October 20, 2022

Now is a great time to reflect on the purpose of competition as we host our first Priority On Youth event of the season. I’d Iike to offer responses to questions parents commonly ask when considering signing their child up for their first local competition or heading out on the road to their first travel event.

1. Is my child ready to start competing?

For starting out, we always suggest that a first timer watch a tournament before entering an event.  Some children will be ready to compete very soon, others it may take years before warming up to the idea. We encourage your child to be the leader in determining their readiness.  Coaches will often suggest to the parents when they think the child is ready to compete.  It is a family commitment and we respect the readiness of each family.  Please ask your child’s coach if you have questions.  Click here for more information specific to parents and fencing in USA Fencing.

Fencers first learn tournament skills in their club.

2. Does my child have the equipment they need?

Being a new fencer means being new to understanding and obtaining the right gear with the best fit. For Priority On Youth events Forge supports new fencers if they need to borrow pants or rent electric equipment. Please let staff know before the tournament if gear is needed and consider volunteering to help maintain common club equipment. 

Ideally, you will want your child to have full ‘electric gear,’ plus a back up of each cord and weapon.  For regional and national tournaments, this is essential, as a fencer may be penalized for not having spares or working equipment. For our Priority On Youth events, it is more about getting the fencer out fencing safely and with ‘good enough’ gear so they can build their tournament skills.

3. What is the coaching role at Priority On Youth events, what should I expect from the coach?

Coaches are often refereeing, teaching, coaching, and organizing local tournaments. At Forge we will make ourselves available to parents and members when we can.  Rules of refereeing do not allow the referee to engage in coaching activities during refereeing. Coaches watch while we referee, we see and notice what a fencer is able to do, and during the next training sessions we work with the fencers on their progression.  We will be encouraging, give tactical suggestions, and help the team develop skills to support one another.

Local tournaments are viewed by the coaches at Forge as vital to the development of the fencer.  Many of our older teens will support the younger fencers as designated referees, supportive teammates, or armorers.  This is a great leadership opportunity for our older fencers, and we value this as a metric for our overall club health. We happily encourage all participants in the building to support each other. We will be teaching tournament participants how to coach each other fairly and inclusively.

“I enjoy watching you compete!” is the best response no matter wins or losses.

4. How can I as a parent best support my child’s sport development?

“I enjoy watching you compete” are great words to say to your child just coming off the strip or driving home in the car. Sport participation requires fencers to learn how to respond and navigate their behavior at a very fast pace.  A child is best supported when the parent releases result expectations and expresses enjoyment in in watching their child’s developmental process.  This response fosters internal motivation. We find that fencers are often very demanding on themselves, and parents and coaches may find themselves validating and normalizing intense feelings that seemingly come out of nowhere! It is not uncommon to see tears and then, an hour after the tournament, witness excitement and enthusiasm about getting back into the club and training.  Don’t fret! The joy comes through the process of development and discovering fencing within the fencer’s self. Teaching our youth how to process thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, is essential to the maintenance of joy in the fencing (or any new skill we learn). Please alert your child’s coach if you hear your child referring to themselves as “bad” or personalizing their result outside of their ability to create specific fencing actions.  This is requires additional attention.

5. How can I ensure that my child sets realistic expectations for themselves?

Coach Jen at the opening of Forge.

An open-ended question about what your child expects can yield often interesting responses. If age appropriate, have them right down goals that are specific, have a start and end date, and be quantifiable.  Process goal examples include, “I want to increase my percentage of attacks landing by 50%.  I will do this by adding 10 minutes devoted to footwork before practice, twice a week” or “I know I need a longer warm-up before tournaments; I will let you know the day before when I need to arrive at the tournament so I can ensure for myself adequate warm-up time.”  Please encourage their thinking!  Finish goals are great too! “I want to win!” Who doesn’t?!

Up until about age 12 the primary expectation should be to have fun and try some cool fencing moves out. Forge coaches evolve to be consultants to the developed fencer. This road allows for mistakes and discovery of what works best for each individual. Coaches at Forge are guides in this process.

During the season expectations can change quickly based on family circumstances, school demands, and desire.  Please talk to your coach if something ignites passion or interrupts the training cycle.  We are here to support your family as well as fencing development. 

Thank you again for supporting Forge! Our Priority On Youth tournaments are fun and create life-long memories. We want to promote self-sufficiency as part of the long-term development of an athlete, but realize at all stages of fencer development community support is needed.  For questions about registration or equipment email info@forgefencing.com.

Coach Jen Oldham has coached all levels of fencing within the United States. She has her MS in counseling psychology and works passionately for sport equity, fairness and inclusion. The Priority On Youth series is the longest running youth fencing tournament in North Carolina. It has supported current national and colligate team members from the very start. You can follow her on Instagram.

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