Academy of Fencing Masters Blog

Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Silencing the Sidelines: Navigating Parental Involvement in Strip Coaching

Mom, Shut Up! Navigating Parental Involvement in Strip Coaching

In a competition in Washington DC, I witnessed a situation that immediately prompted me to write a post about it. Unfortunately, this is all too common in our sport, and I’ve never seen a competition without it. However, this time, the girl put it so eloquently in her response that I felt compelled to write about it.

It was a tense moment during a fencing match. A young athlete, let’s call her Sarah, found herself locked in a fierce Direct Elimination bout. As she faced her opponent, her coach offered guidance and encouragement from the sidelines. But alongside the coach stood her mother, eagerly seconding every word, often offering her own commentary, and even questioning the referee’s calls. The atmosphere was charged with intensity as the match progressed.

As the bout entered the third period, the score stood at 13-13. Both athletes were neck and neck, with victory hanging in the balance. Within the first few seconds of the third period, Sarah’s opponent scored a crucial touch, taking the lead 14-13. It was a pivotal moment, and tensions ran high.

Amidst the pressure, Sarah’s mother couldn’t contain herself. She shouted instructions, a mix of what the coach had said and her own observations. The cacophony of voices only added to Sarah’s confusion and frustration. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, Sarah turned to her mother and delivered a resounding “Mom, shut up! You confuse me!” The words reverberated through the convention center, cutting through the tension like a blade.

It was a moment of clarity amidst the chaos. Sarah’s plea resonated not just with her mother but with everyone present. It served as a stark reminder of the importance of boundaries and trust in the athlete-coach-parent dynamic.

While perhaps extreme, this scenario highlights a common issue in youth sports in general and fencing in particular (or maybe especially): overcoaching by parents. While it’s natural for parents to want the best for their children and to offer support during competitions, there are times when their well-intentioned efforts can do more harm than good.

I happened to witness this with another coach, when we both were watching this bout with an interest. When the girl said it to her mom, we both smiled and discussed the situation after the match, so here are some common reasons that we exchanged in our aftermath conversation for why parents should resist the urge to coach their child from the sidelines, especially when a coach is present. I’m not sure whether this list is comprehensive or if additional people (coaches, parents, athletes) will find more reasons why not, but still, these reasons are sound enough to realize your boundaries.

Celebrating Women’s Impact in Fencing

Celebrating Women's Impact in Fencing

In the ongoing dialogue surrounding the evolving role of women in society, one domain where their influence shines brightly and undeniably profound is the world of fencing. Once viewed through the lens of male dominance, fencing has undergone a remarkable transformation, with women asserting their presence and prowess alongside men. Visit any local fencing club and any fencing competition at local, regional, national, and international levels, and you’ll witness a vibrant community where women and girls make up nearly half of the members, showcasing their skill, dedication, and passion for the sport.

The recent announcement by the Olympic Committee of equal gender quotas for the Paris 2024 Games underscores the progress in achieving gender parity in sports in general and in fencing in particular. This marks the second Olympic Games to feature all 12 fencing disciplines (Individual and Team, men’s and women’s epee, foil, and sabre), extending equal opportunities to both male and female athletes, reaffirming fencing’s status as a sport where gender distinctions hold no sway in determining one’s success or participation.

Consider the story of women in fencing—a narrative marked by resilience, determination, and groundbreaking achievements. Historically, women faced barriers and misconceptions that sought to limit their involvement in the sport. For instance, the first women’s fencing events were introduced at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Initially, only the foil was used by women, as it was believed that weapons like the sabre and epee were too “masculine” for them. However, the introduction of women’s epee at the 1996 Atlanta Games and women’s sabre at the 2004 Athens Games shattered these stereotypes, proving that women are equally capable in all aspects of fencing.

In the last hundred years, marking the 100th anniversary of women’s inclusion in the Olympics, women fencers have made remarkable strides in the sport, particularly in the USA. Icons like Italian foil fencer Valentina Vezzali, who participated in five Olympic Games and earned nine medals, including six Golds, have left an indelible mark on the sport. USA’s Mariel Zagunis made history as the first woman to win Individual Gold in Sabre in the discipline’s inaugural Games in Athens in 2004, and currently she’s the only woman in fencing to win two Individual Gold medals in sabre. Such female fencers trailblazers have left an indelible mark on the sport and have set the stage for future generations of female fencers.

Another legendary figure in fencing history is Janice York Romary, who is the first woman fencer to participate in six Olympic Games, with her Olympic career spanning two decades from 1948 to 1968. In addition to her unparalleled competitive prowess, York Romary made history as the first woman to bear the USA flag at the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony in her last appearance in 1968 in Mexico.  In London, the two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis was the second female fencer to bear the US flag, making it the fifth appearance for fencers as flag bearers. So, naturally, we suggest that reigning foil Olympic Champion Lee Kiefer bear the flag in Paris, maintaining equal representation for male and female fencers! But we’ve heard whispers among fencers that they fear it might jinx their performance in the Olympics, so maybe not? 🙂

It’s also important to recognize the pivotal role of female coaches in shaping the landscape of fencing. Across the globe, women have not only excelled as athletes but have also become influential figures in coaching, mentoring, and guiding aspiring fencers to success. Their contributions extend beyond the confines of the training salle, encompassing mentorship, leadership, and the cultivation of a supportive and inclusive fencing community.

Female coaches bring a unique perspective and insight to the sport, offering invaluable guidance and mentorship to athletes of all levels. Their dedication, expertise, and passion inspire the next generation of fencers, instilling in them the values of discipline, resilience, and sportsmanship. From nurturing young talent to refining the skills of seasoned competitors, female coaches play a vital role in fostering growth and development in the sport and are powerful role models for aspiring fencers, demonstrating that success knows no gender boundaries. Their presence in coaching positions not only challenges traditional gender stereotypes but also empowers female athletes to pursue their dreams and aspirations in fencing and beyond.

Fencing, often hailed as a physical manifestation of mental agility and strategic thinking, provides an exceptional platform for girls and women to excel. Unlike some sports where physical attributes may confer advantages or act as barriers to progress, fencing places a premium on mental acuity and tactical finesse, offering equality to all women in the sport.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us acknowledge and honor the invaluable contributions of women to the sport of fencing. Their tireless dedication, passion, and commitment serve as beacons of inspiration, shaping the future of fencing and paving the way for generations of athletes to come.

The Power of a Smile: Lessons from Jacqueline Du Pre for Fencers

The Power of a Smile: Lessons from Jacqueline Du Pre for Fencers

Recently, I stumbled upon a story about Jacqueline Du Pre that struck a chord deep within me. It encapsulated everything I aspire to instill in my fencers—a passion for the sport that transcends mere competition and embraces the sheer joy of participation.

Du Pre was undeniably one of the most accomplished cellists in the world, driven by a profound love for music that ignited her passion from a young age. Her relentless dedication led her to countless hours of practice, each session filled with pure enjoyment and fulfillment. 

At age 6, Jacqueline attended her first music competition. At one point, a custodian saw her running down the corridor, brimming with excitement, smiling from ear to ear, her cello held high above her head. He remarked, “I see here runs a child who just performed well in the competition!” Jacqueline’s response was nothing short of captivating: “Oh, no, Sir!  I’m just about to!” 

At its core, Jacqueline’s story is about embracing enjoyment—the deep passion and joy that infuse every aspect of the performance. It’s this fervor that drives us forward, propelling us through the inevitable setbacks and failures with unwavering resilience.

And it all starts with something as simple as a smile.

Before stepping onto the competition floor, during each bout and every touch, and even after the final handshake with opponents, the power of a smile cannot be underestimated. It’s a transformative force, infusing each encounter with a sense of joy and passion.

Imagine each bout as a puzzle waiting to be solved. The goal isn’t merely victory but the sheer pleasure of outsmarting your opponent, of unraveling the intricacies of this captivating game. Whether you emerge triumphant or face defeat, there’s value in every outcome—an insight gained, a lesson learned.

But perhaps the greatest tragedy is missing out on the opportunity to savor the bout and glean those invaluable insights when we allow ourselves to succumb to frustration or disappointment. By embracing a smile, by finding joy in the act of competing, we set ourselves up for success, regardless of the final score.

So, as you prepare to step onto the strip, channel the spirit of Jacqueline Du Pre and harness the power of a smile. Let it be your constant companion, your ally in the pursuit of excellence. Smile when you put your fencing mask on, and smile when you take it off. For in the end, it’s not just about winning or losing—it’s about wholeheartedly participating in something you love. And that is the truest victory of all.

Petition to Fix the Summer Nationals Schedule

Dear Fencing Community,

I’ve just launched a petition that speaks to the hearts of fencers, parents, coaches, and clubs across the nation. This petition is a rallying cry for an immediate revision of the Summer Nationals schedule, and here’s why it’s so crucial.

The scheduling of national-level competitions has become riddled with issues that demand urgent attention. Take, for example, the April NAC in Men’s Epee, where the Senior Team event overlaps with Junior Men’s Epee. This year, we see a staggering drop in participation, with only 8 registered teams compared to the 30 teams that fenced the same event the year before (not clear that all eight teams will fence as usually some registrations scratch). This decline denies our fencers the opportunity to gain valuable experience and weakens our long-term prospects for developing competitive team fencing at the international level.

In the March NAC, events in the same weapon (for all weapons/genders) on the last day start simultaneously, creating insurmountable challenges for coaches to provide adequate strip coaching coverage.

Yesterday, the USFA released the Summer Nationals schedule, and after lengthy discussions with coaches, we’ve identified several issues that need urgent attention. Imagine gearing up for the biggest tournament of the year, only to be met with a schedule that forces you to make impossible choices.

Events overlap, conflicts arise, and the logistical nightmare becomes all too real. This isn’t just about inconvenience; it’s about the integrity of the competition, the development of our fencers, and the future of team fencing in the USA.

These issues affect fencers of all ages, from Y14 and up, in various weapons and genders, to our veterans who’ve dedicated years to the sport. It’s about ensuring that every fencer has the opportunity to compete at the national level and dream of representing the USA on the international stage.

As someone who has organized similarly complex events in the past, I understand the logistical complexities that the USFA team faces. It’s not easy and requires hours after hours of revisions and conflict resolution. While I sympathize with their challenges, I believe we can work towards a better schedule together.

That’s why I’m urging you to sign this petition, and to sign it now. We can’t afford to wait until it’s too late. The Summer Nationals registration is looming, and we need the USFA to take action ASAP. We need them to listen to our concerns, recognize the urgency of the situation, and implement the changes we so desperately need.

So, fellow fencers, coaches, parents, club owners, officials, and supporters of the sport, I implore you—don’t let this opportunity slip away. Sign the petition, share it far and wide, and let your voice be heard. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can ensure that the future of fencing in the USA is brighter than ever before.

I believe that by uniting behind this cause, the USFA will be compelled to take action and seek input from the community on how to improve the schedule. After all, we all share the same goal—to make fencing better. Let’s turn this belief into action and create a platform for collaboration.

Let’s do this.

Link to the petition:

Confidence in Fencing

Confidence in fencing and in live

Confidence in fencing is like that elusive goalpost in a game you’re always chasing after but never quite reach. It’s the magic ingredient that transforms a good fencer into a great one. You’ve probably heard fencing coaches shouting it from the sidelines like a mantra: “Confidence! Be confident!” But what exactly does it mean? And how do you actually get it?

Let me share a recent conversation I had with some of my fencers. They were disheartened after being eliminated from their competition earlier in the day. I reassured them that they possessed all the necessary physical skills and conditioning to excel. What was lacking, however, was that intangible quality – confidence.

So, what is confidence, really?

Picture this: You’re cruising down the road at 40 miles per hour, approaching an intersection. Suddenly, the traffic light ahead switches from green to blinking yellow. You have a split second to decide: do you speed up and cross the intersection or hit the brakes?

If you’re a confident driver, you don’t waste time second-guessing. You swiftly calculate the distance and timing, weighing it against your gut feeling about the yellow light’s duration. With unwavering certainty, you decide to glide through the intersection safely.

Now, contrast this with the uncertainty of an inexperienced or insecure driver. They hesitate, unsure whether to accelerate or brake. Their indecision could lead to a screeching halt at best or a dangerous encounter with oncoming traffic at worst.

But let’s add a twist to this scenario. What if, alongside the blinking yellow light, you spot a fast-approaching train from the right? Suddenly, the stakes are higher, the danger more palpable. Yet, the fundamental factors remain unchanged – speed, distance, and timing.

Confidence is about maintaining that same level of conviction even in the face of added challenges. It’s about executing your actions decisively and wholeheartedly, regardless of external circumstances.

In fencing, as in life, confidence can make or break you. It’s the difference between seizing victory and conceding defeat. You may possess all the technical skills and strategies, but without confidence, you’ll struggle to unleash their full potential.

Confidence in fencing isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s the lifeline that keeps you afloat amidst the swirling currents of competition. Do you remember the heat of a priority minute when you’re engaged in a fierce exchange with your opponent, every touch crucial as you battle for victory? Do you recall those nail-biting last two seconds of a bout with you one-touch behind or ahead of your opponent, where every movement counts, where a single touch could mean the difference between victory and defeat? Can you relive in your mind that pivotal moment just one round away from the medals, where the pressure is palpable, and the stakes couldn’t be higher?

In each of these scenarios, confidence isn’t just a luxury – it’s a necessity. It’s the force that delivers you that half inch of the distance you need for the touch, that split second to win the timing, those additional 10 grams of power to fully contract the spring and make the machine light up. It’s what separates the champions from the rest, allowing them to rise above the uncertainty and deliver when it matters most. So, when you step onto the strip, carry with you the unshakeable belief that you have what it takes to succeed and the unwavering belief in your abilities. Trust yourself, trust in your training, embrace the challenge, commit to your actions, and let your confidence propel you towards success.

And for those nitpickers pondering the legality of our traffic analogy, let’s just focus on the bigger picture here – confidence. After all, it’s the driving force behind every triumph, pun intended.

Image: Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0

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