Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Why You Should Try Again if You Didn’t do Well at Fencing Summer Nationals

Why You Should Try Again if You Didn't do Well at Fencing Summer Nationals

Every fencer has bad days, but if your bad day falls during Fencing Summer Nationals, it can feel devastating. 

Too often, we see fencers who don’t perform to the level that they’d like to at Fencing Summer Nationals go on to struggle with the idea of facing the climb back up to the tournament next year. It’s understandable how hard it can be to put all of this work into getting to the national competition, only to have it all seeming come to nothing. 

This isn’t the time to give up! If you’ve made it this far, then you’ve shown that you can make it this far. Whether you made it through the pools and got knocked out in the first round of the DE or faltered just before the medal rounds, you still got all the way to the big competition. 

It’s easy enough just to say that, but how can you transform your thinking to come at this competition in way that sets you up to take another stab at it? 

One of many competitions vs THE competition

Fencing is a sport that involves a lot of tightly scored rounds, and the balance of a match is often tipped by things that are seemingly out of our control. Part of what we love about this sport is how quickly the matches go and how much possibility there is in them – a fencer who is on the positive side of their skillset can find themselves beating opponents who they thought were unbeatable. 

In a major competition like Fencing Summer Nationals, matches that would normally be one of many and easily shaken off suddenly carry an enormous amount of weight. A regional competition is one of many regional competitions. Even a NAC is one of many NACs that are held during the season. But Summer Nationals? There is only one of those. 

The fast paced scoring that we love so much becomes oppressive when the bouts seem to fly by, but then they are still precious chunks of time that we want to savor. 

Understanding this dynamic of fencing at this level means realizing that it is actually only one of many competitions. It’s all about putting things into the right context. If you’ve done enough to get here, then it means you’re capable of repeating that. Summer Nationals this year is only one of many if you choose it to be. 

It’s so, so important for fencers who get to the national level of competition to put this tournament in its place. Just getting to this is a major accomplishment, the culmination of years of training and a year of chasing qualification. None of that hard work or accomplishment is negated because you don’t perform to the level that you think you should. 

The learning curve of Fencing Summer Nationals

Competing on this level is a major learning curve. If you’ve competed in NACs , you have an idea of what Summer Nationals is going to be like, but you don’t have any direct experience with this competition. It is of a wholly different level and it brings a wholly different set of stressors. 

There is a huge learning curve involved in fencing at this competition. Not in terms of the logistics of the tournament itself, but in terms of the stress level that’s involved in your performance. After months of working hard to qualify, the pressure is naturally on for this competition. 

Though Summer Nationals next year will be in a different city and a different venue, you’ll have experienced the mental rigor of the sport on this level. You’ll now be familiar with what it takes to get there in terms of training and in terms of mental toughness. These factors are important to success, and the only way to get that information is by attending the Summer Nationals. You’ve gained experiential knowledge.

Analyze what happened, but look to the future

It’s undoubtedly a good idea to analyze what happened in Summer Nationals to try to get behind what caused you to perform at a lower level than you expected. Absolutely, this is a good idea.

If you aren’t yet, consider keeping a fencing journal to support your analysis of what is working and what is not working in your fencing. This can be an invaluable tool for you to help you make sense of a loss, and it will keep you grounded in actionable steps. 

Your performance might, and probably will, have less to do with the amount of training that you put in or the amount of preparation that you did than it does with other factors going on around you. Much of a performance in this level has to do with where your mind is and what you bring to the experience. 

Looking critically at what happened in your journey up to and through Fencing Summer Nationals will allow you to see where you can make changes for next year, or maybe even that you don’t need to make a ton of changes and instead need to try again with a similar routine, just with the additional knowledge that you’ve gained from the experience. 

The timing of Summer Nationals affects fencers differently

The placement of Summer Nationals is unique in the fencing competition calendar. Stuck right in the middle of the summer, it’s not part of the regular routine of school year commitments. This can mean that fencers lose some of the drive and momentum that they experience during the rush of the academic year. Though the downtime is certainly welcome in the lead up to Sumer Nationals, it can be a double edged sword as fencers have to get their gears turning again. 

This is precisely why it’s important to structure training and activities leading up to Summer Nationals in a way that’s conducive to success. If you’re slowing down in life, then you’re going to naturally be slower to get going in this major tournament. There’s also the lapse in competitions that happens in the two months or so before nationals, which again yanks that momentum out. 

For some fencers, these two or three weeks between the end of school and the nationals might seem like a good time to take a rest, slow down or go on vacation. And unknowingly, these fencers miss important preparation for the nationals, and when they arrive to the tournament, they face their opponents who are pumped up with two or three weeks of preparation camps. It that’s your case, next year plan your vacation to be after the Summer Nationals and give yourself a fair chance to prepare.

Get back up on the strip and try again

And now we come to the old fashioned pep talk section of this blog. 

You have absolutely made it this far, and that is a huge accomplishment. This is the reason why you must try to do it again! Even if you didn’t succeed in the way that you wanted to for this tournament, you have gained valuable experience through going to it at all. This is important and it’s worthwhile. Not only that, but your insight and understanding of the stress will make it easier for you to do better next year. Think of it as exposure therapy. 

Take some time, take a breath, recharge, and then start planning again. If the defeat that you feel is overwhelming, then try to turn your attention to the exhilaration that you felt when you found out that you qualified, or the moment that you stepped into the venue. 

Though fencing is about the bouting, those three minutes are only a tiny fraction of the time that you spent on the journey to Fencing Summer Nationals. There is so much more to you as a fencer than one day or one weekend of matches. If you had a bad go of it, then it’s not a reflection on you as a fencer in any wider way. 

You were worthy of your spot at Nationals. You are worth continuing to pursue your goals, whatever they might be.


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  1. R

    This Summer Nationals, especially D1, was the most-competitive and highest-level that I’ve seen. D1MF was incredibly fast, with many complex actions per unit time. I reffed a bottom-third fencer “on the positive side of his skillset” almost upset his top-third opponent in a see-saw ending at 15-14. Indeed, those fencers whom I saw practicing harder the week prior did better than those that slacked. Now – on to next season!

  2. James Brykczynski

    It’s not as big a deal as you are describing. It’s just another NAC, the only differences are that there are no people from other countries, and if you win, you get to be national champion for a year (quite a big deal). However, most people don’t win (only 60 +/-), and it isn’t necessary to stress yourself more than you would for any other NAC. Go and do your best, try hard, and you might surprise yourself. Do NOT make it more than it is. Win or lose, your are still alive to fence again. I know; I’ve won and lost at nationals.

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