“Raising a teenager is hard… But, being a teenager is hard, too, which is why our kids need someone they trust to lean on, to come to for advice, and to share their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly. Having a front row seat in our kids’ lives is a far better place to be than sitting on the highest bleacher.”
This quote from Raising Teenagers Today really hit home when I saw it. While kids today have a lot of advantages in life, they also have their own tough things to carry. The world is more complicated than ever, and teenagers are right at the crossroads of the world that came before and the world that is coming ahead of us. At the same time, they’re dealing with their own growing pains as they figure out who they are and what their place in the world is.
Parents and fencing coaches have a front row to the ups and downs of teenage life. The old joke is that teens are full of drama, but trivializing the teen experience is not helpful to anyone – not the teenagers themselves, not the parents who are raising them, and not the sport of fencing. To minimize their experience is shortsighted and can ultimately be destructive. Instead, it’s better for everyone if we acknowledge the reality that highs and lows are baked into the teenage experience. That way, we can support them in becoming the best athletes and people that they can be.
We see a lot of teenagers in our fencing club. In fact, competitive fencing is chock full of teenagers, no matter where you look. As a parent of teenagers, I watch my own fencers as they navigate the sometimes rosy and sometimes rocky terrain of growing up. As the quote says, having a front row seat to these experiences is better than being far away. That goes for my own kids of course, but in a fencing club we’re also there for the other kids, too.
What I see a lot of in teenage fencers is the oscillation between a lack of confidence and overconfidence. It’s hard thing for them to learn to thread the needle and find a balanced place for themselves, but with the right kinds of structures and supports, we can help teens thrive.
When teenage fencers struggle with confidence
Confidence is an essential attribute for teenage athletes in sports. It can help them perform better, improve their skills, and increase their chances of success. One of the things that we see all too often is that teens struggle with confidence, especially in the age of social media.
The classic reason that we think of for teenagers to struggle with their confidence is peer pressure. Teenagers are often highly influenced by their peers and may feel pressure to conform to social norms, which can lead to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. In sports like fencing, that pressure can translate over into the competitive arena, where teenagers look to people who are fencing their age and see them at a higher level, which can be frustrating and even demoralizing.
Fencers come into the sport at a wide variety of ages and levels. Some kids start at age seven with an epee in their hand, while others are thirteen before picking up a sword. Even when kids come in at older ages, they might come in with a natural ability that helps them grow faster, or they could have previous experience in another sport that translates to a fast uptake on the fencing strip. Add to this that teenagers are variable in their ability to grow due to adolescent changes, and it’s all the more challenging.
Speaking of, the hormonal changes that occur during puberty can cause teenagers to experience mood swings, anxiety, and low self-esteem. There is a massive soup of hormones going on in teenagers, something that would be hard for any of us to face. Riding the wave of puberty is challenging for any teen and for the people around them. Those changes add to the lack of self-confidence that a lot of fencers face.
There’s also the issue of balancing academic and fencing pressures. Teenagers may feel overwhelmed by the demands placed on them, leading to anxiety and a lack of confidence. So much of their future feels like it’s riding on the decisions that they make at this age, and that’s a big reason why they can struggle. Teenagers are still developing their sense of identity and may not have had enough life experiences to build their confidence through all of the pressures they face.
This is really true in the highly competitive world of national-level fencing. Whether they win or lose a match might feel like it’s going to tip them over into a great life of success or a life where they don’t maximize their potential. That word – potential – is so overused with teenagers. I hear a lot of teens talking about how people tell them how much potential they have, when what they need to hear is that they are enough just as they are right now.
We can’t talk about teens and lack of confidence without talking about body image issues. Many teenager, even teenage athletes who are fit, struggle with body image issues, which can lead to a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Fencing is a highly athletic sport with a lot of hard going, intense physicality. Even with all of that movement, every body is different. Teenagers are flooded with images online of people who have “perfect” or what appear to be perfect bodies. It’s hard for them to parse out having healthy goals versus being unbalanced in their feelings about themselves. Of course, this isn’t just hard for teenagers, but it’s hard for all of us.
Negative past experiences, such as bullying or rejection, can also contribute to a lack of confidence in teenagers in regards to body image. In fencing, we need to be especially vigilant about giving our teen fencers a supportive place to grow in terms of body image specifically. Even high level athletes have varied body shapes and sizes. Tall fencers can be successful. Short fencers can be successful. Fencers who are super muscular and fencers who are lean can both find their path to success. It’s one of the beautiful things about this sport – your body and mind both count.
It is important to remember that every teenager fencer is unique and may have different reasons for struggling with confidence. Parents, coaches, and other adults in their lives need to be there to provide support and encouragement to help them build their confidence and self-esteem.
Overconfidence in teenage athletes
Though a lack of confidence is certainly detrimental to teenagers, the other side is out there as well. Overconfidence in teenagers can be detrimental to their performance and development. When teen fencers think that they’ve got it all in the bag, it can lead them to not listening to their mentors and coaches. It can also really set them up for failure in the long run, and even in the short term.
Overconfident fencers may become complacent and believe that they do not need to put in as much effort or preparation as their opponents. This can lead to a lack of practice, training, or focus, which can ultimately harm their performance. The place where growth happens in fencing is in consistent practice. We see this sometimes with fencers – they make the cut to get to Summer Nationals or reach the height of the podium at a NAC and sit back on their laurels. Then when they come back around to compete again, they miss opportunities because they are not as practiced as they need to be.
Underestimating opponents is another serious issue that overconfident teen fencers can make. They might assume that the person they’re up against is not as good or capable as they are. This can lead to a lack of respect for opponents, which can affect their performance and ultimately result in defeat. You simply never know how a match will play out. Just because you mowed down an opponent easily in one competition does not guarantee that you’ll be able to do it again. Everyone has up days and down days, so it’s very dangerous to underestimate your opponent.
Something that goes right along with being a teenager is taking big risks. We all know the cliche of the rebellious teenager who does things that they know they shouldn’t do just because they’re testing boundaries. This translates not just to staying out past curfew, but also to training in fencing. Overconfident fencers may take unnecessary risks during competition, thinking that they can overcome any challenge. This can lead to poor decision-making and costly mistakes, which can harm their performance and derail their goals. We want to teach fencers to follow their instincts, but we also want them to learn to parse out which instincts to follow!
In order to grow, we have to be able to see our faults. This is the point where we have to work hardest to help teenagers see where they’re at realistically while at the same time not overfocusing on their faults. Overconfidence can prevent athletes from recognizing areas in which they need improvement, while putting too much emphasis on those faults is also a negative. Teen fencers dealing with overconfidence may believe that they are already the best and do not need to work on their skills or technique. This can stunt their growth and prevent them from reaching their full potential. There’s that word – potential – again!
We want to help teenagers recognize where they are in a positive way while also looking forward to the path ahead. This is the real balancing act of supporting young people, and it’s difficult. We want our kids to believe in themselves, but we also want them to be grounded and hardworking.
It is essential to instill a healthy level of confidence in teenage fencers while also teaching them the importance of humility, respect for opponents, and continuous improvement. Coaches and parents can help teenage fencers strike a balance between confidence and overconfidence by encouraging them to prepare diligently, respect their opponents, and approach each competition with a growth mindset.
The importance of positive self-image for teenagers
Study after study shows us the importance of a positive self-image in teenagers. In the wake of the pandemic especially, there has been a huge rise in the number of teenagers struggling with anxiety and depression. The statistics can be alarming for both parents and teens, and we know firsthand how difficult it can be to raise teenagers.
For many of our teenagers, their extracurricular activities are a strong marker of their identity. Fencing can become something that they rely on to be part of their self-image, and it’s a positive place for them to express themselves, build peer relationships, and create a positive self-image thanks to the strength of healthy adult and peer feedback.
Self-image can be strongly influenced by a teen’s experiences in sports, both positive and negative. A positive self-image can help fencers to perform their best, build confidence, and enjoy the sport. Conversely, a negative self-image can lead to decreased confidence, decreased performance, and decreased enjoyment of fencing.
This last part is huge. Receiving positive feedback from coaches, teammates, and even opponents can help teenagers build a positive self-image and to feel good about their abilities. They don’t necessarily have to be winning all the time to feel good about themselves. Experiencing improvement in fencing can help them build a positive self-image and to feel good about themselves. It’s about progress, not outcomes. When you pair this with a good environment with their club, as well as coaches and parents who are centering growth over podium finishes, it can help teenage fencers feel valued as it builds their positive self-image.
There is also a strong correlation between engaging in regular physical activity through sports like fencing and improved physical and mental health, which in turn contribute to a positive self-image.
Negative experiences are out there as well, and it’s not all about losing. The emotional experience of teens is more about being criticized or feeling excluded from the other members of the team. It’s important for fencers to have a positive support system in place, including coaches, parents, and other adults, to help them handle these challenges and to maintain a positive self-image.
Lack of confidence, overconfidence, and self image in teenagers are all three related to the central hub of a teen’s experience – how they view themselves. Overall, a positive self-image that’s built through a strong balance of support and inner growth can help teenage fencers to perform their best, build confidence, and enjoy fencing.