The nature of competitive sports is to widdle the field down from a large group of competitors to just one, that one being the final victor, the champion of the competition.
We tend to put a lot of focus on that victor, the end person who takes the top medal home. That’s where the glory is! The last stage of fencing competition, the direct elimination rounds, is exciting because the stakes feel high. To be fair, the stakes are high in the final rounds of competition. In the DE rounds, one wrong move can easily lead to being done with the dream of making it to the top of that podium.
The problem with putting all of that emphasis on the DE is that it ignores the importance of the pool rounds. The pools are radically important for fencers. The high stakes of the DE might feel more important, but sometimes feeling can be deceptive.
Advancement and seeding
The pool rounds have a significant impact on the outcome of a fencing competition, but their importance extends beyond that.
Let’s start with seeding. The pools determine how fencers will be seeded for the direct elimination. Who ends up on the other side of the strip has everything to do with the outcome of a competition. If you get on the other side of a fencer who isn’t what you want, then you’ll find yourself having a much tougher battle than you want to. Mastering the pools means mastering the seeding for the DE, which is critical for overall success.
Advancement is the other side of importance for the pool rounds. At the national level, 75-80% of fencers advance out of the pools. That means that one in four or one in five fencers is not even going to make it out of the pool round. These matches might not eliminate you immediately, but elimination is absolutely on the table at the national level. Because of that reality on the national level, fencers who have aspirations of getting to that level need to take the pools seriously all the way down the line.
Getting final seeding and getting that good placement is very important in the pools!
How to make your pool rounds better
Strategy is everything in fencing, and that extends to the pool rounds. Fencers can work to improve their performance in the pools through positive strategic choices, both in the short term and in the long term.
Here are some good angles to attack your pool performance.
- Adjust earlier. Whenever possible, add time onto the front end of your competitive trip. Pool rounds are of course first in the order of competition, so you need to get to the competition as early as possible and give yourself that time to get acclimated. The truth is, it’s always going to take time to get adjusted for your best performance. The question is whether that adjustment happens before you fence or during the pool rounds.
- Set your routine. Every fencer has their own routine and their own needs in their routine. Molding your routine around competition is going to have the biggest effect on your performance in the pool rounds. Even if you think that you’ve got it down, look for improvements. There are always opportunities. This might mean incorporating meditation or music time to focus your mind or pump you up. It could include adding a protein shake in to help you power through. Most importantly, make your routine intentional. Good performance is based on regularity and reliability. Many fencers fall into the trap of letting the pool rounds themselves be the driving force in their routine at the competition, and this is a missed opportunity.
- Don’t skimp on the warm-up. Warming up thoroughly before competition should never be an option. This is your competition, and it’s your job to ensure that you’re ready for it. If you are having difficulty getting warmed up before the pools, it’s time to rethink your strategy. One good way to do this is to write down what you’re doing. This will allow you to see clearly what you’re doing and how to improve it. When in doubt, add an extra five or ten minutes. Good ways to fill that time are in meditation, with music, or with a little cardio like going for a jog around the venue or doing some calisthenics.
- Analyze your opponents. When fencing in pools it is important to understand as many aspects of your opponents’ fencing as possible. Try to recognize common patterns in their fencing, their traits and reactions, and how they fence against different opponents. There is a lot to learn from the pool round which will not only improve your chances to succeed in it, but also will enable your growth as a more tactical fencer.
- Break down your pools. What’s affecting you in the pool rounds? It could be a lack of concentration, nerves, physical limitations, or any number of other things. This is where strategy really ramps up. You want to make sure that you have thought out what’s going on with your fencing because you are really the one who knows you the best! Some fencers find that their minds are too sluggish or too wired during pools. As you’re the only one in there, you’re the only one who knows what’s going on. Figure it out, and then try to minimize the negative pieces and maximize the things you’re doing well.
- Talk to your coach. When in doubt, or even when not in doubt, talk to your coach. They are going to have strategies to help you make the most of the pools from beginning to end. They can also help you to understand just how much of an impact the pools have on your competitive performance. Your coach can aid you in improving your warm-up, in getting your head in the right spot, and in everything we’ve talked about here.
Don’t let the pools get you down! Also, don’t underestimate the power that this aspect of the competition has. It may sometimes feel like the pools are a throw away portion of the fencing competition, but nothing could be further from the truth. The pool rounds make a huge difference in the outcome of fencing competition. Don’t miss this opportunity!