Tips On Finding a Good Fencing Coach

The whole object of fencing is to get into combat and win. and win well, but whether a fencer wins or loses, coaches should listen to their pupils to get feedback. For instance:

Ability – ‘I felt good. My attacks were coming off well.’

Effort – ‘If I had tried harder, I would have beaten him.’

Difficulty – ‘That was easy; he was only a beginner’ or ‘He was left-handed.’

Luck – ‘He was lucky; the president was on his side.’

Does this information coincide with the thoughts of the coach? Remember it is the learner who learns, and if he realizes his weaknesses, he can work on them. Does the coach make the pupil aware of where he is hitting on the target and not just going through the motions of hitting? In a similar way, a darts player has to be aware of the whole dart board and not just be able to throw treble 203; he must also be adept at throwing doublets.

The coach should make the pupil aware of what is a good movement, i.e. one that combines skill, power. strength, timing and distance. He should be made aware of whether one movement is better than the other, then try to repeat that movement time and time again. Once the practice stage has improved, then comes the automatic stage. The fencer does not have to think about his skill any more. The only time that the fencer becomes aware of failure is either when he is hit or when he misses with an attack or riposte. The good fencer has time to think about technique and tactics as they proceed with the merest prompting on the part of the opponent. It is a difficult task to coach out errors that have become automatic responses. It is another reason why I do not agree with loose play, for it is difficult to iron out bad habits.

Feedback and Self-Evaluation

A good coach works hard to present information in the appropriate way to suit all pupils. The coach should analyse his performance and let others check on his performance. I once had useful information from a psychologist who knew nothing about fencing, but who was able to correct me on my presentation and dialogue. A coach who is prepared to learn from his pupils gets the fencer to feed back to the coach the feeling of his performance in a fight.

The coach should not try and get his pupil to assimilate too many points at one time, nor should he try to correct too many faults at one time. It is like a teacher marking an essay and correcting all the faults until it seems to be more faults than good points. The coach should concentrate on one aspect at a time and try to deal with it. For example, too many fencers return to guard incorrectly. The coach and pupil should concentrate on this one point, and when that has been corrected another fault can be taken for correction.

The coach’s job can be both rewarding and frustrating. it is particularly frustrating for a coach when his pupils show a lack of commitment. Another problem is getting the pupil to realize his failings. The coach can seek the help of others to pin-point the same fault in a pupil; if enough people notice the same fault, the pupil can then re-examine his own performance and seek improvement.

Some problems are caused when communication breaks down, resulting in conflict. For instance, a fencer is selected for a team and the coach is the last to know. Administrators and coaches must work together.

Coaching beginners involves other responsibilities. For instance, parents need to know what the season holds in store for their children so as to reduce confusion of what to expect. To avoid misunderstanding, letters should be signed and returned by the parent.

There is talk of pupils’ burn out, but coaches also burn out, both physically and mentally. A lot of people expect a great deal of a coach, but coaches also need motivation to boost their confidence. Coaches should do three things: decide what is best for their programmes and their fencers; devise a syllabus to suit the overall ability of their fencers; and, lastly, sort out priorities. They should also look at their own ability and only coach as far as their own ability allows them.

Fencers like a controlled, regulated programme, but it is also important that there is life in the syllabus. This can be done by keeping practices at a fast steady pace. If pupils do not grasp the practice, introduce a new idea with the same goals; there are several ways of teaching the simple parry -all with the same result. Coaches should be enthusiastic; share a spirited attitude with the fencers; include competitive skills, one to one and group to group.

To preserve his freshness and enthusiasm, a coach must:

  • Establish programmes.
  • Establish goals.
  • Organize practices.
  • Make sure results are known.
  • Allow for disappointments – be prepared to deal with them.
  • Make it fun to be part of a team or club.
  • Be encouraged to work with senior coaches to be able to keep up with the latest methods of coaching and to be able to attract good fencers.
  • Develop a hobby outside coaching.
  • Make time to relax.
  • Have a sense of humour.

A coach must sum up his pupils’ abilities. A coach cannot make all his pupils champions.

A coach should give guidelines and find out what the pupil wants from the beginning. He should establish a work schedule throughout the season and have fencers do a progress chart with a goal for each week and each month. This will also help towards pin-pointing improvement.

Psychology Of Fencing

When a fencer comes into a room, what do we know of the person? We see only the exterior. But what makes them ‘tick’? As coaches, we should also study the psychology of a pupil. In Russia and in some sports in America. a study is made of each pupil before they are taken on as students or competitors. Many a person has failed at the moment of crisis. One has heard of athletes creating world records to a stop-watch, but failing in the Olympics because their coaches have failed to recognize the pupil’s weaknesses. Not only must the coach be able to recognize the weaknesses but he must also be able to cure them. Any doctor who is not a specialist in any particular field must pass his patient on to someone who is, in the event of his patient needing specialist treatment. The same pattern should be followed by the coach. He can diagnose a fault or symptom and be unable to cure it, so other Opinions should be sought.

A beginner coach should have his own philosophy and understand the philosophy of the club. Before changing entirely this philosophy of the club, the coach must find out the general feeling before he goes headlong into any conflict. A coach should identify valuable information by observation of current practices, reading, clinics, workshops, media and films. Finally, a coach might have to revise his philosophy!

Coaches should have a master plan. This will depend upon the pupils he has. There should be scope and sequence and organization ideas.

What do we mean by scope or coaching knowledge? Besides rules, regulations, principles and skills, are added other disciplines: physiology, psychology, sociology, etc. One might not have to teach it, but an understanding of it will greatly enrich the other skills that are already possessed. The coach must know what he should be looking for; this will lead to critical observation at competitions and practice. He also needs to know why. Video has become an important means of analysing faults, but this must be carefully planned in use; otherwise it can be a waste of time.

Personal Qualities of the Coach

Coaching is a personalized way of imparting knowledge. No two coaches are alike. A style that suits one does not necessarily suit another, but pupils will follow certain traits of a coach as that is the only guide-line they can follow. l think it is unwise for any beginner or person in his early training to have more than one coach, as they are not experienced enough to adjust their knowledge and decide which is best, leading to confusion and in the and deterioration of standard.

It is often the case that students go to other coaches as they believe, or have been told to believe, that they can do better, and before long they have slipped down in the ratings and finally get frustrated and give up.

Successful coaches have other traits regardless of style: understanding, ability to motivate, tolerance and a sense of humour.

it is the responsibility of the coach to develop the maximum potential and ability in each pupil and the ways in which he can do this are numerous. I am afraid some coaches are motivated by money first and do not do their job as coaches. Learning to fence well is a slow process and sometimes the fencer has not the patience. As fencers get more experienced, the coach has to put a greater pressure on the pupil. This extra pressure can sometimes be too much for the pupil. The coach has to realize that there are numerous other outside influences to distract a person.

When teaching a subject, the presentation of the material should be clear, concise and simple, especially in fencing as it is a language on its own, and also very technical. Lack of progress or improvement can be blamed on making instructions too complex or too many at one time. l do not advocate the old system of doing instructions bi numbers, but i feel there has been too much of a swing the other way. The coach educates pupils and should encourage them to play with thought and understanding and to ask questions.

The coach may have the responsibility of working with an assistant who should be helped in developing his own skill and coaching style and the role when instructing. The coach as the person in charge will be responsible for discipline both on and off the piste. A person with discipline will also be well disciplined when fencing. A coach needs to be an organizer and have an orderly and methodical approach, whether it be in administration, teaching aids, charts or in the practical aspects of the sport.

The coach must also fill the role of counsellor. This is a very important part of a coach’s duties, especially with young fencers. As the Russians state, you have to know everything about your pupil and be ready to lend a sympathetic ear and solve even personal problems. Some coaches say they even want to know if their pupils cough!

A pupil who is tense and worried will not perform well.

Creating Attitudes

The coach has to build on or create attitudes in pupils in order for them to become better fencers. Desire is a very important thing to create in a pupil. The coach can motivate a desire to learn, to improve, to compete and to win. I still believe in the maxim ‘You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink’. You must analyse desire: how strong is it? How long does the desire keep up and if it fails, what are the reasons?

The Coach’s Responsibilities

The chief one is to develop and maximize potential and ability within each pupil. Teacher presentation of material should be clear, precise and concise. Lack of improvement can often be blamed on too many complex instructions at any one time.

The coach should get his pupils to fence with understanding and not be afraid to ask questions. The coach is also responsible for training the captain in his duties. A captain is usually selected according to experience. The captain and coach work together and should represent the ideal model in terms of example. The club should be welded together in an harmonious atmosphere.

The coach should have sufficient technical knowledge to meet the requirements of any particular group being coached.

These comments are only scratching the surface but they are meant to stimulate leaders and coaches to further investigation and self-analysis in their coaching.

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