For many of you, fencing is a new passion for your child and a new frontier for you as well! With the lack of mainstream knowledge, it can be a tough sport to jump into when it comes to supporting your child and figuring out the best choices for attending competitions. The options can be a bit overwhelming since you have many competitions to choose from, both local and national. You want to give your child the best opportunities to progress in the sport, but you also have to consider other important factors like cost, time, vacation days from work, and let’s not forget your own schedule! (You do like to have some time for yourself outside of parenting and work, right?)
The truth is that fencing competitions can be time-consuming and tough on the budget. You have registration fees and sometimes travel costs. If your child has been fencing for some time, you’ve probably already gone through this realization, but for the parent of a new fencer, it can be shocking to see how the costs and commitment can pile up. While we think it’s more than worth it, it’s better to be informed and prepared so that you can make the best decisions as a family.
The best way to approach a fencing season is to plan ahead. A youth fencer with serious intentions in the sport should participate in several national-level competitions in a year. You can travel by car to many local and regional competitions that take less time and cost less money, but if your child wants to be established as a good fencer, he or she MUST compete in the national arena. Depending on the age of your fencer, you’ll be attending competitions such as Summer Nationals, SYCs, RYCs, ROCs, JOs, and NACs. Some of these competitions are qualifiers, so you have to go to other regional- or national-level competitions in order to participate.
I’d like to share some suggestions for making this process easier. I think the best way to share the suggestions is to walk through an example. Let’s use the example of a 13-year-old fencer. The child can participate in the following age categories:
- Senior (Open or Divisional per his/her rating)
Let’s say next year you would like to focus only on the Y14 and Cadet categories, as Junior and Senior events seem to be a bit of a stretch. Here is a sample process for determining events based on this example:
- Decide what national-level competitions your child will attend next year. For example, you might want to attend the Junior Olympic Championship and the Summer National Championship. For JOs, your child can participate in one event, the Cadet Championship. For Summer Nationals, your child can participate in at least two: the Y14 Championship and the Cadet NAC (note that your fencer is eligible for other competitions such as the Junior Championship at JOs and the Junior and Senior levels at Summer Nationals, but in our example, we’re focusing on Y14 and Cadet categories.)
- Read the USFA Athlete Handbook to learn what qualifications are needed for specific events and how to obtain them. For example, to participate in the Y14 National Championship one must qualify based on either national points or by placing appropriately at your division’s qualifying competition. National points are obtained via RYCs, SYCs or NACs. You can find more information about qualifying and national points in our new eBook for fencing parents. (While our example is for Y14, note that recent changes to Y10 and Y12 qualification paths have made it a bit more difficult to qualify for Summer Nationals. Your child still qualifies with any number of national points, but the rules for qualifying via the Regional Youth Circuit have gotten more specific. We’ve written a post dedicated to this topic and encourage you to read it if your fencer is competing in Y10 or Y12 this coming year.)
- Look at the available information about all of these competitions. You have several resources: the USFA site (for SYCs and NACs), askFred (for SYCs, RYCs, and Divisional qualifiers), or your Divisional website and newsletter. For example, USFA is typically quite good at publishing SYC and NAC schedules and locations well in advance.
- Consider which competitions are the most reasonable path to qualification based on where you live. Look at SYCs first because they are usually held earlier in the season and are your first chance to qualify. Youth NACs are held in the spring, so you have a bit more time to consider these competitions and can sometimes plan to “go as needed” if you haven’t qualified. Divisional qualifiers are typically held late in the season very close to Summer Nationals (and typically 2-3 months before JOs) so you have a chance to auto-qualify, and these qualifiers are also local to your area in most cases.
- Once you’ve determined the minimal path to qualify for the Y14 championship, you can start planning your trips. Even such competitions as Summer Nationals, which runs for two weeks, would not be that long for you because you would focus on only a handful of events (at least initially). Check the dates for the competition and the schedule from previous years. You will see a pattern: Summer Nationals typically start with Veteran events, then Senior, Junior, Cadet, and Youth. The events overlap some of course, but this is the general flow. I cannot guarantee that the next year will be the same, but with no other information, it might be a good assumption.
- Now you have a lot of information on your hands to plan your season. If the location of the competition is nice, consider making it a family vacation. For example, next season’s 2015 Summer National Fencing Championship will be held in San Jose, California. Probably everyone in the world would agree that California is a very nice destination for your summer vacation!
While this might sound overwhelming for the beginner fencer, once you start going to competitions, talking with other parents, fencers, and coaches, and periodically reading fencing news, things will become more clear and more simple.
As you continue this adventure as the parent of a fencer, you may find that you become passionate about the sport just like your child! If you plan and prepare for each season, fencing tournaments and events can turn into a great family experience rather than a burden. After all—we are all in it for enjoyment and fun!