8 Key Characteristics of a Great Fencing Coach

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Fencing coaches not only teach our children fencing skills, but as authority figures, they are also role models for our children.  As parents, we must ask for high standards of behavior, and we must not compromise those standards for the sake of winning.

The role of any sports coach, including fencing coaches is a complex one. A good coach not only inspires athletes to be their best, but a good coach also develops the athlete to his/her fullest athletic potential. A good coach is part physical trainer, part psychologist, part mentor and part friend.

Regardless of the sport, good coaches share common characteristics essential for the success of their athletes.

Great coaches are leaders who possess deep knowledge of their sport, have an ability to motivate, know their athlete, are able to message consistently what they need from their athletes, and are effective communicators.

A few of the leading authorities on what makes for a great sports coach including The Australian College of Physical Education (ACPE) and the International Olympic Council (IOC) have published their list of characteristics that great coaches must possess. These lists completely overlap.

The 8 characteristics of a great sports coach

Below we synthesize and summarize the ACPE and IOC lists to reflect the 8 essential characteristics of a great sports coach:


A great coach guides, inspires and empowers an athlete to reach for and achieve their fullest potential.

We should interpret leadership in a holistic way.  A coach is not just a leader from the front giving instructions and guidance, the coach is also a leader from behind supporting the athlete with encouragement and empathy, and the coach is a leader from the side as friend.

A good coach also leads by example. A coach that demands respect must also show respect. A coach that demands hard work from an athlete must also work hard. A coach that demands that athletes listen to him/her, must in turn be a good listener to his/her athletes.

Aggressive coaches who yell and demean their athletes are not leaders.  They are bullies with psychological/emotional issues of their own.


A great coach has in-depth knowledge of the sport they teach.  While the knowledge does not have to come from direct experience, a great coach knows what the fundamental skills needed to succeed are, and that coach also understands and can explain the strategies and tactics for winning in that sport.

A great coach is also a lifetime learner, willing to learn and develop new training techniques, and is prepared to attend camps and clinics for coaches to enhance their knowledge. A great coach works to stay current on research and information that supports the coaching process.

A great coach pursues knowledge of psychology and nutrition as part of their repertoire to support the coaching process.

It is important to remember that a great athlete is not automatically a great sports coach.


A positive attitude coupled with enthusiasm is critical for conveying the passion that will inspire athletes to their best.  Coaches beget excellence through passion. A coach’s ability to inspire and motivate is part of that coach’s success formula.

As with anything we do in life, we get the best results when we focus on the process of achieving the goal, and not when we focus on the goal itself. Great coaches get their athletes to focus on performance goals rather outcome goals. They teach their athletes to focus on what they can control, and not on what the opponent does, which is something they cannot control.

A great coach knows how to make training enjoyable and fun. Fun helps with getting athletes motivated.

Knows the Athlete, values and respects the athlete

One size does not fit all! 

A great coach knows his/her athletes well, their strengths and weaknesses and their emotions.  A great coach knows how to tailor that athlete’s training to draw out the strengths and minimize the weaknesses. 

Awareness of the differences in individual athletes is an important part of coaching excellence. A great coach tailors coaching style to the individual athlete. Yelling and screaming may work with one athlete, but may have devastating consequences for another.

A great coach has empathy, and that coach will know when to push and when to hold back.  A coach is both a mentor and a counselor to the athlete.

Paying attention to the athlete’s emotions, strengths and weaknesses are the responsibility of a good coach.
— International Olympic Committee

shares knowledge and educates

The best coaches know that it is their job to educate their athlete, so that the athlete understands what they are doing and why they are doing it. This knowledge enhances the athletes training process.

This is common sense. When we understand the reasons why we do must something, we are able to do it with much greater motivation.

disciplined, strong in character and has integrity

A good coach sets rules of conduct for their athletes, and enforces these rules consistently and fairly.

Consistency in messaging

To draw out the attitudes and practices that the coach wants his/her athletes to adopt, the coach must be consistent in messaging about these desirable traits.

Effective Communication Skills

A great coach sets defined goals, clearly communicates those goals to the athlete, provides constructive feedback, reinforces key messages and acknowledges success.  A good coach exudes credibility, competence, respect and authority.

The coach must also be a good listener, who listens compassionately and welcomes comments and feedback.

should we expect to see all these traits in our fencing club coaches?

Regardless of the athletes’ age, a good coach will deploy many of these characteristics to effectively develop a fencer to his/her full potential.

It is one of the reasons we see some small clubs without “star” coaches develop highly competitive and very successful fencers, despite the apparent lack of a critical mass of fencers to bout with in regular practice.

We should be realistic in assessing the situation relative to our child’s fencing coach. It is the rare fencing coach who will possess all of these characteristics. Some fencing coaches have worked hard to develop these characteristics and others have not. Where on the spectrum your child’s fencing coach falls, and what is tolerable for you and your fencer is a matter of individual decision.

If your fencer is having fun, and there is demonstrable improvement in your fencer’s abilities, accompanied by relative success on the competition strip, then you are probably in a good position for the time being.

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