Though there are introverts in every sport, in fencing we see lots of them. Enough that we believe it’s a topic we felt was worth exploring – we want to support everyone in this sport!
When people think of introverts, they often think of the kid in the corner at a school function who isn’t interacting with their peers or the child at the fencing club who is sitting far away from their peers. Introverts are easily cast as shy and reserved, quiet and rigid, reliable and passive. That’s not entirely accurate, and even though it may be the case for some introverts.
On the whole, extroverts are boosted by time with people, introverts are drained by time with people. Ambiverts are a mix of the two.
This is a spectrum, just like most things, and we are certainly not experts on the subject. Some introverted people are buoyed by one-on-one interactions but need breaks from large groups. Some introverted people need to take solitary solace after interacting even in a one-on-one setting. It’s all about who you are, and everyone is unique. What’s fantastic is that introverts and fencing go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The right kind of socializing
Because introverts do best when their socialization is limited, fencing is a wonderful sport. It’s right in that perfect zone of being the right kind of human interaction.
There is only one opponent on the strip and the referee to contend with during a match. It’s a sport that is naturally limited, but also not totally solitary. You are working with a small group of people, even at a competition where there are larger crowds. This keeps fencing from feeling overwhelming for introverts, and that means that they can just enjoy the sport and grow in their skill rather than challenging their nature as well.
One thing that people readily tend to think about introverts is that they are awkward. That’s not necessarily a fair assessment. Because introverts tend not to seek out social situations as readily as extroverts, that doesn’t mean they are awkward, just that they are different. In fact, at issue isn’t necessarily social awkwardness so much as social situations that aren’t at the comfort level of these individuals. The right kind of social situation is what’s needed.
Fencing presents a wide variety of possibilities for social engagement on whatever level a person is comfortable with. You might be most comfortable with individual lessons where it is just the fencer and the coach, which is a perfect way for fencers to learn. Small class sizes are another opening. Even at competition, the structure of the fencing competition means that fencers are interacting in small groups – it’s the fencer, their opponent, and the coaches primarily. Though there are of course spectators, it’s not like going to a football game where there are so many people watching from the stands. This makes it much easier for introverted people to enjoy the sport to its fullest.
Even in team fencing there is not the same kind of social interaction as there is in other sports. Teams compete in a relay style, and once a fencer goes on the strip for their bout in the team competition, this is truly one-on-one, just as in an individual fencing bout. The result is for the team, but the physical reality is the same. It’s important to note that introverts are not shy of responsibility, only of interaction. The team structure offers a nice middle ground for connection compared to more involved team sports.
The right kind of socializing is whatever kind of socializing you want to have! In our sport there are lots of ways to do this, no matter someone’s comfort level.
Opportunities for growth
Physical activity through sport has been shown to have a positive effect on psychological health. That includes sport and it includes fencing of course. It builds self esteem, self worth, enhances mood, decreases anxiety, and more. It’s the improved physical health, the goal setting, the personal accomplishment (with or without competition), and the self-mastery that make this sport such a great addition for anyone. It is an all around good thing for personal development.
Four things that are important for introverted fencers to remember are:
- Your needs and opinions are important, whether you are able to vocalize them readily or not.
- You don’t have to change to be great.
- Focus on one-on-one mentoring
- Communication is key
You don’t have to stop being introverted to be a great fencer! This is so important to understand. Fencing is very much taught in a one-on-one setting, from one individual to another. Fencers build their relationships with their coaches and their mentors in this way, even with their opponents! To make the most of your growth as a fencer, focus on those individual relationships. This is where your strength will be.
If you are struggling to speak up, look to your coach as a bridge. Coaches scaffold fencers and point them in the right direction to perform at their best. Fostering a close connection with your coach is a great way to help introverted fencers to improve their communication skills. However, don’t discount the amount of time that relationship might take. If you are unsteady with your communication, you may need patience to build trust and comfort. The right coach will make a huge difference, both in fencing technique and in this particular area.
It is also ok for you to take breaks from active communication with your fellow fencers. Sitting on the sidelines and observing is a valid way to improve your fencing! Many introverts enjoy watching others interact even when they don’t feel comfortable jumping in themselves. Embrace this! We’ve discussed the importance of watching fencing matches many times. It’s a valuable way to improve your fencing, no matter your social comfort level.
Remember that it does not matter how you communicate. If it is easier for you to send your coach or teammate an email with your questions, that’s perfectly fine. Maybe you need to talk privately, away from the class about something. You can actively participate in improving the communication so that your fencing can grow forward, without totally changing your personality. It’s all about adaptation.
Strategies for introverted fencers
If you want to push yourself to grow more as an athlete but feel as though you are held back with your introverted personality, there are specific techniques that you can use to help you let loose. Incidentally, these techniques are useful for extroverts and ambiverts as well.
Write down a clear vision for yourself
This exercise is so simple but so powerful. What do you want to look like when you fence? How do you imagine yourself? You might go for being powerful and focused, or maybe more aggressive and less inhibited. Introverts tend to have a lot of self control, which can hold back their passion. If that’s you, then imagine how you want to be.’
Write this down clearly and with a great deal of detail. What does it feel like for you to be these things? What is keeping you from being freer on the strip? The simple act of writing this down can be hugely powerful in changing it.
(If you don’t have a fencing journal yet, this is a great time to start one.)
Work on working up to the social interactions by passively participating. That might mean starting with your people watching skills or standing with a group of fencers at competition and just listening.
If it becomes too much, then back down and come back. Don’t apologize for needing space! Embrace this as a technique necessary for success and think instead about going at your own pace. There is not a race to participate like everyone else. A great way to feel less intimidated is to move one step at a time, just the way that we learn to fence.
Look for balance
The intensity of excitement during a fencing match can be thrilling, but it can also be draining. This can easily become overwhelming for an introvert. Introverts do best when things are as even keel and calm as possible. If you are at a fencing competition, get there early so that you can stake out a warm up spot that feels comfortable. Maybe you are more comfortable with your teammates than with strangers when you are warming up. Find balance for yourself in both class and in competition. It’s ok to take breaks from social interaction by going for a walk or reading a book, then getting back to the social things that you need to.
Learn in non-social ways
There are tons of ways to learn fencing techniques that don’t require social interaction. Analyzing videos, practicing footwork at home, conditioning, reading about techniques, etc. There are so many options for leveraging the intellectual side of fencing. Learn to improve your fencing skills in ways that don’t involve classes or private lessons. A fencing journal is another wonderful, non-social way to engage with fencing. Taking notes about what is and isn’t working, tracking your progress, and keeping up with techniques that you need to improve will help you to improve your social skills and your fencing.
Maximize your fencing training
If training in a group uses up your social battery, then adding private lessons might be a good solution. A full week of fencing camp might be just what some people need, but recognize that it might be overwhelming too. This is an opportunity for communication with your coach to be really established. Eventually, you will develop a rapport with your coach that can be a bridge builder and help you to maximize your training. Allow yourself that space, judgement free, and engage with your coach to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Adapting to who you are is what all of this is getting at. Introverts might have their own specific challenges, but that also means they have their own set of strengths too! It’s all about learning to increase those strengths while decreasing the aspects of training that are not as helpful.
Parents are a critical resource for fencers who are challenged by social interaction. Parents can help to facilitate communication and explain what is going on, both to fencers and to coaches and staff. You will find that fencing is a supportive community for people of all ability levels and personality types, it’s just a matter of letting people know what your needs are. If your child is a fencer and an introvert, know that this is a place that they can be supported. Your reaching out can make the process go much smoother.
Introverts can be successful
It’s so important to note that introverts can be successful. In fact, this personality trait lends itself to great success! It’s all about the way that you use it.
We have seen many individuals in sport use their natural shyness to lift themselves. What fencing does is to give the right amount of growth opportunity! Right in that zone of development that’s a great fit for a wide range of people, including introverts. The biggest impediment to success for introverts is a lack of clear communication. This can become frustrating, disheartening even. Combat that with conscious efforts to create clear communication.
Keep in mind that some of the greatest athletes of all time are introverts. Michael Jordan is famously introverted. Tiger Woods is another famous introvert. Kobe Bryant was known to be very introverted, even at the height of his stardom. There are numerous examples of introverts at the Olympics. Gabriela Sabatini was a famous Argentinian tennis player and introvert who went so far as to deliberately lose a match to avoid interaction with the media. It’s something that even very successful athletes face!
Stepping onto the strip can feel like stepping into another world, and many athletes feel like they are totally different people when they are competing. This is very true in fencing, in part because we have distinctive uniforms that set the time that we are fencing totally apart from the time that we are not fencing. Leverage that! This is a time to be expressive and to tap into something different inside of you. We’ve seen this in lots of fencers, the ability to unleash something fierce on the strip that you would never expect out of them if you knew them away from their sword. This is the power of the introvert, and it’s a marvelous quality for fencers. Because you are an introvert, that doesn’t mean you have to be the underdog.