Sometimes, what we see doesn’t line up with what people say. What do you do when the words of the coach don’t make sense with what you see happening on the piste?
If you’re a parent who doesn’t have a history in fencing, this can be all the more confusing and frustrating. Though you might observe matches, watch videos, and read blogs, fencing is not a sport that’s quite as clearly defined as something like basketball or soccer, where you can clearly see that the ball gets points. All fencers lose points, and the intense vigor of the sport can make it difficult to see the progress a fencer is making when they are indeed making progress.
What happens if you can’t see how a fencer is moving forward? Is your child really a potential Olympian, or is that just something the coach says to all the kids? It can be confusing and challenging when a fencing coach provides feedback that is different from what you observe about your child’s abilities.
Consider Your Child’s Development
The first real question to address is this – does it matter if your child is going to be the greatest fencer of all time? What are the goals that you and your child have, and how do those goals dovetail with what’s happening in the fencing club and also with what’s really possible?
Keep in mind that youth sports, in general, works best for kids when it’s focused on development and improvement. If you’re looking at a goal that’s eight or ten years away, then you’re putting the focus on something that’s so far away as not to have a real impact on today. By this same token, if your child’s fencing coach says “your kid is gonna be a great fencer”, but your child isn’t winning all of their matches, it might well be that they are doing great for where they’re supposed to be developmentally.
Another important point to think about here is that your child’s abilities will change over time. It’s also important to consider that different children develop at different rates. Your child might be losing a lot right now to kids in their age category that are taller and stronger than they are because kids grow and mature at different rates.
When your child has a seeming dip in their performance in competition or they experience a plateau, it’s more likely than not that they’re still on track. Their coach can see things that you don’t, like longtime patterns of development.
Regardless of the coach’s perspective, it’s important to encourage your child and to help them build confidence in their abilities. This can include focusing on their strengths, celebrating their accomplishments, and helping them to build resilience. You can do this while at the same time understanding the long game that’s at play for your child.
From a developmental standpoint, focusing on effort rather than outcome is where we should be for kids. If they keep on trying to improve, they’ll get better over time. If we saddle them with lofty goals that are unattainable, or if we forecast that the most important thing is the outcome, then we rob them of resilience and the freedom to fail. We learn more from failure than we do from success, and failure is a natural part of life. Allowing kids the opportunity to fail gives them the space to grow.
The enjoyment of fencing is the other thing that parents need to prioritize. It’s ok to be a recreational fencer and just enjoy the sport in that capacity. It’s ok to be a competitive fencer who goes to regional competitions or local competitions – those are still fun places to be on the spectrum of playing youth sports. It’s ok to go all the way to Summer Nationals and not place at the top – you can still really enjoy the competition.
Instead of focusing solely on winning, encourage your child to focus on their effort, their improvement, and their enjoyment of the sport. By focusing on these priorities, your child can build a love for fencing that will last a lifetime, and that’s what it’s really about anyway. Everything else is just gravy.
Remember, it’s all about your child!
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that fencing is about more than just what happens on the podium. Winning and losing are such a small, small part of the process.
Your coach might say that your child has Olympic potential, but you might not see it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there – it could be that you coach sees the bigger picture.
Fencing is about helping children to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally, and to build a love for this sport that will carry along with them throughout their life. By keeping this perspective in mind and working closely with your child’s fencing coach, you can help your child to have a positive and enjoyable experience, no matter where they end up.