Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Why You Need To Stop Checking Your Opponent’s Seeding

Why You Need To Stop Checking Your Opponent's SeedingFencing is a tough mental game that requires as much focus and concentration as it does physical strength and endurance. Many fencers wrongly believe that by continually checking other opponents seeding, they will somehow develop a leg up. That they will be able to assess some magic formula to figure out who they will play in the next round and sometimes even three or four rounds from now.

But to check your opponents seeding time and again means that you’re not focusing on the right thing. And instead, you are distracted.

Seeding Can Be Deceptive

Oftentimes younger fencers will feel the need to compare their own rating and seeding with others, assuming that if the seed is lower than theirs, that it could be an easy bout. They may even celebrate the victory before the bout started, and end up becoming quite surprised by a different outcome from a presumably easy bout.

Experienced fencers, however, know that seeding, in some cases, can be deceptive. Take for example what’s currently happening in the Senior Women’s Sabre level of competition.

After the Olympic Games in Rio, two of the worlds best sabre fencers took time off: Mariel Zagunis from the USA gave birth to her daughter, and Sofya Velikaya simply took a break from the sport.

Both returned to the competition recently and based on their seeding they were initially ranked “weak” opponents. Velikaya even lost all her previous points and entered the competition as unranked! They actually needed to fence in the pools (and I imagine they already forgot  a long time ago how to fence a five touch bout)!

However, as expected, they quickly rose through the ranks, out-fighting each of their opponents. Velikaya won Gold and Zagunis won Bronze in the Moscow Grand Prix, beating many higher ranked opponents on their way to the podium. The seeding was extremely deceptive in this case.

Another great example, which is rather unusual in modern fencing, is with the case of Arianna Errigo from Italy. Errigo is arguably one of the world’s top foil fencers of the last decade. She won the team gold and individual silver at the 2012 London Olympics, and won 8 World Championship Gold medals in team and individual events! She has so many medals and so much experience.

Last year Errigo surprised the world by announcing that she would compete in sabre as well. And guess what, a top ranked fencer is a top ranked fencer. She debuted on the sabre fencing scene as a last seed in the competition, and immediately showed her opponents that she would be as fierce of a competitor in sabre as she has been for over a decade in foil.

Also it’s important to remember that seeding happens twice during a competition: The initial seeding before the tournament and then final seeding after the pools.

Your initial seeding can change (as can your opponents) based on so many different things ranging from bad calls, to bad luck being placed with a stronger opponent (think about those who were fencing Velikaya and Zagunis in their pools!), to having a bad warm up or a hard time even waking up for the competition! It may be that you are seeded low, but with the right attitude, you could change that around by the time of the second seeding.

Checking Your Opponent’s Seeding Can Hurt Your Game

It’s certainly tempting to want to look ahead at whom you may be fighting against round after round, especially if you recognize many of the same fencers you’ve competed against before. Or if you’re new to competitive fencing, and have had early success, it’s easy to get sucked into the what-ifs and who’s next as you try to be a psychic and predict who you will fight in the next round.

To check your opponent’s seeding is relatively harmless in theory. That is, it doesn’t seem like it is really that big of a deal. Maybe the idea of checking your opponent’s seeding is a way to pass the time between bouts. But while you’re wasting time thinking about these calculations, you may not be able to help getting sucked into wishful thinking.

Perhaps this future opponent is someone you’ve fought against before, and you are ready for a re-match. Maybe it’s an opponent you’ve never fought but that you have heard rumors about and you’re excited for the challenge.

An opposite example is when you look at the fencer seeded higher than you, and you start to fear this bout, and mentally lose it before it can even start.

Yes, it might be that a higher seed would likely be consistently better and a low seed would be consistently not as good.

For example, when Race Imboden goes to fence at the nationals and you have him in a pool, chances are he will perform equally well throughout the whole day, and if you are among the lucky ones to have him in a pool, enjoy your bout. You might most probably lose it, but give it your best!

The reality is you cannot predict the future. And you cannot control who you will fight. And to try and do either is a dangerous slippery slope that will leave you more mentally exhausted than if you were to only focus on your preparation to the next bout.

Stop Checking Your Opponent’s Seeding

To be mentally tough, to be mentally strong in fencing, you must be 100% present in your immediate competition. If you are doing math in your head or looking around a room to evaluate who may be your next opponent if you win this bout and where they stand in the table, you are in actuality hurting your own potential standings. In some ways, you are helping your future opponent by thinking about them in a non-constructive way, and not yourself and what you need to do to win the bout.

I’ve often seen fencers crowd around the scoreboards, vying to see not just their own score and seeding, but to figure out who they’re going to fight against after that.

To focus on your future  opponent’s seeding, one that you may or may not fight against is sort of distraction. If you are thinking about your next fight, then that means you’re not thinking about the one you’re currently having. And that may end up costing you point after point and potentially end up losing the bout.

How To Avoid the Temptation of Trying to See the Future

Unfortunately, this game of what-ifs can be like an extremely contagious cold, passing from one fencer to the next. A spark of an idea to try and figure out what will happen next ignites a wave of fencers all trying to figure it out.  This paired with the adrenaline and the excitement of who they may fight can be egged on amongst a group of fencing friends. Even if you’ve avoided the speculation, your fencing friends may do it for you!

They could be excited for you, or they could try to give you pointers if it’s someone they’ve fought against. But even this seemingly harmless friendly banter can actually be harmful.

There is no way you can predict what will happen in the next bout or who you will fight against. Even if time, and again you’ve ended up against a particular fencer, you cannot know all the details that will go into them moving to the next round on this day. Bad mistakes may occur, bad calls can happen, or perhaps they had a lousy night sleep or didn’t get enough breakfast. They may not be fighting at their best, or they may be fighting against someone new who’s actually better!

You cannot control anyone other than yourself.

The best and only way to minimize your distractions is to focus 100% on the present moment.  There are many ways to do this, and we’ve written about some of these in past posts.

But the bottom line is, if you are finding yourself distracted in a negative way, such as by focusing on a future opponent, then you must find a routine that you can use to distract you positively.

Listen to music. Breathe. Meditate. Practice. Warm up (but don’t overexert yourself). Practice visualization exercises if that’s part of your training.

You can only fence one point at a time, one bout at a time, and it’s worthless and a waste of time and energy to focus on something that you cannot control, such as the seeding of your next fight.

How to Help Your Child to Stay Present

If your child has become obsessed with calculating other fencers seeding or scores, do your best to discourage this and explain to them that this will not help them fight better or win their next competition. It will only distract them from their actual abilities to compete.

You can introduce different tactics to them including meditation if that’s something they’re not familiar with. Or visualization. You can also hang out with them, while they wait for their next match (not that you wouldn’t be anyway) and talk to them about things entirely unrelated to fencing.

As you continue to improve your fencing game, the challenges of mental toughness become more difficult to regulate and to handle as usually it also means that the stakes are higher. But by having a few tools in your belt for how to deal with things like obsessing about a future competition, you’ll be so much further ahead of those opponents who might still be checking their future opponents seeding


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  1. R

    At a ’90s Summer Nationals, I didn’t know who my DE opponent was until bout’s end, when I discovered I beat National Champion Nick Bravin! I would have been mentally-defeated if I had known at bout’s start.

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