Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing

Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing
Rear view of father and son walking in autumn forest

Pandemic-era parenting challenges is completely new territory. Before coronavirus, there were challenges in parenting, but on the whole we felt like we had a handle on what we were doing. There wasn’t a roadmap per se, but there were people who had been there before. We could follow the advice that we knew had been tried and tested by other parents. If your child wanted to make it to Summer Nationals, well there were other parents whose children had done that and could tell you the way. If your child was struggling with self-confidence after a loss, a parent could go to another parent who had experienced that and find a wise ear. 

During the pandemic there is none of that. There are no other fencing parents who can talk us through what it’s like to fence with social distancing outside and no competitions. 

Encouraging your child to keep fencing

The way that we support kids has a lot to do with their eventual success. We start off by doing a lot for them, then we step back bit-by-bit until they are totally on their own. Want your child to stick with fencing? Here are seven ways to help that happen.  

1. Maintain routines

Routine has become harder because things keep changing. We were fencing in the club, with protocols and social distancing measures. With a new level of lockdown, we moved to outside fencing and zooming when it rains. Our fencers don’t always know where they’ll be from day to day in their training, but they do know that they will train!

You can start routines now. It’s never too late! Here are some ideas for fencing routines to maintain during the pandemic:

  • Monthly equipment check
  • Bi-weekly fencing goal check-in
  • Weekly fencing uniform washing
  • Weight training on Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Cardio run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
  • Saturdays video analysis
  • Monthly fencing family movie night
  • Coach check-in every first Friday

2. Praise effort, not outcome

Your child’s success is not determined by whether they win a gold medal in the Olympics, it’s determined by whether they are having fun and achieving personal development through fencing. Now we are seeing that in a totally different way during the pandemic. The purpose of fencing during COVID lockdown is not necessarily to be ready to enter back into a competition when things start up again (though that can be a motivating factor), the purpose of fencing right now is more to provide an outlet and an enrichment to kids.

Going to class, whether it is in the club or over zoom, that is the goal right now. The progression in skill will come if a fencer is participating with regularity. The same goes with school or any other activity. The goal is not to push towards excellence in this moment – the goal is to participate. The alternative is that kids become overwhelmed and withdraw, and then it is much harder to get them back in it. 

The effort is the goal! 

3. Help your child uncover their story

A big step in helping your child succeed is to listen to them. 

If they’ve lost interest in fencing, be open minded in trying to figure out why. Sometimes kids retreat into social media or video games and away from treasured activities like fencing not because they are suddenly lazy, but because something has happened that’s challenging them and they don’t know how to deal with it. 

Think about your own motivations in this as well. Are you pushing them because you think it’s the right thing, or for other reasons? Fencing well necessarily comes from passion, and that has to grow within your child. You can’t push it onto them from the outside. 

Sit down with your young fencer and ask them to tell you the story of why they are slowing down. Here are some example questions to ask your child:

  • Why did you decide not to do your footwork practice this afternoon. Is there something you need from me?
  • It seems like you’re not enjoying fencing practice as much as you did earlier this semester. Did something change?
  • I expected you to ask for fencing gear for your birthday like you did last year, but you’ve been quiet about it. Maybe we could talk about it?

You can’t expect them to know the reasons necessarily, but that gives you the chance to help them figure it out for themselves.

4. Determine goals and break them down

You might already have goals with your young fencers, or you might not. We highly encourage fencers to create both short term and long term goals in the sport, as this is a major help in motivating them to continue in the hardest of times.

Goal setting WORKS! The trick is to not only set goals but to also translate those goals into bite-sized chunks that are readily achievable. Otherwise, they become too big to contemplate and are therefore not engaging or motivating. 

Say your child wants to get into a collegiate fencing program in three years. That’s a great goal. What does it mean for today though? What do they do on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis to move toward that goal? Maybe they need to work on their footwork every day, or maybe they should add in an extra private lesson every week. Getting to a high level in fencing starts with working on one thing at a time – the big things don’t happen unless the little things do. Again, this is about more than just fencing. Learning to stick with something even when it’s hard by setting small goals is a life skill. 

5. Lead, don’t push

There is no way to substitute your motivation in fencing for your child’s. The more you push, the less they will be able to find their own sense of motivation in the sport. Pushing is not the answer. 

Your anxiety about it will not only not encourage them, it will increase their anxiety and create a dynamic that’s not productive for anyone. The opposite of what you want will happen and they’ll start to resist because it feels uncomfortable. Power struggles between parents and kids aren’t good for anyone. If they do comply when you push, it’s because of your force from the outside rather than their force from the inside. They’re reacting to you.

6. Don’t overthink it

There will be lulls in anyone’s passion for doing something. We can’t expect kids to be at their peak all of the time. Allowing your child’s natural cycle of love for fencing to go on its own is a way to let them learn independently.

Sometimes we all need to take a step back to recharge. It’s rare that people are so into an activity that they want to do it all the time and never experience peaks and valleys. On the contrary, oftentimes it’s the distance from something that allows us to love it all the more. What’s that saying – absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Give your child space and time to see if they are really in a rut with their fencing, or if instead, they are just in a recharge period. It’s ok for young people not to push so hard all the time, particularly when they have interests in a variety of things. Maybe it’s not that they aren’t as into fencing as they were before, maybe it’s just that they are focused on school or friends. We can allow them to explore and grow in those other areas while keeping their regular fencing training going so that they preserve the thread. Less pressure, more exploration and acceptance. Don’t overthink it!

7. Take the blame off of yourself

If your child has become reluctant to participate in fencing, for any reason, don’t beat yourself up about it. Even if they were into it for years and passionate about it, the lull in their motivation is not your fault. Kids have to make their own choices. They have to live with their consequences. You cannot make a child want to do something, even though you might be able to make them do it.

Step back. Take a breath. Allow yourself to watch as your child’s choices play out, even when those choices have consequences that you would rather your child not experience. If your young fencer wants to sleep in instead of doing an open fencing practice on Saturdays, they’ll see the consequences of that choice when their peers are performing better than they are in competition. If they choose not to listen to their coach or to slack off, that’s their choice. 

We have seen so many parents analyze what they could have done differently to make their child a better fencer, and it’s an exercise in futility. You can provide opportunity, you can inspire with your action, you can show your support. You cannot do this for them. Embracing your lack of control in this situation is honestly the best thing for your young fencer! Keep in mind that fencing is an individual sport, not a team sport. Not even a team of you and your child. That means that you are the cheerleader and the point person for your child, but you are not on the strip with them. are a support for your child! It’s a fun role and a frustrating role, but ultimately it is your role to give them tools and then allow them to follow through. You cannot control whether your child will be motivated to participate in fencing to any level, big or small. But you can be there for them. You can love them and guide them. You can allow them to be the best fencer and the best person that they can be. 

As parents, we get invested in the things that our kids do. Fencing parents tend to be engaged and excited, just like their children are. Balancing our enthusiasm for their success and their need to be independent, it’s challenging. It is the best feeling in the world to see a child who was struggling with motivation in fencing to find that thing that turns it on for them and lights up their passion. 

Keep encouraging your child in fencing. Keep scaffolding their love of the sport. Keep up the amazing work that you are doing, and know that it makes a difference!


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1 Comment

  1. R

    I *love* weekly kit washing – by the fencer. I started when I was nine. Also monthly equipment checks. I was soldering and using a chemistry kit at eight. Now you have time to show then supervise the first times.

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