“You must feel a lot of pressure from parents to ‘guarantee’ the success of their child,” a parent in our club said to me the other day.
Youth sports in general put a lot of pressure on both kids and on organizations to do more and to be more. Indeed, there are definitely people out there who think that if they are paying for lessons and equipment it should “guarantee” that their child reaches a certain level of success in a given sport. It’s an unfortunate side effect of a culture in which we tend to think that we can buy anything if we put enough cash on the table. With fencing, and with any kind of endeavor in life, money doesn’t mean success. You could spend more money than your opponent, be paying the highest rate for the best coaches, and train in the most deluxe fencing facility in the world and still lose. We see this even at the elite level – more resources don’t always equate to a win.
Of course as a club we want to make sure that each child’s potential is maximized. We always try to do the best we can, both from the standpoint of our goals and parent’s goals. That’s not a question in the slightest.
The question really is – what can we as a fencing club deliver to parents and to fencers?
Deliverables and achievement
Whose responsibility is it for a child to become successful in fencing? What does success even mean? What if we rethink what deliverables we are guaranteeing to our fencers and their families?
The bottom line is that we do deliver certain things to our fencers, things that we can absolutely guarantee they will get when they train here. When you pay for fencing lessons and invest both money and time into fencing competition, you will get things in return. These are measurable, tangible products that come from what you put into the sport.
This parent helped me to think about this in a different way, because he saw what his child was getting out of fencing. He showed me why they were willing to financially support their child in this sport, and it didn’t have anything to do with the hardware around their kid’s neck.
Improved health, both mental and physical
This is the first and foremost thing that fencers gain, and it all flows out from here. More than any medal or trophy, the holistic improvement in health is the most tangible thing that you are paying for in fencing training. Both mental and physical health are difficult for modern parents to foster, thanks to the rise of the digital age and the decline of activity. This is especially true in the wake of the pandemic.
The development of personal responsibility and independence is critical to young people progressing and living successful lives. This is a backbone of parenting, the big wish that we all are working towards. We want our children to become independent and step out away from us when the time is right. This doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen with time and training. Learning to throw your fencing gear together quickly and to discipline yourself to get out of bed to train, how to advocate for yourself and how to balance your commitments, these are skills that we must foster in our kids for them to grow up well. Fencing teaches all of these skills and it all adds up to increased personal responsibility.
Goal setting & pursuit
For young people to get where they want to go in life, they have to learn to set and pursue goals. They might not always achieve those goals, but they have to learn what the process of striving for them looks like or they won’t ever be able to achieve anything. You can’t do it if you don’t try. Fencers, if they are to progress forward, learn how to write down what they want and then to make it manifest. If you don’t make it to Fencing Summer Nationals or Junior Olympics this year, that does not mean you stop pursuing that goal. One of the best things about fencing is that it is a lifelong sport, so the timeline for performance is not pressured in the same way as it is in some other sports. This gives fencers a broader view of goal setting.
Sometimes parents think that they are paying for fencing and that means their child is entitled to win. In fact, one of the most tangible things that fencing delivers to young people is the ability to overcome loss, and that is much more important than the ability to win. Sure, everyone could get a trophy, but that would not prepare them for life. There are moments to challenge authority and there are moments to accept defeat, and this is a life lesson that can only be learned through experience. The most important part of this deliverable is that we show kids that loss does not mean being worthless – your value is so much more than your rating or your standing.
A moral compass comes first from parents, but it must be reinforced by the outside world if a child is going to grow into an ethical and hardworking adult. Learning to stand up for what’s right, to be strong in the face of temptation, and to have empathy for others comes from being in an environment that fosters these values. Fencing is a wholesome sport, and by and large it is positive standards that are emphasized in our sport. Interacting with adults like coaches, parents, referees, and even opponents help kids to find their way and discover what is good and what is not so good in human interaction. These relationships are building fencers up and helping them grow.
Learning that success is fleeting
For everything there is a season, and in anything success is fleeting. It only takes a few minutes for that high feeling of winning to settle down, even though it may glow for a long time. The memory of the feeling of standing on the podium is really all that we are left with, and that’s ok. Talent alone will not assure you a top finish, and hard work can take you only so far. Fencers learn to combat complacency, to push their boundaries, and listen to their bodies in pursuit of something that is so much sweeter than victory. Disappointment and frustration will always come back around, even when you think they are banished forever in that glowing moment of victory.
This parent told me that for him, as long as his children love fencing and get all of those things above from the sport, he is the happiest of fencing parents.
This all resonates with me so well. As the father of four fencers, none of which is a frequent visitor to national podiums, I can tell myself the least important dimension in success is their medals.
This particular parent had a lot of great and unexpected insight, but then I guess I should expect it from my fencing parents by now. Our community constantly challenges us to do more and to be more, and often this happens in directions that we didn’t expect. This whole exchange got me thinking about the other dimensions of success, the ones I already knew but that I don’t usually think about on a normal day. Usually, we are thinking about the practice and the work, the next competition and the current goals that a fencer has for their form or their footwork.
What do we deliver in fencing? We deliver personal growth and opportunity. That’s more exciting than just about anything else money can buy.