Maximizing Online Fencing Sessions - A Guide for Fencing Clubs and Coaches

This is a brave new world that we are living in. It’s one that none of us has any experience with, not even the experts that are our fencing coaches and fencing club owners. It can be daunting to try to translate the real and in person experience of teaching fencing to this new age of social distancing. 

The truth is that fencing training has been basically unchanged for hundreds of years. You have an experienced coach. You have a fencer who wants to learn. You put them together in a room and let the magic happen. Being in the same room has been a necessary requirement for learning fencing since its inception. Now, we cannot be in the same room anymore. As such, there is no playbook for this scenario. You can’t pick up a book by Aldo Nadi and learn how to effectively teach fencing through screens.

We have learned a lot in the almost month long quarantine that we have been under, and our coaches have done a whole lot of learning in real time through our online fencing programs

Here’s what we’ve learned so far, and what we want to share with fencing clubs and coaches to help you maximize the benefits of online learning. 

1. Safety is paramount

The whole reason that the whole world is committed to social distancing is to protect the safety of everyone. In our fencing clubs, we are committed to the safety of our fencers from the time that they walk through the door to the time that they leave. 

Fencing at home, we cannot provide the same kind of supervision that we would at the club, nor is the home environment created for safety. Fencing clubs should create a set of specific guidelines for their fencing families to help them ensure there is safety in the home. You can read more about what our recommendations are in part two of this series, which focuses on home fencing for families. The nutshell of our recommendations is that fencers at home need supervision of an adult in the home, particularly if there are animals or siblings in the home. Adequate space, and an appreciation for the weapon are key components.

Be sure to communicate your safety guidelines to your students often. This is worth a consistent reminder, from coaches as well as from the club in the form of emails to students.  

Create and communicate safety guidelines to fencers and their families.

2. Create a good sense of a new normalcy

While we wish that we could totally substitute what is going on in the club with online training right now, during quarantine, it is unfortunately not the case. Online training for fencing is limited. That being said, we have found that online fencing training is invaluable during this time. 

The reviews that we have gotten from fencing parents say again and again that this training is becoming an essential part of their new routine during this time. The lack of structure is a real issue for families, as is the lack of physical activity. Online fencing classes and online fencing private lessons provide physical activity that kids are missing out on a lot right now. Young fencers look forward to their lessons every day. In a world where kids can’t leave the house, online fencing training is giving them a window into the world outside. Those fencing friendships are able to continue through online classes too.  

Normalcy isn’t possible, but online fencing training helps to create it. As much as we can. 

Use online fencing training to help fencing families create normalcy.

3. Be ready for intensity

Online fencing training is more intense than regular fencing training. Whatever you’re doing online, whether it’s a private lesson or a group lesson, has very little wasted time total. 

A one hour class sometimes might feel much more intense online than a two hour class in real life. That’s the level of difference between the two.

Fencers don’t waste time when they drink water and chat around a water fountain, they don’t go to get dressed or bring their weapon stuck in the locker room. They don’t waste time connecting or reconnecting to the reel. They aren’t wasting time in the locker rooms chatting with their friends. Little attention is taken away from the coach because of little distracting behaviors in class but students, behaviors that are often natural like sneezing or fidgeting aren’t as disruptive in an online class. There are also some instances in traditional classes that are more like, well I don’t want to say clowning, but that happens as well. In the online sessions such things are not happening, not to the level they do in in person classes.

Taking advantage of this intensity is key to making online fencing classes work.

Understand and account for the intensity of online fencing training

4. Both exhausting and invigorating for coaches

Since the efficiency is much better, that makes the sessions exhausting for coaches in a different way. The attention needed to juggle twenty or more students on a screen is great. It is important that both clubs and coaches understand that training like this requires downtime for balance and to appreciate that need for coaches. This is a time that is stressful from many different directions, and coaches are experiencing that just like we all are. 

This isn’t specific to fencing either. Teachers and trainers from lots of disciplines are experiencing the same kind of weariness from teaching online. Be aware of this when creating a class schedule, so that you can preserve the quality of your fencing coaches.  

Online fencing training on the other hand does give coaches a sense of purpose and continued drive during this time, just as it does for fencers. They are still seeing their students and they are still helping to create their best fencing selves. We can see our fencers getting better with every passing day in online training, and that is very much rewarding!

Fencing clubs, be sure to have an open line of communication with your coaches during this time. It is important that you continue to build your team and relationships even more than when you were physically together. Have online meetings to discuss how things are going, face to face. Let people connect and vent. This is so important!

Take care of your coaches and build your classes with them in mind too. Communicate regularly and openly. 

5. Use the whole screen to see fencers

Surprisingly, coaches are able to see much more with online training. 

In a club, for instance in our club as we have a large facility, sometimes if the coach stays on the first strip, it can be difficult to see what’s happening on strip ten, strip fifteen, strip twenty. In online classes, coaches see everyone from the same perspective. 

Here I’m going to speak to Zoom, because that is what we use. However, you can make this work for a lot of different platforms in a similar way. 

Set up your Zoom so that you can see as many people as possible at one time. You can use Zoom capabilities to present the class with twenty-five or up to forty-nine people with screens at the same time on one screen. Maximize the screen. This will let you see as many kids as possible in the gallery view.  You can even hide yourself so that you can fit one more. 

We suggest that you cast your screen to a TV if you can for coaches at home. The TV screen is massive compared to a laptop or tablet, and fencing coaches can in this way see far more. You can do this through an HDMI cable or through casting, there are lots of options based on the device you are using. It is well worth the time to figure it out. A bigger screen will make it all easier. 

Use the biggest screen you can and try to see as many fencers at once as you can.

6. Create rules of behavior

You have rules of behavior in your physical training, so you should definitely have rules of behavior in your online training. They can’t be totally the same, because the method is so different.

This is things like students coming in late or leaving early. Normally, in a club session, we would have our fencers who came in late ask the coach to join the class and then go warm up with running or jumping jacks. In an online class, that is very disruptive. If a fencer is late and comes in doing different things like pushups or jumping jacks, then everyone can see them and it pushes everyone in the class off of their focus.  Students already basically have permission to join the class, so they don’t need to ask and disrupt everyone at once. Instead, fencers who are late should warm up off screen. The same goes for leaving early. There’s no need to tell the coach that you’re heading out. Just go! 

You may want to set up communication about this by chat in a program like Zoom, or with a simple email to let the coach know that you were late or why you left early. Kids are taking math classes and piano lessons right now too, and we recognize that sometimes things overlap, even in quarantine. 

One effective MUST is that the coach should mute all students when class starts, and students should only unmute when they are in a private lesson or during times that the coach allows them. This is basic Zoom interaction, but we are all learning! Online learning platforms like Zoom and WebEx move to the person who is speaking. Without the mute on, a dog could bark in a student’s home or they could jump particularly hard and make a noise that pulls the whole class focus. 

Create standards of behavior that work for online classes. 

7. Prevent Zoom bombing

Something that has been made a lot of lately is the problem of zoom bombing. This is basically when someone comes into the class without permission. It can be a real problem.

To prevent this, clubs and coaches should be careful about the ways that they share the meeting details. Sure, you should shout it from the rooftops of social media that you are offering online classes. However don’t publish the meeting ID or password! It’s a common thing that I have seen too often in the past few weeks. Have people sign up for your class, then email them their meeting link and password. I do also very much recommend using a password as an extra precaution.

Often we are working with kids in fencing, and it is our responsibility to protect them as much as we possibly can. With this online format, we as clubs and coaches have an extra responsibility to protect their online privacy. 

Keep your online class links and passwords to only your students. 

8. Time your classes for the best results

The internet is getting a lot of use right now. A lot of use. That can slow things down if everyone is zooming all at once, and it can make classes more challenging. 

Think about the best time to conduct your fencing classes. In every fencing club and fencing town it might be different, but all across the country we are all trying to keep our life as normal as possible. We are all trying to keep all of our activities online right now. 

In most parts the heaviest time for internet usage would be morning times even if kids in your fencing club would have no school, I would not recommend doing morning classes during the weekdays because parents are working, plus everybody else is connected because internet usage spikes in the morning makes it difficult. We definitely saw with some fencers who wanted to do classes or private lessons in the morning, and some of them who were sharing bandwidths had difficulties. Figure out which hours work best for you. For us, lunchtime and late afternoon/evenings have proved to be best. 

You will get feedback from your fencing families about timing, and it is of course best to accommodate that input as much as you can.

Think about both internet connectivity considerations and family schedules when timing your classes. 

9. Think positive

This is our last suggestion, and it is also our most important. Think positive! This time is one of the most challenging for all of us. Two months ago if you had told us that all fencing clubs in the United States would be canceled and that the 2020 Olympics would be postponed, no one would have believed you. It’s a remarkable situation that is totally unlike anything we could have imagined. 

That being said, we are making the most of a difficult situation. Fencing clubs, you are leading this for the fencing community. You have the power to make the lives of your fencers better, to give them something productive and fun to participate in during a stressful time in their lives. 

There is a lot to juggle, even with everything closed down. It’s a huge transition. Be patient and be hopeful. We do not know when this will be over, and it might be longer than any of us can think right now. What we do know is that we will get through it! Use fencing to help you make sense of it, because we all know that the world makes much more sense when you have a fencing sword in your hand. 

When you are struggling to get your internet to connect, or you are missing your club so much you can taste it, remember that you are part of a community. You are needed!