Fencing isn’t for everyone. We don’t assume that it is, and we don’t expect anyone to stay with it should they figure out that it’s not their thing. But how can you know that it’s not your thing? When is the right time to quit fencing? How do you know that you’re quitting for the right reasons?
There is a very simple answer to this: quit fencing only when you’re winning.
What? Isn’t the whole thing that if your child isn’t winning in fencing, then it’s time to let it go? NO! Not a all. If your child is losing in fencing, if they’re constantly struggling, then that’s the time to dig in and stick it out. It might not be that they don’t like fencing, it might be that they don’t like losing. Which is a fair thing to not like! (It’s a fair thing not to like fencing as well, we don’t judge.)
There are all kinds of reasons why it’s a bad idea to give up when you are knocked down, but the words of Rocky Balboa stick with me when I think about quitting when you’re losing.
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.“ – Rocky Balboa
If you quit while you’re behind, you’re robbing yourself of your ability to get back up again. That goes for letting your child quit when they’re behind too. This is a solid bit of wisdom that great fencing parents know, and it’s a bit of advice that we’ve seen in action right in our own club.
Great advice from a great mom
A few years ago, I had one mom whose son wanted to quit fencing. He’d been around for a while, and at this point he had decided that he didn’t want to do it anymore. Mind you, this was a great mom. One of those fencing moms who supported him in the things he wanted to do, intervened reasonably, encouraged him to find balance.
But when he asked to quit, she told him no.
This was a bit of a shocker. This wasn’t the kind of mom who forced her opinions on her kids. She’d always been empathetic. He’d been persistent about wanting to leave fencing behind, and he definitely didn’t enjoy it like he used to. Why not let him find something else he was passionate about? The reason she wouldn’t let him quit is precisely because she WAS listening to him! And also that she knew a little bit about life and the importance of seeing things through.
“Why do you want to quit fencing?” she asked him.
“I don’t like fencing anymore. I’m not good at it like I used to be and I’ve had a long streak of bad tournaments,” he replied.
It’s when he said this that she offered him a way out of fencing if he wanted to go.
“Ok. You can quit fencing. But only after you start winning your competitions.”
She did not let him quit, she told me, because she didn’t wanted him to quit when he was unsuccessful or it was difficult for him. This was the path to developing a quitter mentality, and that’s not the kind of person she thought he was. She knew he could be better than a quitter! If he really didn’t like fencing anymore, then he wouldn’t like it when he was losing or when he was winning. A temporary lack of success in competition is not a reason to make a permanent decision to quit something.
So he didn’t quit. He came to class. He did his private lessons. His mom drove him to tournaments and he went up against new and old opponents. By the end of the season, this young man was frequently at the top of competitive field, often winning a medal in his age category.
Now that it was clear that he was winning again, that the norm in fencing for him had become defeating his opponent rather than being constantly defeated, his mom asked him again.
“Great job! Now I guess it’s time for you to give up fencing. We’ll find something else for you to do,” she told him now that he had fulfilled her requirement.
“No wait, mom I don’t want to quit anymore! I want to keep fencing,” he replied to her.
As this is a true story, it has a true outcome. This boy is now a young man, and he’s a fine cadet fencer. He still trains, he still competes, and he still loses sometimes. But when he loses, even when he has a streak of losses, he doesn’t want to quit. Now when he loses, this young man digs in and becomes more motivated to succeed.
Resilience is what we’re teaching!
It’s easy to confuse difficulty in the short term for a long term desire to leave a situation. That’s not just something that’s true with fencing, it’s something that’s true with life! Don’t let your child quit because of a challenge they are facing. This mom absolutely did the right thing and gave her child the right guidance. We’re lucky now that we get to benefit from it!
If you let your child quit fencing when it becomes difficult, they are going to want to do that in other areas of life. They’ll want to quit music when they struggle to play that cello piece. They’re going to want to quit scouts when they can’t make that fire without matches on the first try. They’re going to want to quit art when their first painting looks like a tree instead of a lighthouse. They’re going to want to quit college when it’s hard to get up and get to class on time without mom there to set the alarm. This is a pattern that goes on and on. While it might seem like it’s a small thing to let that twelve year old bail out of fencing after two seasons because they are struggling to be successful, it’s not a small thing. It’s part of a larger pattern.
Follow through isn’t just about teaching responsibility either, it’s about teaching kids how to find true happiness. Happiness and fulfillment don’t come easily, they are the product of discipline and pushing yourself. Life is full of “unsuccessful” experiences and difficult choices, quitting these choices when it is too hard is not a right approach. Quit only when you are on top – then you know you do that because it is your choice and not your weakness.
When you push your child, or yourself, to stick with fencing until you’re winning, you’re getting to the root of the issue and building that resilience. So often our brightest victories are just on the other side of defeat. And just as we have found in the case with that fencer, you might well find that when you overcome the challenge that you like the activity even more!