“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
As tournament season gets into full swing, this seems like a good time to talk about goals. Here are a few thoughts on goals – their importance, how to set them, change them, and keep things healthy.
Setting goals is a great way to start off a season of fencing. And it is important to be realistic. Is your child just starting fencing? Then help him or her decide what goals might be attainable, what are the stretches, and try to keep “pie in the sky” goals out of the discussion. You want to encourage, not discourage, your fencer. And if goals are quickly reached, celebrate! Then, together, set new ones. By the way, there are short-term goals too. It is a good idea to always discuss the events before each tournament and what the goal is for that particular event.
Here are a few goals for students competing in the first couple of years (and all of these goals still apply even for top fencers, by the way):
Win all the bouts in your pool. This is a good one, because it is clear and straightforward.
Come out of pools ranked first in the seeding. This is a great goal because when a fencer begins to understand that every touch matters, (every touch scored against the fencer is subtracted from the total touches made, and affects the seeding for the next round) the approach to the pool bouts becomes more focused.
Earn a medal. Local tournaments or national tournaments, medals are medals. They are cool. And in fencing, you have to earn them. You don’t get them for just showing up.
Beat “that guy”. At a certain point, there will be some fencer who seems to be unbeatable. Name him or her. Then, make beating that fencer a goal. Sometimes, that can be more important that even the tournament results.
As a personal example, early on in fencing, we had a terrible tournament. My son was nervous, had stomach cramps, wanted to leave, and begged me to take him home. We had paid the entry fee, driven all this way, I even found a great parking space (again, parking is important!) so no way were we just going to leave. And of course, his fencing at that tournament was not the best. Lost most of his pool bouts. Then came the Direct Eliminations. And my son would be fencing against him. Mr. Unbeatable. And my son beat him. I think my son was eliminated in the next round, but it didn’t even matter. He had proved something to himself. He could beat that guy. And guess what - There will always be a next “that guy.” My son beat a fencer this summer who he thought was truly unbeatable. He had nicknamed him The Demi-God. Now my son has moved on, has the next that guy on his radar.
I know that my son is now a “that guy” to a few younger fencers. I love that. There is a wonderful family in Northern California with two young fencers. The mom told me at one of the tournaments, when our boys were about to fence each other, that her son was so excited to fence my son. That he had been disappointed that they had not yet met on the strip. He couldn’t wait. He didn’t expect to win; he just wanted to fence him. That day, her son did not beat my son, but I’m betting that one day he will.
Every August is a good time to discuss the past year’s results and talk about goals for the upcoming year. And it is important to have your child be a part of the discussion, so that it is not just you telling him or her the expectations. And you can list several, knowing that they can change and evolve through the year.
The first thing to do when setting goals is to look at where your child is coming from, how did he do the year before? Going from that point, what are reasonable hopes for the upcoming year? Set your fencer up for success, not failure.
In 2015-16, my son’s goals were clear, and all attainable, though some were a definite reach.
Goal 1. The Regional US Fencing Patch
Did you know that US Fencing awards patches in each region to the top three fencers in regional tournaments (RYCs- regional youth circuit)? This is a great incentive for young fencers and a lot of parents don’t even know about this. You can find details in the fencing handbook on the US Fencing website, The patches are given out at Summer Nationals. In 2014-15, Stafford came in 4th in the region, just missing getting a patch. But, my son was fencing well, and at each tournament he seemed to grow in confidence, skill, and determination. So, the patch went on the list.
Goal 2. Win an SYC
He had not yet won a sectional tournament, but had come in second, so it was perfectly reasonable to believe that it was attainable. So he set that as his second goal. By the way, he did not achieve this goal. He won his first SYC the next year.
Goal 3. Qualify for Junior Olympics
This goal was a reach. And, he missed qualifying by one, placing fourth in the qualifiers. I was fine with that though. He had just turned 12, fencing against 15 and 16 year olds, and really wasn’t ready, in a number of ways. So, we kept that goal for 2016-17, and he went to his first JO’s last February.
Goal 3. Medal at a NAC (North American Cup)
By the time the March North American Cup rolled around, Stafford had already won a couple of regional tournaments and was currently ranked number one in our region (close to earning that patch!). We were walking to the car from school one day near the time we were getting ready to leave for Salt Lake City where the NAC was taking place. He asked me, “Where do you think I should end up in the tournament? Do you think I could make top 8?” Well, of course, I wanted to say, “Actually, I think you could win it.” Which he could. California is one of the most competitive arenas. I think that the top three fencers in Southern California are almost always in the top ten in the nation in any given age group. Technically at this time he was number one, but there were easily five or so other fencers who could beat him on any given day. Just as he could beat them on any given day. So, I did not tell him I thought he should win. I pointed out that he was number one in the region, and SoCal is one of the most competitive, so he could certainly place in the top 8. But I thought he could make the top 3. “Really?” That made him think. He hadn’t put together his success in the regional tournaments with what that might mean nationally. “Sure,” I replied. “Why not?”
In Salt Lake City, Stafford took the bronze. It was his first national medal. He achieved his goal of placing in the top 8. On Instagram and Facebook, US Fencing posted a shot of the top four medalists. That was pretty cool. And he got a patch that said Bronze Medal Y12 National. When he got his regional patch at that year’s Summer Nationals it was almost an afterthought.
One of the wonderful outcomes of achieving goals is the gaining in confidence. Once my son won the bronze in Salt Lake City, his fencing, his focus and determination, and his true enjoyment of fencing blossomed. He went on to win the Y12 event at Summer Nationals.
It is important to remember that all of the smaller goals from the past years led to where he is now. All of those goals were stepping-stones to his maturing as a competitor and gaining self-confidence as a fencer and as a young man.
We have had fun planning our goals this year. One of them has already been reached, and we are going to the World Cup in three weeks. Wish us luck!
I welcome any comments, questions, stock tips, etc.
Kathryn Atwood, fencing parent for seven years. I welcome any comments, questions, suggestions for topics, etc.