Being a referee is one of the very important ways that a young fencer can learn to master the sport. It’s a fantastic way for young fencers to take on some additional responsibilities and for them to learn more about the sport of fencing. The level of knowledge and understanding that a young fencer gets from refereeing is on a much deeper level than what they’ll get just by fencing!
Calling the rules vs. being called
Young fencers who start refereeing learn to see the game differently. Suddenly it’s not just them against a singular opponent – it’s much more of them seeing the bout of the two fencers as they work against one another. More than anything, refereeing a fencing match gives young fencers perspective. When you’re in a fencing match, especially as a young person, you’re so focused on winning that you can’t see the whole of what’s happening on the strip. A referee, on the other hand, has a much wider perspective than just seeing this one aspect of the strip. This completely changes how a fencer understands fencing!
Refereeing a fencing bout gives a fencer perspective on how action is seen by a referee, and how this action might be interpreted, especially in a right of way weapon, such as foil and sabre. They then can reflect this perspective back to their own fencing and work on their technique and actions to make them cleaner and clearer.
There are tough calls to be made in fencing as a referee. Everything is not cut and dry in our sport. If you’ve ever watched a fencing match then you’ll definitely know that’s the case! Sometimes there are close calls, or things happen on the strip that are unexpected. Deciding what to do in a situation where you aren’t sure, all while still being fair, is incredibly important! This is one of those skills that won’t just help young fencers in fencing, but it will also help them in life.
When young fencers are working as referees, they are able to learn right in their skin that it is impossible to make perfect calls all of the time. They will make mistakes and have to face the consequences of those mistakes. They’ll also learn to apply this knowledge to their own fencing, that way the next time a tough call is made against them on the strip, they will know that it’s not something the referee did on purpose. Once again, we come down to perspective and understanding someone else’s point of view!
When you’re a referee, the “destiny” of the people you’re calling points for is really in your hands! These fencers have worked hard and come a long way. This level of responsibility is totally different from what happens when you’re fencing and you’re in charge of your own progress, no matter what your opponent or the ref is doing. With great power comes great responsibility!
Takeaways for young fencers
When a young fencer takes on the refereeing responsibilities, they learn very quickly that they can interact with “officials” and “people in power”. They learn that they aren’t just some small piece of the puzzle, but rather that they have a serious role in control and autonomy in their fencing universe. Other coaches, refs, the bout committee, etc. are all officials that young fencers learn to interact with when they’re officiating matches. Not only that, but they have to interact with coaches, parents, fencers, teammates, and even fencing fans when they’re a referee. Again, they’re going to quickly figure out how to have thick skin and not to take things personally.
Referees are among the most targeted and mistrusted people in all of sport, not just fencing, and being a referee isn’t always popular! They’re often subject to verbal haranguing, being ignored, and sometimes worse.
Being a referee helps young fencers to develop a level of emotional maturity that’s so important! Making objective, dispassionate calls is one of the hallmarks of a great referee, and young fencers have to learn quickly how to do that. Even if a referee doesn’t particularly like one of the fencers or the fencing club that the fencer came from, they still have to make those objective calls. Putting aside personal prejudice is hard for any of us, but it’s a vital skill.
Young fencers learn how to respect time. Time management is an important skill because a successful referee must be able to make the best use of time. For instance they have to optimize the time of changing opponents on the strip, performing weapons checks, running the bout, etc. Refereeing is about much more than making calls, it’s about making sure that everything runs smoothly not only during an individual bout, but also in the wider scope of transitions between bouts and competition stages.
Working together in a team setting is yet another critical skill that young fencers can learn while they’re refereeing. During a competition, there’s this whole group of people who are working towards one singular goal. They’re trying to make one thing happen! That thing is a series of fair, just fencing matches that lead to the right fencers being on the podium at the end. Fencing competitions are about more than just one match or a couple of matches – they’re about everyone coming together for a shared goal.
Finally, young fencers learn a lot about dedication by being a referee. When a young fencer refs for a competition, even just a local one, they learn how tough it is to keep going with that for a whole day. It’s a tough and exhausting job, both physically and mentally. Being a referee teaches young fencers how important it is for them to be resilient. Keeping going, even when you don’t want to, is one of the best lessons for fencers to learn over the long term.
Being a fencing ref is a fantastic and important experience for any young fencer. Young people can learn a great deal not only about what they have to offer others, but about their own skills, integrity and inner strength as well.