Finding Your Child's Passion for the Sport of Fencing

Published on AskVersed

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Fencing Parentt’s wrote this guest post for pre-college planning advice website www.askversed,com.

It is a must read post for parents considering fencing as a sport for their child. It is also a must read for parents whose child has fenced for a few years, and they are not sure if their child should continue as a fencer.

You can read the complete article at Versed’s website HERE

Finding one’s passion is not easy.  If we are lucky, we find it through experimentation, trying out different activities that appeal to us until we find that one thing that holds our attention, and inspires a deep interest.  For children and teenagers, it is even harder to find a passion.  Like the adults, they are most likely to find their passion through trial and error, albeit with adult supervision.

When my 2 sons started fencing at ages 8 and 10 in Singapore, I crossed my fingers that they would stick with the sport.  They had cycled through all the usual team sports plus tennis and gymnastics.  None of these sports held their interest for long.

Fencing appealed to their imagination in a way no other sport could.   They were Jedi knights, they were Zorro, they were action heroes in an imaginary world. They finger fenced each other at home incessantly. They brought their imagination with them to the rather large novice competitions organized by their fencing club, and they each excelled as beginners.  They were hooked!

They embraced the footwork drills that opened every training session, so long as they could hold a sword in their hand at the end of it and engage in some sword fighting!  The “coolness” of the white uniform and the mask were a bonus for them.

And, that’s how we became a fencing family!

While we were vaguely aware of a need to help our sons find their X-factor for college admissions eventually, it wasn’t a priority for their father and I when we got the boys started in fencing.  It was much more important that the boys loved the sport, and that they were enthusiastic about showing up for training.

With the other sports the boys tried out, the lack of enthusiasm, followed by the lack of performance was painful to watch, and even harder to justify spending time and money on.  We recognized that passion for any activity couldn’t be forced.

We were very fortunate that the 1st fencing club the boys joined was run by a former Olympian who brought on other former Olympians from around the world as coaches.  Their collective passion, fencing skill and infinite patience in coaching a pair of enthusiastic, fun-loving boys was inspiring for all of us.

Fencing has captivated and inspired generations of boys and girls, and men and women. For those who love fencing, there can be no other sport.  While fencing is a small sport in terms of total number of fencers worldwide, it has been an Olympic sport since the birth of the modern Olympics in 1896. 

Fencing is a sport for a lifetime, and anyone can start at any age. 

For example, becoming a mother has not stopped US Olympic saber fencer and 2 times Olympic gold medalist (2004 and 2008), Mariel Zagunis from chasing her dreams and continuing her winning.   Ju Jie Luan, Chinese Olympic gold medalist in foil in 1984, qualified for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 representing Canada at age 50.  In 2018, Ju Jie won the gold medal in foil at the Veteran’s World Championships in Italy, and she took the silver medal in epee at the same tournament. I was amazed when I discovered that Ju Jie only started fencing as an adult!

The sport of fencing encompasses 3 weapons, epee, foil and sabre.  The target areas and rules of engagement vary between the 3 weapons, so do the skills required of the fencer.  If you’re contemplating which weapon to start your child with, you can read more about it HERE.

Fencing has been described as physical chess by fencing enthusiasts, it is a sport that engages the physical and the intellectual.  Success in fencing comes from developing physical skills, quick thinking skills, extreme focus and emotional control.  The challenge to simultaneously develop these skills is character building in and of itself! 

Fencing remains a remarkably polite sport despite its combative elements.  While emotions can run high, strictly enforced rules ensure that athletes, coaches and spectators stay respectful throughout.  As a parent, I am deeply appreciative of this aspect of the sport, where civility still holds.

Teenagers who rise to the top of the sport by the end of their Junior year in high school find themselves in the very privileged position of potentially becoming fencing athlete recruits to some of the best colleges in the country. 

7 of the 8 Ivy League colleges have NCAA Division 1 fencing teams, so do academically elite colleges like Stanford University, Duke University, Northwestern University (women only) and the University of Notre Dame.  Colleges like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University, along with several more academically elite colleges host NCAA Division 2 and Division 3 fencing teams.  You can see the complete list of 46 colleges with NCAA fencing teams HERE.

The diversity of academic requirements amongst the 46 colleges means that there is a place somewhere for a teenage fencer determined to fence on an NCAA fencing team in college.  While the total number of athlete recruits is capped, many fencers still walk-on to fencing teams after they are accepted on their academic merits.  You can read more about the process of fencing athlete recruitment HERE.

While some parents deliberately place their child in fencing hoping that it will lead to athlete recruitment at the right college eventually, it is important to realize that only those fencers who are truly passionate about the sport will rise to the top. 

Recall that extreme focus and emotional control are necessary elements to success in fencing.  It is very difficult to engage focus or control if the dominant thought while competing is something like “I’m only doing this because my parents want me to, I’d much rather be doing something else.”

Figuring out if your child really loves fencing may be an hour’s endeavor, or it could be a several year endeavor.  You won’t know until you try.

Donna Meyer