When I decided to write about inspiring kids to become champions in fencing, I found tons of web pages out there covering all sorts of facets: how to become a better athlete … how to improve your skills … specialty moves … Since I LOVE all things fencing, I could spend hours wading through this massive sea of videos, forums, blogs, articles, and webcasts – but I think Igor and the kids would have something to say about that!

One aspect that popped up is something that’s already an integral part of our training at Academy of Fencing Masters — believe in yourself.

At Academy of Fencing Masters, we have a slogan: “Art in Fencing. Art in life.” What that means is that through our fencing programs, we seek to establish strong principles and integrity that will help your child shine not only in fencing, but in life. We strive to encourage confidence and a sense of achievement for your child through the artistry of fencing.

Our biggest strategy is not a specific move or drill, it is self-visualization. Our own Coach Natasha is genius when it comes to inspiring these little souls. When we have a newcomer to the school, Coach Natasha will often ask him or her to stand on the pedestal we use for award ceremonies in the 1st place position. She tells them:

“This is where you want to be. Believe in yourself and you can be the best fencer in the US.”

Her passion is so genuine that it moves her students to achieve goals beyond their initial expectations. What she is able to do with her students is amazing – and a big part of it stems from her ability to instill confidence in themselves.

You know, once I heard Michael Marx[1] telling a story about a famous Italian fencer that I really liked, and it stuck with me. Every morning, his dad would raise the Italian flag on their porch and play the national anthem. He said that when his son won the Olympic gold for his country, this is what he would hear. His father helped him visualize himself as a winner, and then he became that winner. It’s a beautiful story, and one that perfectly illustrates the power of visualization.

Just wishing for victory, though, is not enough. The student needs to hunger for it with a passion. That hunger will translate into hard work, determination, and preparation; it will provide the motivation to keep on trying even when he or she experiences failure. At the beginning of the 2012 Olympic tryout season, Miles Chamley-Watson was positioned towards the bottom end of Olympic hopefuls. It didn’t look like he was even going to make the team. But he stuck with it, participating in almost every competition possible, earning more than 5,000 points … and he did it! Not only did he make the 2012 US Olympic team, but he won a world title a year later – the first in US fencing history. Just goes to show how far you can go once you set your mind to it.

Because fencing is a strategic sport, being prepared can go a long way. Fencing has often been called “the physical chess.” It’s a perfect blend of physical and mental strategy – you literally have to be able to think on your feet! US Olympian fencer Race Imboden, spends hours watching videos of his opponents before a match, learning their specialty moves, talents, weaknesses – so he’s ready for whatever they throw at him, and knows where he can make a hit.

Let’s admit it, we love our wins and we hate our mistakes … but we remember them! For your child, mistakes are an important tool that they can learn from and will make them stronger. Even basketball great, Michael Jordan, had his share of slip-ups:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Using those failures, turning weaknesses into strengths, staying determined, and visualizing themselves as a champion can help your child achieve their fullest potential. And of course, always practice, practice, PRACTICE!

[1] Michael Marx is a 5-time Olympian and US Fencing Hall of Famer. He taught a Master Class at Academy of Fencing September 2013, and the students loved it!