As your child advances and grows within the sport of fencing, they will encounter physical and mental hurdles that will be difficult, but not impossible to overcome. They will become stronger. They will become more competitive. But surprisingly, there is one hurdle that many parents and fencers do not anticipate, until they are met with it: Aging into a new age category of fencing, and eventually, aging out of youth competitions altogether.
Moving Up Into A New Age Category
Often, when your child performs well within a younger age category, it does not automatically mean they will do well once they transfer into an older age category. Skill sets are not age-dependent, and it should not be assumed that a high-level competitor in a Y10 will automatically be a high performing fencer in Y12.
There are many reasons for this:
- As a child advances in age categories they go from being the oldest in their category, to the youngest.
- An older age category will inherently be a more difficult one because their opponents are stronger in every sense.
- Sometimes, varying lengths of weapons will come into play and with that children ability to efficiently handle longer weapon. For example, in the 10 years category they were fencing with #0 or #2 weapons, and once they move into the Y12 category, they will be working with #4 or #5 blades, which some kids struggle with at the beginning.
- The lengths of bouts are different as well. A Y10 competition will last for ten touches and two periods. A Y12 bout will go for 15 touches and three periods. The physicality involved to maintain this longer level of competition is hard to adjust to at the start, especially when your child did not have enough Y12 experience when they were Y10 fencers.
Each of these reasons, and more can pose new and complicated challenges to young fencers anxious to ride the high of success from their younger category.
How This Change Can Affect Your Child
Psychologically speaking it can be discouraging to be ranked very high in a Y10 or Y12 category, only to drop down to a much lower seeding in the next level up. It can feel as if you have to start all over again. And then in two years or so, the cycle repeats all over again. What’s the point?
Fencers will put an intense amount of pressure on themselves to try and play “catch up” to be where they once were. They remember how well they did last year and they want to perform equally as well, if not better.
Sometimes this pressure can also come from their peers and even from their parents. Particularly if they are a stand out fencer with a lot of potential for great success. They are expected to perform well. It’s almost as if their peers and parents have forgotten that the shift into a new age category is quite difficult and requires patience to be able to play at the same level they once were.
What If They Performed Well In A Higher Age Category Last Season?
Watching this drop can be depressing, and create a massive amount of perceived pressure both from themselves and their parents. They may start questioning everything from their skills, to their coach, to their club!
In fact, this post was actually inspired by the amount of meetings and conversations I’ve been having over the years with parents about this topic. I even met with a parent a few weeks ago who cannot understand why her child is not performing as well as last season. It happens a lot.
The transition is hard, and it’s important to be as patient as possible.
Perhaps a Y10 fencer competed in Y12 in an regional competition and did very well, even ranking highly or ending up on a podium. Once they officially make the transition to Y12 though, it can be a different story. They may see their results drop as well as their seeding.
This is far more common than not because there are so many things happening in a fencer’s young mind as they grow and develop. When kids fence up, they do not have huge expectations for themselves or their performance. They may even surprise themselves by placing highly. Especially if they expect to lose. They often fence without even thinking about it, even relaxing into an expectation that they will lose and instead, reach excellent results!
When they make the official move to an older age category they put enormous pressure on themselves to succeed as they did when they were in a younger category, and as a result, often do much worse!
Pressure from Parents
Unfortunately, pressure from a fencer’s parents can often be the most intense. Parents invest a lot of money and time and have done so for many months or years. You may feel as if you deserve to see the results of that investment paying off with success on the strip, mainly if you’ve seen your fencer perform well when it was unexpected.
You and your fencer may also be watching other “super fencers” who seem to transition without any struggle at all. They may have been stars in their previous age category, and quickly become stars in their new age category. These fencing prodigies are the exception to the rule and not that common. They are not the norm, and you, nor your fencer should expect the same to happen to you.
Kids do not understand why they cannot be like these prodigies and sometimes parents cannot understand why their kids aren’t the same (particularly if they receive the same coaching and experiences.) We are all built with our specific talents, abilities, and limitations. It is important to recognize both yours as a parent, and your child’s to help encourage their self-confidence and motivation to continue the sport they love.
Whenever your child is frustrated with their performance, it’s also important to take a step back, and remember that they are going through a significant transition. They will eventually get stronger, faster, better. Your pressure will not expedite that process.
Maturity As Your Fencer Moves Up
As your child moves from the youth categories into cadet and junior categories, it presents an entirely different challenge. Moving into these categories of fencing is often almost like a whole new game. The level of maturity of the competitors, as well as the age gap, now is even more noticeable. They will always be the youngest and thus the least experienced.
It is possible to have a five, or even six- year difference between your child and their opponent in a Junior category. Depending on how old your child is, this could severely impact their performance, the way they handle their mental game, and the sheer physicality required to keep up.
How You Can Help Your Child As They Age Up
Your child may have a bad season, and it is far more common that this happens once they transition into a new age category. It is okay for them to have a bad season. And it is your responsibility as their parent to help them cope with the loss, perceivable degradation in their performance, and help them learn tools to manage their stress.
Fencing is a lifelong sport, and learning how to deal with setbacks early on will prepare them to better experience them in the future.
When it comes to watching other fencers perform well, it’s also important to try and limit comparisons. Everyone is different, and your child can only control their specific performance on the strip.
You can help them by explaining the difficulties outlined in this post of moving into an older age category. Talk to your coach. Prepare a plan to have more successful competitions in the future by addressing what you’ve learned from having a not-so-great season.
Perhaps setting specific goals within fencing (i.e., endurance goals, acquiring a certain number of new techniques, etc.) instead of setting goals for seeding or placing can be more attainable, and provide more option for actual measurable growth.
Take it one move at a time, one bout at a time.
It’s hard to watch your child go through any kind of disappointment. As the saying goes, “ You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.” As your child prepares to move to a new age category, begin having realistic talks with them about your expectations, as well as theirs.
Be patient, with yourself, with your child, with your coaches, and clubs. No one wants to see someone struggling or even failing in the sport they love and work so hard to play. By emphasizing growth through strength, training, and mental toughness, you and your fencer may see the results you are actually hoping for.