As a parent, you want your child to have the best of both worlds – a great education and the opportunity to excel in their chosen sport of fencing.
One of the things that participating in a sport like fencing gives (or should give) kids is a sense of equilibrium. Life shouldn’t be all about school and family responsibilities, just as it shouldn’t be all about work and family responsibilities for parents. (FYI – fencing for adults has the same benefits as fencing for kids.)
Unfortunately, life can devolve into our just checking things off of endless to-do lists that don’t hold much meaning anymore. This happens to kids and teenagers, too. Go to school. Go to fencing practice. Go to bed. Eat breakfast. Compete in a fencing tournament.
The problem here is that we lose all perspective. What’s it all for if you’re just checking off boxes? How can young fencers find more meaning in both their fencing and their academic work? One way that has worked for a lot of people is to use the rule of three to create a synergy in their lives that helps them stay connected.
Dividing life into thirds
How can we find balance in life when we’re so off kilter?
This is where the rule of three comes in for living a full and enriching life. It’s also called the 8-8-8 rule, which stands for the split of time if you break your 24 hour day into three equal parts. One third of your time (8 hours) is spent sleeping, one third (8 hours) in work or school, and one third (8 hours) is social and leisure activities.
- Social/ leisure
Fencing falls into the category of social/ leisure time. When we look at it in this view, it shifts fencing from being another chore to being something that we choose to do that offers us enrichment outside of the ambition of education.
Now, we of course want our kids to enjoy learning in school and to not think of it as a grind, but school is more akin to the responsibility of work because kids have to participate in it just as we have to participate in our jobs. We all should strive to find a job that makes us happy and that we don’t dread going to every day, but there are times when we have to just suck it up and do it anyway. For kids, they’ll have to go to that math class or that history class that they don’t enjoy and just get it done for now, with the idea that they’re banking autonomy for college when they will have more choice in what they study.
Back to the rule of three, though.
How you put things into these three categories is important, and we don’t want to get overly focused on scheduling every bit of time into one of these areas – that just adds more stress. Hygiene and eating can be spread across them, though a big meal with a group of friends would go into social time and a pizza party at school would go into work/school time. Whatever the primary place is that an activity fits, that’s where it should land. For kids, this is simple because they don’t have responsibilities outside of school and extracurricular activities.
Take a minute to evaluate your own life before you start working on your kids. This is harder for adults than it is for kids, as we’ve got all of the child raising responsibilities that have to come from somewhere. Parents, we must fill our cup before we can have anything to put in anyone else’s! Our kids will model our behavior more than they will listen to what we tell them to do, so we need to model it as best we can for everyone’s sake.
For parents especially, thinking of the rule of thirds over a week instead of a day can help. The eight hours of sleep should be non-negotiable, but some of that enrichment time for yourself will naturally happen on the days of the week that you aren’t working and likewise some of that responsibility will move to those days off from work as well. Your parenting responsibilities will sometimes fall into leisure and sometimes fall into work.
Once you have gotten your own understanding of applying the rule of three to your life, you can sit down with your young fencer to help them make sense of it. How are they achieving an equilibrium between rest, responsibility, and enrichment? This can be a real tool of empowerment for kids who are in need of more
Reclaim time and mental energy
More than ever, kids today are pulled in many directions. Not just kids, but adults too. There’s less downtime and more stuff than ever before, so making sense of it all is not always easy. A lot of that time that should be about enrichment, leisure, and social time is sucked up into our devices.
We were all increasingly isolated in the wake of the pandemic. Post-pandemic, most of us have not yet fully recovered to being as social in person as we were before, and screen time is now embedded into our way of life in such a way that it’s hard to imagine unwinding it. This is especially true for kids, who were at such a formative age when all of that happened. Socialization and education both happened through a glowing box, and everything got unbalanced.
One key to giving kids the right tools to handle both fencing and their education is to recognize the patterns of other activities, particularly screen-related activities. While cutting down screen time isn’t a direct line to having all the time we want for fencing and academics, it will go a long way to freeing headspace and reducing stress. It’s not about totally cutting out video games, YouTube videos, and (for older kids) social media, but it is about helping them see how much mental energy that screen time takes away from other things.
Where does fencing fit?
Fencing for many kids, especially high achieving kids, slips over into the “work/school” category because of the pressure they put on themselves and the pressure that’s sometimes exerted on them by authority figures.
This sport should firmly fall into the category of enrichment and leisure. This should be something that fills a space of joy and growth for kids, not something that makes them feel weighted down. While fencing can absolutely support their goals in the future and help them get into college or achieve big dreams, those dreams and goals should flow out of their love of the sport.
When we make fencing something that they “have to” do, that robs kids of their ability to enjoy it. For them, it transfers over from the enrichment category to the work category, and that’s why they get unbalanced.
Fencing fills multiple needs. It’s social time thanks to the strong group dynamic of fencing clubs. Though this is an individual sport, longlasting and deep relationships are built with fellow fencers. Encourage your child to build positive relationships with their teammates, as this will create a supportive environment both on and off the fencing strip. One of the great things about doing an afterschool activity like fencing is that it connects kids with other kids who have similar interests but who are also varied in their backgrounds. This offers the opportunity for kids to expand their social circle, which is deeply enriching.
Fencing is something that kids don’t strictly have to do, even if they are competing at the elite level. You might think of all the time and effort that would be wasted if they walked away, but compare it to school and the consequences of dropping out there. This is why fencing and academics are not the same thing, and that’s a strength. Thinking about it in the context of the rule of three, you can see why this belongs in its own category.
The importance of sleep
We’ve written on this blog before about the importance of sleep, so we won’t go deeper into it here, but suffice it to say that the 8 hours of sleep is non negotiable.
Kids actually need more than 8 hours of sleep, though we know from studies that they don’t get it on the whole. It’s not until the teenage years that 8 hours becomes the minimum requirement for sleep each night. School is eight hours long, so those extra two or three sleep hours every day come out of leisure time. That’s why we bank that time for the weekends.
We’ve already talked here about how important it is that you as parents take care of yourself as well, and if you’re not getting enough sleep then we encourage you to think about the rule of three. Balance for everyone in your family helps you to make the best of your life together.
If a child or teenager is struggling to get enough sleep, that’s something to work on immediately. Improving this aspect of your child’s life will directly support everything else.
Academic work should be a priority
Hustle culture can put a real pressure on everyone to go-go-go until that’s all they’re doing. Fencing tends to be a sport of high achieving academic kids (though this isn’t a rule at all!), so we see a lot of fencers who are going hard to keep a lot of balls in the air. This is especially true for academic work.
Though fencing can be a great way for your child to stay active and learn discipline, it cannot come at the expense of their education. Work with your child’s school to create a schedule that allows them to fence and still get their work done. It’s ok to multitask and study on the trip to an NAC or to read a school book at the club when you’re waiting for your private lesson to start, but you can’t pack it all in too tight. Maximizing time can feel good when it works, but kids can’t go 24/7 (none of us can!).
Staying connected with your child’s school can be a big help in this department. When teachers are aware that kids are doing heavy extracurricular activities like big fencing tournaments, they can work with kids to get the academic work done. A clear line of communication with your kid’s school will go a long way, especially if your child is a high achiever.
Fencing is absolutely a way to power up your child’s ability to manage their time, stay active, and learn discipline, but that only works if those skills are actually supporting their schooling.
Good planning is essential
In order to execute the rule of three effectively, the right kind of planning is a must.
Work with your child’s fencing coach to come up with a training schedule that fits around their school timetable and allows them to get the rest they need. It’s often possible to switch to a different fencing tournament to achieve the same outcome in terms of qualification for Summer Nationals, or to move a private lesson so that there’s less strain on the school day.
Oftentimes we get stuck in the habit of whatever schedule we’re in, even when it’s not working for us anymore. That open fencing night that your child has been attending for the last two years was great for them, but now that they have a different academic load it might be out of balance with their school work on that night.
Fencing can be a challenging and demanding sport, which is why it is important to set up a time-in/time-out system for your child. This will help them focus on their fencing while still being able to balance other activities. It’s often a relief for kids to look at things from this perspective, because they can see how their lives will make sense while they can still do the things that they want to do.
You can try this simple planning activity with your kids to help them see where their time is going. Have them do the steps for themselves, but it really works best if you do it together so that they can see you model how you spend your time too. You’ll be surprised by what you learn!
- List out the activities that you do over a week’s time by the hours that you do them, rounding to a quarter hour. School, studying, fencing practice, work, commuting, chores, hygiene, cooking, eating, sleeping, screen time.
- Get out some highlighters or markers and color code each item with a different color for each of the three areas we’ve talked about – work/school, enrichment/social, sleep.
- Discuss how balanced you are and what changes you could make to bring your life more in line with the rule of three.
If you want to extend this activity, you can not just guess what you’re doing with your time, but you can actually log it over the course of a week. This method will help you get a real time understanding of what you’re doing with your days.
Take note that this should not be an exercise in hard core control over every minute of every day, not for you as a parent and not for the child. The goal is to gain insight into and control over how you spend your time, not to get stressed out.
Look for ways to make positive adjustments in the schedule, and most importantly, allow kids to find those ways independently.
The future is brighter with balance
Teenagers especially, but all kids these days, can easily go down the path of feeling a huge amount of pressure on the choices they make when they’re kids.
We’ve all heard teenagers say “If I don’t get good grades and succeed in my extracurricular activities, I won’t get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college, I won’t be able to make enough money. If I can’t make enough money, I’ll ruin my life.”
Though we think of teenagers being a little over the top, this doesn’t actually sound that different from the way adults talk when they refuse to slow down. Going harder won’t necessarily make things better, it will just burn young people out. We see this all too often in elite sports. When a fencer flames out of the sport because they were pushing beyond their limits, it’s not good for anyone. If instead, we encouraged the right kinds of priorities, we would lose fewer fencers and grow them in healthier ways.
When it comes to raising kids, we should always take a long term view. What skills are you giving them that will transfer from now into adulthood?
The skills that we’re teaching kids right now are the things that will carry them through when they’re struggling as adults. If we can help them lay a strong foundation of prioritizing their needs with the things they want to do, then they’ll be better able to create the life they want to.
All too often, kids today are out of balance in their lives. We see this more and more with the rise of discontent in teenagers and younger kids, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Fencing can be a positive support for kids who need to find an active form of engagement with their world.
The rule of 3 is all about giving life its proper balance. Nothing should be all consuming, not fencing, not rest, and not school work. Finding ways to ground ourselves and structure life for success is good for fencing, but it’s also good for life.
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