Strategies to Help Youth Fencers Learn to Trust Their Skills

Building trust in your skills is a crucial skill for young fencers to learn to perform their best. Often, we see kids who come to class, work hard, enjoy the sport, but then they struggle to believe that they can do it in competition.

This can be truly challenging when kids make that cross into tournament fencing. The intimidation of putting themselves out there against unknown opponents is not easy, and it requires a level of confidence or a leap of faith. 

Part of the problem is that kids sometimes struggle with their emotions when they don’t perform the way they think they should. For example, a fencer who has been doing great in their fencing bouts in class can then get into a competition and find that they aren’t doing as well against new opponents as they expected to. This can quickly erode their confidence in their ability, even when their coach and team are telling them that the transition is going well. 

Imposter syndrome is something that we see increasingly with athletes. Despite the fact that they are performing well in fencing, they assume that it’s just a fluke and not indicative of their real skill level. They jump to the assumption that they are doing well because their opponent happens to be having a bad day or because they just found a random flow in their fencing. Kids (and adults for that matter) are happier when they learn to own their talent and growth. 

We can help these young athletes move to the next level in their fencing lives by giving them strategies to learn to trust their skills. 

Strategy #1 – Positive Self Talk

The person that kids talk to the most is themselves. Though the social interactions with parents, siblings, teachers, fellow fencers, and others have an impact, it’s the way that they talk about themselves that carries the most weight. 

We must encourage youth athletes to practice positive self-talk. This involves replacing self-doubt or negative thoughts with positive and affirming statements. 

“I am a strong fencer who is growing with every match” versus “I can’t do this because I’m not getting good fast enough.” “Everyone loses a match sometimes, and it’s ok for me to” versus “I lost the match and so I must be no good at fencing.” 

Talking about the inner monologue is important. Oftentimes, kids don’t even realize how they talk about themselves until we bring it up. It can start with saying things out loud, and of course, the way that we talk to fencers about their skill is important as well. This can help build confidence and reinforce belief in their abilities. Teach them to focus on their strengths, past successes, and the hard work they have put into developing their skills.

This dovetails with visualization and mental rehearsal, which can help support positive self-talk.  Fencers can visualize themselves performing their skills successfully in their mind’s eye, crafting the way that they see themselves. This mental rehearsal helps create a positive image and reinforces belief in their abilities. Vividly imagining executing their skills with precision, confidence, and success will also help them to improve their performance practically. It’s definitely a win-win.

Strategy #2 – Process over product

We repeat this over and over on the blog and in our club, but that’s because it’s so, so important. Whether you get to a podium or win a match is not something that you can control entirely. We do our best, we practice hard, and then we have to trust that the outcome will be authentic. 

Young fencers should set process-oriented goals that focus on skill development, effort, and improvement rather than just winning or specific results. By focusing on the controllable factors, they can build confidence in their ability to execute the skills they’re developing through all that practice and all those private lessons effectively.

This is where the training really comes in. Consistent and deliberate practice is essential for skill development and building trust in a fencer’s own ability. Dedicated practice sessions, private lessons, and open fencing all work together to support the development of athletic skill and reinforce their technical abilities. As they see their skills improving through consistent practice, their confidence in their abilities will naturally grow. 

The big growth points don’t happen in competition – they happen in the club. The podium and the medals are only an acknowledgment of what has happened throughout the process. 

Strategy #3 – Setting realistic expectations

Youth fencers need to set realistic expectations for themselves. It takes years to develop into a champion fencer, and there’s no way to rush the process. Unrealistic expectations can lead to self-doubt and frustration. By setting achievable goals and recognizing progress, fencers will gain confidence in their abilities and trust the incremental growth they experience over time. 

We can help support this by giving them lots of feedback along the way. Fencers need feedback from coaches, mentors, experienced fencers, and their parents. Constructive feedback provides valuable insights for improvement and helps them trust their skills by identifying areas of strength and areas that need work. Both seeing the good and seeing the bad are important. We can’t keep kids in a bubble because they know that’s not real. Mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities rather than failures, as they contribute to growth across all areas.

We must encourage our youth fencers to embrace challenges and step outside their comfort zones. By taking on new experiences in the sport, trying different movements and learning about what works for them and what doesn’t, they’re able to test their skills and prove to themselves that they are capable of performing in various situations in fencing. Each successful challenge helps build trust in their skills. This kind of cyclical learning is exactly what the best fencers benefit from and how we have to help them progress. 

That being said, we also need to celebrate successes, both big and small. Recognizing their achievements boosts their confidence and reinforces their trust in their skills. They have to hear it from you. Personal bests and displays of improvement are part of the goal-setting process that really boosts fencers growth. 

Consistency is key

Building trust in one’s skills takes time and consistent effort. It also takes a whole group of people to raise strong fencers who believe in themselves, and that’s exactly what we’re here for. When there are hard days, we can build them up to believe in themselves. Learning to take the good and the bad without falling down takes time. 

By implementing these strategies and providing a supportive environment, we can help our young fencers develop confidence and trust in their abilities, enabling them to perform at their best. We all want to see our fencers succeed, but in the end they have to learn to do it on their own.