Advice for Parents of Competitive Fencers

Getting lost in the role of parenting is easy to do – we want to give the absolute best to our children naturally. That’s especially true if you’re a parent who is heavily involved in fostering your child’s success, a thing that fencing parents tend to do naturally and often. The more time a child invests into becoming a better fencer, the more you as a fencing parent disappear into that role.

It’s of course a good thing that you’re putting yourself out there for your child. It feels good for them, but it’s also good for you. You’re there for as many competitions and practices as you can be. You spend time learning about the sport and connecting with their coaches and fellow fencers. You hunt down the best possible diet and home structure to help them reach their potential as an athlete and make it to those big dreams. Through all of this, hopefully you and your child are becoming closer and creating memories that will last for long after they take off their fencing mask.

With all of the focus on your child, where do you as a fencing parent fit in? It’s no good for anyone if you lose the balance in yourself. A big part of great parenting is modeling the kind of holistically healthy lifestyle that you want your children to live when they are adults.

Sometimes the focus needs to be on you, the fencing parent, and how you can become more mentally strong – for everyone’s sake. Here are ten ways to parent for yourself.

1. Your fencing child cannot be the center of the universe

It’s tempting to allow the world to revolve around your child, particularly if they are ambitious and dedicated to their fencing. However putting your young fencer at the center of the family is not good for anyone, it’s imbalance at its most precarious.

Teach your children to focus on what they can give to the world, not what the world owes them. That might mean that they have to sacrifice during competition season, choosing a closer regional competition or changing the time of their private lesson to accommodate a sibling or parent scheduling obligation. It could mean that they carpool to class (this can be a big relief to parents!) or that they earn their own money to buy a piece of really cool fencing gear by doing extra chores.

2. Manage parenting guilt

How much is enough? Guilty feelings about not giving enough to your child are common, and they’re understandable. Maybe you missed a fencing tournament due to your work obligations, or your child was late to an open fencing night due to getting stuck in traffic on the way. Perhaps you couldn’t swing the most expensive gear for your fencer, or go to that big fencing competition a few states away right before Christmas.

But parenting out of guilt will lead to a whole host of unhealthy parenting moves, most often giving in after you said no. Know that the guilt might be uncomfortable, but just as you tell your children that they can make it through discomfort, you can too. Don’t let feelings of guilt get in the way of what you know to be smart parenting.

3. Parent your fencer without fear

Whatever choices you make as a parent, they’re the choices that you made and you should be confident in them. In the long game, as long as you work with your child’s fencing coach and your child puts in the effort, they will meet their fencing goals in the broad picture. There is nothing you can do that will make them a champion, apart from doing the best you can.

Even when you’re scared to push them out of the nest to have those independent experiences, know that you’re doing the right thing. It’s not your job to be their protector, but to be their guide. Allow your child to lose the match, to miss the mark, to make mistakes. No single defeat is indicative of your skill as a fencing parent. And in any case, being a fencing parent isn’t a skill at all but a relationship you’ve built with your child.

4. Know your power and your place

Ambitious young fencers have a tendency to be precocious children and young adults. They are often whip smart and confident in themselves. They tend to think they have all of the answers, because often they are several steps ahead of their peers.

Structure in the family is important, no matter what structure you might decide is right for your family. The important thing here is that you hold tight to the reality that you have far more life experience than your child, and that they should defer to you at the end of the day. It’s not healthy for parents and kids to be equals, though it is very healthy to empower kids to make the right choices within the family structure. Be bold and confident when you draw those boundaries as a fencing parent.

This is especially true for those high achieving kids. Many fencing parents find themselves in a position to force their children to pare back their schedules, to take on less academic and athletic responsibility in order to create balance. Learn to stand firm in shepherding your child while you guide them towards success.

5. Give your fencers responsibility

Proactively teaching your young fencer to take responsibility for their actions is a wonderful way to promote positive coping skills and improvements in fencing mastery as well as mastery for life.

Here are just a few things that fencers should be doing themselves:

  • Packing their fencing equipment

  • Cleaning out their fencing bag

  • Knowing their training schedule

  • Keeping track of tournaments (once the schedule is set with you and their coach)

  • Properly maintaining their weapons and body cords

  • Home training

This list grows as fencers get older. Age appropriate, independent responsibilities work well for everyone.

Some parents will say things like “I want my kids to be kids, they shouldn’t have to do everything.” The sentiment there is definitely appreciated, but for fencers to grow into strong and independent athletes, they have to learn to do things for themselves. Packing their own fencing bag will not ruin their childhood. However you packing their fencing gear for them will put burden on you that you don’t need to have while at the same time creating dependency.

Sometimes it’s easier just to do it yourself rather than to take the extra time to show kids what to do and then follow up to make sure they did it correctly. That’s definitely understandable. But in the long haul, that upfront time pays off for you when you aren’t having to do every little thing for your child. Foster independence for them, but foster it for your too!

6. Don’t shield your fencer from discomfort

It’s absolutely your job to protect your child from harm. The question is, when is harm actually just discomfort? That’s a big question!

Most of the time, what is happening to your child is not going to be helped with your intervention. Within the fencing world, your child has coaches and referees who advocate for them and ensure that they are treated fairly. That’s not always the case, and of course there are exceptions, but it is mostly true.

When you step back and let your child go through hard times in their fencing, they learn that they can be confident. Whatever things come their way in fencing, they find out that they can really handle it! It’s a refreshing and wonderful realization. Mistakes are life’s greatest teachers. Facing the natural consequences of their actions will help your fencer to become a stronger person and a better fencer.

Not only is it bad for your child, but it’s bad for you too. Managing every little hangup in your child’s life is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Allow them to fail at times, and let go of your need to watch them every moment!

7. Don’t take shortcuts

Parents already know this, but there are no shortcuts in parenting. It’s fast and easy to let your child do things that you know are against your values, and it’s a thing that we all do sometimes.

It’s hard to get up and prep those healthy meals to get your fencer going towards success, but it’s a necessary part of the process. It’s hard to fit it all into a workable schedule for the family, but it’s part of the process.  In the long run, you and your fencer both feel better! Teaching your child fencer healthy habits through modeling good habits yourself is also critical to the process. On the front end, that’s hard to do. However on the back end you know how good it feels.

Embrace the joy of doing things well and thoroughly, just as you want your young fencer to take joy in doing it all the right way! That takes a lot of mental strength, so acknowledge how much you put in and let that give you the power to keep going.

8. Let go of responsibility for kid’s emotions

You cannot regulate the emotions of your child fencer. As much as you as a parent might want to calm them down when they’re angry or cheer them up when they’re sad, that’s not something that you have a great deal of control over. Which is a tough realization!

It starts out when kids are tiny, before they have developed emotional control themselves and when they did need you to help them figure out how to feel. Now that your child is the age to be fencing, it’s no longer your responsibility. Let go of the need to be responsible for your child’s feelings. Let them feel the emotions, good and bad, that go along with being a competitive fencer. It will help them in the long run!

9. Understand discipline vs. punishment

The core reason for punishment is to make someone suffer for the things that they have done. But that’s not what parenting is about! Discipline on the other hand, is about teaching kids to do better next time.

As a fencing parent, there are plenty of ways that you can let discipline run its course without putting punishment into the equation. If your child doesn’t focus in practice, they’ll pay for it at the next tournament. If your child doesn’t take care of their weapon, they’ll find that they are handicapped when they need it. The ultimate goal here is to teach your young fencer self discipline, or teach them to work hard to do better. Packing on punishments doesn’t help build self discipline, but rather it creates a combative dynamic between parent and child.  

Punitive consequences that mostly come from you, their parent, again put so much of the pressure on you. Let it go! Let go of the control that you have to punish your child, and instead let fencing as an activity give them the natural consequences that will help them to manage themselves.

10. Let go of perfect fencing

It’s healthy and important to have high standards and expectations for your child, but when you expect overly much from your young fencer or from yourself, it will backfire. Your child isn’t going to excel at fencing every day. When they do fail, it’s not your fault.

What we want to highlight here is that even as parents manage the expectations that they externalize to their children, they sometimes forget to extend those manage expectations to themselves. Don’t just stop telling your child that they have to be a perfect fencer all of the time, tell yourself that you don’t have to be a perfect parent all the time. Your own mental health matters just as much as your child’s, and putting those pressures on yourself is destructive.   

Though every fencing parent and every fencing family is different, fencing parents always need to carefully consider their own needs. Taking conscious, reasonable steps to ensure that you’re taking care of you is so important. Those kid fencers won’t be kids forever, so take care of you and your mental strength as a sports parent too!

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