Art of Fencing, Art of Life

New Year, New Goals – The Whole Fencer Blueprint for 2024

New Year, New Goals - The Whole Fencer Blueprint for 2024

Every year, we start off in January setting goals that will hopefully carry us through the next year and help us level up to where we want to be. Of course, you’re going to change over the course of a year no matter what you do, but at the start of every year we have this feeling that we should somehow control the direction of our changes in a year. 

We talk about goals a lot on this blog, and we do it because they’re important. You have to have an idea of where you’re going to figure out how to get there. We see so many fencers who miss out on opportunities because they don’t know where they want to go. If you don’t want to miss a turn on the highway, you have to have directions. 

But this year, I was thinking about goals and how we approach the whole thing, and I couldn’t help but feel like we’re missing something. Most resolutions are discarded within a few weeks. What if there’s another way? That’s when I started thinking about fencing as a holistic endeavor. We could look at this not just in isolation, but from the standpoint of how it all interacts across not just fencing, but in a broader area of our lives.

The Whole Fencer Blueprint is a concept that aims to cultivate well-rounded, resilient, and fulfilled young fencers. It’s an idea that makes a lot of sense for the new year, especially as youth fencers are trying to balance a whole host of activities and aspirations. 

Here’s how it might work: rather than just thinking about fencing goals, let’s expand our understanding into seven different and distinct areas that all feed into one another. 

Breaking goals down for the new year

Goals just don’t work if you put them in huge buckets that are over a long period of time. The more specific a goal can be, the better it can be tracked and the more manageable it becomes. Part of the point in setting goals is to break things down so that they’re manageable. 

To use the Whole Fencer Blueprint below for the new year (or if you’re reading this later in the year you can start at any time), write down a goal in each of the 7 areas that you can work on within the next month. Just for the next month – look to the step right ahead of you. It’s so much better if you aim for something that’s directly achievable rather than looking so far down the line that there are dozens of steps in between. 

For each of the areas below, a young fencer could sit down and write out just a single goal for that area for the next month. To make things easier, I’ve broken down each overall goal into subsets. That makes it very, very easy to choose one or two to work on. You can always come back to others next month within the same area, but don’t pick more than a couple at a time. The point is to be manageable and workable, not to overwhelm anyone. Breaking down each aspect into bullet points provides a concise and clear overview of the multifaceted elements involved in nurturing holistic development within fencing.

Let’s break down the process you’ll do to create a Whole Fencer Blueprint:

  1. List each of the seven blueprint areas below, leaving space for 1-2 goals under each
  2. Write down ONLY one or two goals for the next month, using the bullet points under each goal for inspiration.
  3. Follow up at the end of the month and set new goals, either building on what you did this past month or using a new area from below.

Now to dive in!

1. Personal Growth 

We need to encourage young fencers to set goals beyond the piste. These could include improving time management, enhancing leadership skills, or even committing to community service. It’s about nurturing qualities that extend far beyond the game.

  • Time Management: Balancing sports commitments with academics and social activities so that it feels good. We want to go away from burnout and towards flow.
  • Leadership Development: Setting targets for taking on leadership roles within the fencing club or on the team. Break this down into steps! The goal is not to be team captain right out of the gate, but it might be to ask the coach this month about opportunities and you might be surprised how many of such are out there, in the club and beyond. 
  • Academic Achievements: Pursuing academic excellence alongside fencing is important for whole person growth and development. Always do this in bite-sized pieces. The goal this month might be to turn in assignments earlier than usual if you’ve been procrastinating, or to get involved with a guidance counselor if there are concerns. “Get all A’s” is not a good goal because it’s big and might be unattainable in a short span of time. “Improve by one letter grade in these two classes” is much better and more reasonable. 
  • Community Service: Engaging in activities that promote empathy and social responsibility can make a massive difference not only in those all important college applications, but more importantly it provides a whole lot of fuel for fencers to feel good about themselves. This can even be partnered with fencing. In our own club, a group of our competitive fencers came together to donate their time giving lessons to novice fencers, then donated the money to support victims of the war in Ukraine. Their time commitment was not huge, but it really built them up. A couple of hours in a month is a great goal. 

2. Health and Wellness 

Goal-setting isn’t just about performance metrics or even what you give to others. It involves setting targets for nutrition, sleep, and mental health practices as we work to become better people as a whole. Teaching young fencers the importance of a balanced lifestyle contributes significantly to their overall success, both on and off the piste. Here are some areas to think about goal setting.

  • Nutrition: Eating well is very personal and it’s also unique to every person. It’s generally better to look at adding when making nutrition goals rather than subtracting if we want long term success. When you get into deficit mode, trying to restrict, it almost always backfires. However, if you frame it as adding good things, then it naturally replaces the less desirable things. For example, a fencer might resolve to have a piece of fresh fruit with lunch every day or to have a protein shake for breakfast (often teenagers especially want to skip breakfast). The goals might be to drink more water or to increase vegetables. Whatever they are, make nutrition goals bite-sized so when you check in next month, you’ve got a great outcome. 
  • Sleep Patterns: Ensuring adequate rest and recovery for physical and mental well-being for everyone, not just fencers. Great goals for this might be to turn off screens an hour before bed, to change out pillows or add in blackout curtains, or to start a wind down routine. Small, simple steps. These can also be directly related to competition. A fencer can make a goal to take specific steps this month for a competition in a different time zone so they’ll get better sleep ahead of a tournament. 
  • Mental Health Practices: Incorporating mindfulness or meditation can make a major difference in not only the immediate fencing progress of an athlete, but also in the long term. High level athletes regularly work with sports psychologists, and it might be a good goal to explore that option. Specific mental health goals are important for holistic growth! You can also put together a trial regimen of mindfulness exercises to enhance focus. Or set a goal to maintain concentration for longer periods, minimizing distractions during critical moments of fencing, academics, or even social situations.
  • Long-term Health Awareness: Sometimes we need to take the long view of what we’re doing. Overall well-being beyond immediate athletic performance can be a good goal for a fencer, especially if there is a history of injuries. Making a goal to be proactive about something that’s going on is a great idea. 

3. Skill Development 

Rather than fixating solely on winning matches, emphasize skill development. Fencers should set SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Most likely you’ve heard of this technique for goal setting, but it works incredibly well for fencing goals. 

  • Technical Skills: Improving specific technical abilities relevant to the sport is an important part of any fencer’s regimen for making progress. This is where you’d say you want to master a certain technique. Often when we think of goals for fencers, this is what we imagine. Definitely talk to your coach about this one. 
  • Tactical Understanding: Mastering fencing strategies or working on decision-making prowess is important as well. Teamwork fits in here, too. What can you do in the next months to get better? It might be to read a book or analyze videos of matches. There are tons of ways to improve your tactical understanding, and often you can enrich this portion to add a new dimension to your fencing. 
  • Measuring Progress: Sometimes we get so revved up with our goals that we don’t realize that measuring progress is a whole undertaking. Setting milestones to track improvement and proficiency can be a huge way to use goal making to progress. You might simply keep a logbook of how many specific touches you get during bouts at practice, or log how much time you spend doing cross-training. You don’t have to analyze or improve when you set this goal – the point is just to track your progress so you can look at it later. 

4. Resilience and Mindset Targets 

In a dynamic sports environment like fencing, setbacks are inevitable. Fencers can learn a lot by setting goals surrounding looking at failures as opportunities for growth.

  • Mental Toughness: Developing resilience and grit in the face of challenges isn’t easy, but it’s easier when you take it on one aspect at a time. Or you can set a goal to bounce back quickly and positively after a loss or mistake during a match. 
  • Failure as Learning Opportunities: Reframing setbacks as opportunities for growth matters, though it takes practice to get there. You might set a goal to practice self-reflection after challenges during tournaments (or other areas – remember we’re using the holistic mindset), focusing on lessons learned rather than dwelling on failures. 
  • Handling Pressure: Building coping strategies for high-pressure situations can make a huge difference. You could even go so far as to engage in simulated high-pressure scenarios during practice sessions. Set a goal to maintain composure and execute effectively during critical moments in fencing bouts. This is a fun one to do with friends.
  • Positive Self-Talk and Visualization: Practicing mental techniques for confidence and focus helps not just with fencing, but with all kinds of areas of your life. Practice visualizing successful performances before competition and set a goal to consistently incorporate mental imagery as part of pre-match routines at tournaments. You can also develop a repertoire of positive affirmations or cues to use during tough moments. Set a goal to replace negative thoughts with positive and constructive self-talk consistently.

5. Team Collaboration 

Though fencing is an individual sport, the team aspect and the camaraderie that goes along with it is very much a part of what we do. By setting goals surrounding team building, you can get the most out of the collaborative aspects of fencing. 

  • Communication Enhancement: Improving competition and non-competition communication with fellow fencers and with your coach is a fantastic goal. Set a goal for more frequent meetings with your fellow fencers to discuss strategies, listen to everyone’s input, and encourage open dialogue among one another. This happens during class, but it’s in those times before and after training that you get an extra boost from your fellow fencers. Or you might make it a goal to reach out to your fellow fencers and have some non-fencing social time once in the next month.
  • Supportive Environment: Actively supporting growth and success among fellow fencers is important, even with opponents. The fencing community is on the whole an incredibly supportive one, and it’s a point of personal growth on a human level to improve your interactions with everyone. A great goal here is to reach out to an opponent after a match and make a connection. Or it could be with teammates, checking in with them on text after a match or making sure you watch a certain number of your teammates matches at a competition. 

6. Long-Term Vision: 

This one is a little like goals within goals, but hear me out because it’s a great way to make it all work more effectively in the long run. Help young fencers see beyond immediate seasons. Guide them in setting long-term visions for their athletic journey, which includes personal and skill development milestones over multiple years.

  • Skill Milestones Over Years: Setting progressive skill development goals over multiple years starts with getting creating shorter term goals to get there right now. A fencer can look at their current skill levels and identify specific areas for improvement or create a list of technical skills and tactical aspects to focus on. This month, you might design a focused training plan with drills and exercises to enhance the selected skills. Take time to create something that really works, then allocate specific practice time for these areas during training sessions. Once you have a long term plan, you’ll need to track it and make amendments every month to keep it vibrant and working. Review performance in practice sessions and competitions, then adjust the training plan based on observations to optimize skill development.
  • Advancement Planning: You can’t move forward if you don’t know what paths there are. This is especially important for novice fencers, but it’s good for everyone. Explore various avenues for advancing in the sport, such as higher-level competitions, elite training programs, or coaching opportunities. The first step might be to compile a list of local, regional, or national tournaments suitable for participation based on your specific skill level and age category. In January we’re right in the middle of the season, but you can still start taking stock of where you are now and were you want to go. Another really good goal is to reach out to experienced fencers or coaches for advice on pathways for advancement. Not everyone is going to know everything, so the more you broaden your base of knowledge, the better. You can always schedule discussions or meetings with mentors or coaches to gain insights into strategic planning for long-term advancement.
  • Transition Readiness: One of the most overlooked but important areas of goal setting is tailoring your goals to prepare for transitions. This is an area that really dovetails with other activities in your life. High school-aged fencers, who aim to fence in college, should compile a list of colleges with fencing programs. Before the time comes, set a goal to develop a tentative schedule allocating time for fencing training, academics, and potential college preparation activities (e.g., SAT/ACT preparation). This goes for all kinds of transitions, including the transition from regional to national competitions. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of transition goal setting to help you stay on track. 
  • Motivation and Clarity: Gaining a sense of purpose and direction for the fencing journey will help fencers to stay engaged and moving forward. For the long term success you’re striving for, it’s critical that you put emphasis on the here and now while also looking ahead. Look for those big dreams and seek out mentorship opportunities with people wh are further on the same path. 

7. Reflection and Adaptation 

This last section is really about the goal-within-a-goal as well. You have to regularly revisit goals and reflect on progress in order to keep going. This not only reinforces accountability but also allows for adaptation and recalibration of goals based on changing circumstances.

Absolutely, here are action steps for a competitive fencer to incorporate regular review, progress assessment, adaptation, flexibility, and embracing growth into their routine:

  • Regular Review: Make it a goal to revisit personal motivations and long-term aspirations in fencing regularly. We also really advocate journaling or self-reflection to clarify individual goals and reasons for pursuing fencing at a competitive level. Maybe the goal this month is to dedicate time at the end of each week to review the goals set for that week. Or you might choose to evaluate the overall progress made in skill development, competition performance, and personal growth so that you can adjust the upcoming month’s goals based on this review. This is so, so important! One set of really great goals to make is to seek feedback from coaches, teammates, or mentors. Set a target to ask for constructive criticism and input on areas for improvement. Reflect on received feedback and incorporate it into the training plan via goals you’ve set for yourself.
  • Embracing Growth: Moving towards a growth mindset by setting clear targets for focusing on learning from challenges. Set goals for yourself to learn from mistakes and to keep going when times get tough by finding the ways that you’re learning and growing. You might set yourself the task of reading a book about the subject this month or listening to a podcast. Be specific about how you’ll change your mindset, or it’s not going anywhere. 

The Whole Fencer Blueprint

Everyone is different and has different needs, not just from one another, but from the past versions of ourselves. For goals to work, they have to change.

By implementing a broad-based goal-setting method, the big dreams that we have for 2024 can actually come to fruition. To be a successful, and more importantly, healthy and fulfilled, competitive fencer, it’s essential to establish a routine that promotes regular reflection, thorough assessment, adaptability, and a growth-oriented mindset. This approach fosters continuous improvement and development in the sport of fencing and beyond. Fencing doesn’t exist in total isolation, after all. 

This approach doesn’t negate the importance of striving for excellence in sports. Instead, it broadens the perspective of success, fostering a mindset where achievements are measured not only by wins but by personal growth, teamwork, resilience, and overall well-being. There are so many ways that we engage in development, so we need to look at how we set goals from a wider perspective. 

By nurturing the whole fencer, we can use this sport as a platform for developing individuals who are not only skilled in their sport but also equipped with invaluable life skills. Here’s to a great year and reaching all of our goals! The small ones that we break down into bite sized pieces, as well as the big ones that are fueled by our big dreams. 

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1 Comment

  1. R

    Rava Danielle Upin wrote “Calibrating our intentions to the resetting of the moon anchors our own experiences in universal time. Each new moon is an invitation to make a break or take a fresh look at how far we have come…gaining our inspiration from the cycles of the natural world, taking in the tides of time…we can learn to trust in a process that allows us to continually assess our goals and keep ourselves on a path of growth and personal exploration throughout the year.”

    You’re more traditional than I thought. 😉 See you next weekend.

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