They might not win the match, but perhaps they get a point on their opponent when they weren’t able to before. A point is progress! Celebrate it! As I said before, kids will follow your lead. If you make a big deal about something as simple as scoring a point, then your young fencer will be excited too. This can be done by simply telling them how proud you are of their efforts. Over time, they will start to see the big picture, and how their efforts are paying off.
Even going to a first Y8 competition is something to celebrate. That first fencing tournament is something to be excited about! It’s a huge point of progress to even go out and compete for the first time, whether there’s a single point scored in the pool rounds or not. Encouraging your child to move on to competing, even in that first club tournament, will really help them to see the possibilities for their growth.
Mentorship is a powerful element in helping young kids find celebration in fencing. Talking to older fencers, especially those who started training when they were Y8, can be a massive support. One way for fencing parents to give their kids a leg up is to consciously seek out mentorship opportunities, whether it’s through open fencing or connecting kids through the club. Coaches are of course a source for mentorship naturally.
It’s okay to make mistakes
It cannot be said enough – mistakes are part of life. Embracing mistakes, not just pushing through them, is a long-term life tool that we can give kids when they’re young.
One way to do this is to praise their effort, even if they didn’t win the match. This way, they know that their efforts are worth something. Process over perfection. Experience over medals. It’s more important by far that a young fencer enjoys the sport, goes to their lessons, and is focused during training than it is that they win any kind of medal.
Y8 fencers have fewer opportunities to compete and should therefore have less pressure (in theory) than older fencers. This should (in theory) turn down some of the intensity. We definitely see times that parents and coaches flip this around and start imposing a lot of expectations of performance on kids at the Y8 level, but this is the opposite of what we should be doing. This time period in life should be a playground! Losing at a Y8 or Y10 competition doesn’t have any long term consequences on life.
If you think about it, making a mistake in or even losing in competition even at the highest levels when they’re older is not the end of the world. Again, even Olympians see the value in mistakes because they have to. We would all be crushed and unable to continue if we fell apart when we made a mistake.
We want our kids to get out there and take risks, to go hard, and to do their best. We need to instill in them the love of the sport and the belief that they are valuable no matter what.
Mistakes are inevitable. They are worthwhile and super valuable. When your young fencer comes to you upset about messing up, your reaction should be “Hurray, you made a mistake! Now you have a chance to learn!” When this is your attitude, then you can come back from almost anything.
Keep going, and lean on your fencing community
Encouraging the youngest fencers when they struggle can be difficult not only for them, but for us as parents too. Remember that you need support just as you are giving your Y8 fencers support. As you encourage them and work with them to keep on going, rely on the fencing community to help you make sense of it all as well.
There’s a strong online community of fencing parents, not to mention the resources you’ll find through your local fencing club. Talk to other fencing parents at Y8 competitions and find fencing parents who you resonate with along the way. Let them support you as you support your young fencer!
It’s also okay to for parents make mistakes. Allow yourself to have space to learn and grow, just as you want your elementary school fencers to have space to learn and grow. When they see you being resilient, that helps them to develop resilience!
This time is fleeting. Youth fencing doesn’t last for long, and that’s even more true for the young Y8 fencers. Helping them to foster a love of this sport and to bounce back when they’re struggling is a way to give them tools not just for fencing success, but for life success.