Selecting A Competition Coach

The purpose of this article is to provide guidance in the selection of a competitive coach for all levels of competitive fencers. I will be providing specific guidance for the beginner, the local, and the regionally competitive fencer.

I have made some observations over the last couple of decades that reflect on the current state of our coaching and our competitive fencing culture. The mission and priorities of our clubs has, in many cases, moved towards “fencing or related activities for the masses”. Some programs might even be characterized as fencing day care. As beneficial as this can be by bringing more visibility and increasing the numbers in our sport, I am concerned that many of these clubs are doing a disservice to a large number of beginners who could be destined for competitive excellence, but will never find their way to the podium. I attribute this in many cases to their initial choices for instruction.

Fencing clubs in the distant past were less focused on revenue generation then they are today. In the past, the clubs took major pride in competing against other clubs, and although that is still the core of what happens today, the driving force is revenue generation. Its a service industry. Many of today’s clubs have fixed facilities and cost overheads to take into consideration. And these businesses need to maintain larger memberships to pay for their monthly expenses. To keep themselves in the black, many of them come up with some incredibly entertaining and amusing classes/programs that draw a greater segment of the population into their membership then conventional fencing would ever provide. These clubs may or may not have competitive coaches providing lessons, or a head coach that supervises the training of the beginners. The basic research that you can do is the same for every level of competitive fencer. DO NOT BELIEVE THE CLUB MARKETING OR THE HYPE. Investigate the club and its coaches.

The club provides the opportunity, the individual coach provides the knowledge. And although this article is focused on coach selection, we acknowledge and appreciate the major role of the competitive club environment in providing the opportunity for training excellence.

How is this level pertinent to competitive fencing? It all starts here. Most beginners choose to get their taste of the sport by finding the closest opportunity that will avail itself. Although proximity is convenient, its really not the best metric for coaching selection. However, since the 10-18 year old demographic does not have a car, and the parents will be providing the transportation, this is usually how the choice is made. Due diligence in researching a club and its coaching staff at the very beginning is critical to competitive success. If not done, it could be years before recognizing a bad choice, putting the student behind in every aspect of training. Bad habits can be learned that must be replaced, and that all takes time. Even if you are just testing the waters of the sport for the first time, investigate the coaching staff and who will be providing the lessons. The social trap is that once you start with a club and their coaches, you will build up a loyalty to that coaching staff, for good or bad, and will find it increasingly difficult, and emotional, to find and move to a more appropriate coach. Keep in mind that it will take four or more years to really get good results at the local level. Do you want to invest that much time with a club and a coach that won’t provide you with the training to get local results?

Whether you are about to try fencing for the first time, or have been fencing for a decade, when you seek competitive guidance from a competent coach, the following questions should be asked of both club and coaching staff.

Is the club a USFA member club? Don’t take their word for it, require them to provide supporting documentation.
Because most beginners start in group classes, its important to ask how large the class will be. I believe that a class to instructor ratio of 10 to 1 to be reasonable.
Is the coaching staff certified to teach fencing? Many fencing coaches are what I call feral coaches. They may or may not have formal training as coaches, and may or may not understand modern coaching theory.  All US Fencing coach certification and testing is done through the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA.org). Foreign certifications can be suspect, check the document that the certification is actually in fencing.
How long has the coach been actively coaching?
How long has the coach been in the local community?
How long has the coach been with the club? If this is a short while, then how long was he with the last club? Remember you or your child are going to be working with this coach for the next few years.
Find out how many rated fencers (especially As and national point holders) the coaches have made.
Find out how many A rated fencers are currently in the club. To be competitive, you need a competitive training environment.
Interview the coaches. How good are their verbal communication skills (Many coaches have the local language as a second language, this really is an issue if the coach can not communicate well with the student)
Go to a local competition and interview the finalists. (Browse askfred.net to find the next competition) Ask who their coach is, and who they recommend for a coach.

A fencing coach is a professional and should be able to provide you with a complete resume or curriculum vitae. If coach or the club can’t provide the documentation, consider them suspect. How important is the choice of a quality coach in the beginning? It is extremely important. It is my experience that bad habits with basic actions, is a direct result of the first experience, and the first class, a fencer participates in. And the fencer can spend a life time trying to recover from this.

After reviewing all of the data, please choose your coach/club wisely.

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