Great Fencing Coaches: Michael Aufrichtig, Head Coach at Columbia University Fencing

Great Fencing Coaches Series

Michael Aufrichtig, Head Coach at Columbia University Fencing

Michael Aufrichtig, Head Coach at Columbia University Fencing

who is michael aufrichtig?

In the first of our series on great fencing coaches, we feature Michael Aufrichtig, the Head Coach of Columbia University Fencing.

Fencing Parents selected Michael because he embodies the key characteristics that great fencing coaches possess - leadership, thinker, visionary, motivator, communicator, and he knows and values his athletes. (8 Key Characteristics of Great Fencing Coaches). His demonstrated track record of success with the Columbia Fencing team prove his coaching greatness.

Prior to taking on the position as Head Fencing Coach at Columbia University in 2011, Michael Aufrichtig had been an enterprise software sales executive, with no professional experience as a fencing coach.

Michael started fencing in high school in Louisiana. At New York University, where he attended the Stern School of Business, Michael fenced epee and was the NYU fencing team captain. After graduation, he joined the New York Athletic Club, and fenced competitively with them for 10 years, with aspirations to make the US Olympic team. He went on to run the NYAC fencing program with great success, and still serves as its chairman (on a volunteer basis) taking on budgetary and administrative responsibilities as well as managing the fencers and coaches.

During his 13 year tenure as the Chairman of the New York Athletic Club Fencing Program, NYAC has won 20 Individual and 22 team National Championships, fielded 45 USA World Team Members, 11 Olympians, capturing two bronze one silver and one gold world team medals and one bronze Olympic team medal.  In 2018 the NYAC qualified 8 of the 24 USA World Team Members. 

Michael was the 2012 USA Olympic Fencing Coach for Modern Pentathalon.

A combination of savvy, passion and an intense focus on deliberate practice underpin the tremendous success he has achieved at Columbia University Fencing.

The winning track record

In 2011, Aufrichtig inherited a fencing team that had gone down in defeat with a 2-16 track record in men’s fencing the previous year. It took him just 3 years to change Columbia University Fencing’s trajectory completely.

Under Aufrichtig’s leadership, Columbia Fencing made huge strides and shared the Men’s Ivy League championship title in 2014 (with Harvard). Columbia Fencing shared that Ivy League title four more times in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Columbia Fencing won the Men’s Ivy League championship title outright, and they alone now stand at the top of the Ivy League in men’s fencing.

Michael Aufrichtig at Columbia 2.jpg

See: A new rule: How Columbia Fencing rose to the top

The Columbia women’s fencing team, with Aufrichtig’s coaching is as successful as the men’s fencing team. The Columbia women won the Ivy League Championship title outright in 2015, 2018 and 2019. In 2016, they shared the Ivy League championship title with Princeton, and in 2017, Columbia Women’s took second spot behind Princeton.

2019 has been one of the most successful year’s on record for Columbia Fencing and Michael Aufrichtig. Not only did Columbia Fencing win both the Men’s and Women’s Ivy League Championship titles, Aufrichtig himself was named Ivy League Women’s Fencing Coach of the Year.

Success came not only in the Ivy League championships, but also on the bigger stage with the NCAA Championships winning the title in 2015, and again in 2016. Columbia Fencing won the runner-up title in 2018.

Columbia Fencing is in the running again at the 2019 NCAA Fencing Championships that take place this March 21 to 24 in Cleveland Ohio.

Update on Sunday March 24: Columbia Fencing just claimed the 2019 NCAA Championship Title by winning both team titles, and taking home 2 Women’s Individual Titles in foil and in epee.

how did michael aufrichtig develop his winning formula?

Watch Michael talk about his methodology in developing the Columbia University Fencing team from a 2-16 track record of defeat to winning the Ivy League championship in 3 years, and the NCAA Championship in 4.

“Paying attention to the small details brought big moments…..”

Aufrichtig’s performance is an impressive display of how “out of the box thinking” coupled with deliberate leadership gets phenomenal results, no prior coaching experience required.

The idea of zero-ing in on the difference maker, and then deliberately training to improve it, applies as much in fencing as it does in life.

The New York Times lauded him in an article titled “No, 1 Columbia Fencers are Aided by Jedi Master”:

“Mr. Aufrichtig, a former software salesman with no previous professional coaching experience, came aboard three years ago and turned a losing men’s team around with an approach comparable to the statistics-based method described in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book “Moneyball” (and the so-named 2011 film) about an unconventionally successful baseball general manager. “

CNBC was so fascinated by Aufrichtig’s analytical methods in driving the success of Columbia Fencing that they interviewed him about his process, and billed the interview “Fencing Strategies CEOs Should Learn.” You can watch the CNBC interview HERE

so what makes michael aufrichtig a great fencing coach?

As in all types of success, the ability to:

  • step back and assess the situation objectively

  • be an unconventional problem solver

  • recognize potential, and develop it

  • motivate others to step up to their potential

  • communicate clearly

are all critical to the achievement of goals. These are qualities that all good leaders possess, and Aufrichtig has certainly been a tremendous leader for the Columbia University Fencing team.

His achievements as a coach have been recognized by his coaching peers. In 2015, he was awarded the 2015 Columbia University Raymond G. Tellier Coach of the Year Award, and he was named 2015 Ivy League Women’s Fencing Coach of the Year, sharing that honor with Zoltan Dudas of Princeton. In 2016, he was named US Fencing Coaches Association Varsity Coach of the Year. In 2019, he was again named the Ivy League Women’s Fencing Coach of the Year.

Michael’s achievements as a coach speak for themselves!

This article is the 1st in our Great Fencing Coaches series. All material used for this article are from publicly available sources.

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