Should I care about my fencing club's medal ranking?

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Club rankings based on the number of medals their fencers win at national competitions (National Fencing Club Rankings) ,while a helpful indicator of whether a club has skilled coaches and talented fencers,  doesn't tell the whole story of whether you fencer will flourish at any one of the top clubs. 

Belonging to a top ranked club can certainly be a source of pride for any fencer, but what matters more is whether your fencer is given the best opportunity to reach his/her full potential at that club.

Smaller clubs with outstanding coaches may not fare as well under the club ranking system, but these smaller clubs can be very effective at training fencers, and sending them to the Ivy League or equivalent as athlete recruits.  Be cautious of the glamor of a club's top medal ranking.

A good club trains its fencers for consistent performance based on individual strengths. The best measure of whether a club and its coaches are doing a good job is to look at the number of fencers from a club who are ranked in the top 16 in Y10 and Y12 age groups, and in the top 32 in the Y14, Cadet and Junior age groups on the National Points List.  This a quick way to identify the clubs who are most effective at developing good fencers.  

While the National Points List does not indicate a fencer’s club affiliation, you can always ask the coach about how many nationally ranked fencers there are in the club. Some clubs maintain lists of nationally ranked fencers, past and present to inform parents and fencers of the clubs success.

The methodology used by US Fencing in determining a fencer's ranking on the National Points List requires that a fencer perform consistently across multiple age group events at national competitions to be ranked high on the list.  With this methodology, it is possible for a fencer to be in the top 16 in Y10 and Y12 or top 32 in Y14, Cadet and Juniors without ever medalling at a national event.  (See explanation of The National Rolling Points Standing and Earning National Points HERE). 

For example, quite a few fencers on the Cadet travelling team (top 20 on the Cadet National Points List) have never medalled in a national cadet event, but they may have top 16 finishes in Cadet and top 32 finishes in Juniors and Division 1 events - they are elite fencers by any measure, to be able to place in the top 32 in a Juniors or Division 1 national competition as cadet or Y14 fencer.  Their performances throughout the year would have been consistently above average - a good indicator that the fencer has a good coach and a good support system.

Many an eager parent has signed their fencer up at a top ranked club only to discover that their fencer will remain invisible to the coaches until their fencer earns a medal.  That's a catch-22 you don't want to be caught in.   Due to constraints of coaching resources, some larger clubs pay more attention to their top performers and medal contenders, while mechanically coaching everyone else. 

Fencing is very much an individual and individualized sport, and a good coach provides personalized attention to draw out a fencer's strength, and help the fencer mitigate his/her weaknesses.  There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all coaching. 

It is important to know if a club has demonstrated success by:

  • consistently developing fencers who rank in the top 32 on the National Points List relative to the total number of fencers at the club,

  • sending fencers as athlete recruits to the top colleges, or sending fencers who earn full scholarships to colleges with elite fencing programs, and

  • creating a conducive training environment that fencers want to be a part of.

While a club’s medals will get your attention, dig deeper for insight before committing your fencer to a club. In addition to objective criteria, you must understand the clubs ethos and culture. You want as good a fit as possible between your goals for your fencer and the club’s philosophy and capability.

See our blog on Choosing a fencing club for a beginner.

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Donna Meyer