As a parent, you probably know the system when it comes to enlisting your child in traditional kid’s sports such as swimming, gymnastics, and soccer. There are many start up classes to familiarize your child with the basics, learn the rules of the game, and train with endless drills and exercises. Often the kids start at the very beginning basics – which can be a bit tedious.
Fencing is a unique in that – unlike other sports – most beginner fencers know right off the bat what to do. As kids, we often play “swordfight”, so some of the movements in fencing such as stance and poking aren’t unfamiliar. When a new student takes a class for the first time, it is not unusual for him/her to display basic fencing skills.
For instance, in our beginner classes many first-time fencers instinctively know how to score a touch, parry their opponent’s blade, counter-attack, or riposte. Try seeing this result in other sports! Rarely will your child walk onto a tennis court, gymnast mat, ski slope or ice rink and immediately know what to do. In general, sports take a lot of time to learn before your child is proficient enough to master and enjoy them.
Not so in fencing – the student will often walk in already armed with the basic skills! Who knew that playing pirates, knights, 3 Musketeers, or Zorro would actually “train” your child in their fencing skills?
Having this predisposed skill set can be very encouraging for kids and parents alike; it’s an instant gratification that can bolster the enthusiasm for the sport prompting the student to stick with it and enhance those skills.
While the basic skill set may be a natural ability, there still is a lot of work that needs to go into learning fencing. Just like any other sport, it requires athleticism, technique and experience to master.
Best approach for the beginner fencer
To start out, we recommend your child attend 1-hour group sessions twice a week. We have found this to be just the right amount of time in the beginning – kids don’t get too overworked, but have enough instruction and drills to gradually develop the stamina and education they need when starting out.
While excitement about a child’s natural tendencies to understand the basics can lead to the temptation to enlist in additional classes or longer sessions, we strongly discourage this. We have found this approach can be counterproductive to the student’s ability to learn. The kids can become fatigued and lose interest – especially among those under 10. It’s best to stick to a slower and steadier pace.
Careful planning of additional training at the right times and with right dosage is important. After all, what’s the rush? A 10-year-old has their whole life ahead of them to learn the sport!
After attending the 1-hour classes twice a week for the first 2 to 3 months, your child may be ready for private lessons. By the 3 to 6 month point, he or she may feel the level they’re in is too simple and want to grow more in fencing. That’s the perfect time to move them up to the next level.
Discuss the decision to move your child up a level with their coach. Usually both of you will know when your child is ready.
On the other side of the coin, keeping your child in the same level too long can have detrimental effects. Your child will feel less challenged and become bored – leading him or her to decide to quit fencing because it does not bring them the same excitement and satisfaction it had in the beginning. So this is a delicate line that you need to be careful about assessing.
To encourage your child to move into the next level it’s helpful to enter a competition. We wrote about taking your child to his or her first competition.
Bottom line: The most appropriate intensity for the beginner fencer is twice a week for the first 2 – 3 months. We find this moderation encourages a long-term love of the sport, which can instill important benefits in your child.