How to plan your child’s fencing competition schedule for the year

 Medalling at a local youth tournament

Medalling at a local youth tournament

Parents,  if you have aspirations for your fencer to be competitive at the national level, then the guidance we offer here on how to plan your child's fencing competition schedule for the year will be informative.  It represents the collective wisdom of parents over many years on the what is a good fencing competition schedule to develop your child's competition experience and confidence level. Depending on your child's age, skill level and your time and budget, there are multiple ways to create an effective competition schedule for your child.

The rule of thumb amongst parents is to go to as many nearby tournaments as possible when your fencers are younger.    On average, young fencers should be competing two weekends a month or more during the fencing competition season (usually measured as September 1 to the end of Summer Nationals).  Developing your fencer is a multi-faceted, multi-stepped process.  Competition experience is a material part of that development for a competitive fencer. 

While there is no specific formula,  you develop a competition schedule and plan that fits your fencer's skill level, personality, fencing goals, your time and your budget. While a coach can guide you on which competitions provide good experience, only you know your child's emotional make-up, your family's current goals for your child's fencing, and your time and budget.  Finding the right balance for your child is up to you.

Balance is critical.  Pushing too hard or not pushing enough are both problematic, they hinder your fencer's progress.

As one of the world's top coaches once advised, unless your fencer displays exceptional skill, your fencer should really compete in events in his/her own age group and one age group above.  Stretching your fencer prematurely can result in lost confidence and frustration, both of which will undermine your fencer's mental game.

 The experience and confidence your fencer gains from regular competition at local tournaments, Regional Youth Circuit(RYCs) and Super Youth Circuit (SYCs) include:

- familiarity with the ebbs and flows of a competition, so they get used to how things are done, and minimize surprises that may unsettle them

- learning to compete within the rules (getting yellow and red cards for rule violations are part of the learning experience)

- fencing opponents with different fencing styles, physical size and skill level

- losing and winning, and managing the attendant emotions

- working and fighting for every point

- behaving with humility, and respecting every opponent, regardless of skill or physical size

- remaining calm and emotionally in control when they are down in a bout, and feeling pressure

- keeping calm when the referee makes a bad call, and they are mad at the unfairness of it

- remaining calm when their opponent's supporters cheer loudly and obnoxiously

- executing on instructions from the coach, even when under pressure

These are all invaluable skills your fencer needs to succeed.  These skills are also invaluable life skills that aren't taught in schools.

COMPETING IN Y8 AND Y10 FENCING COMPETITIONS

If your fencer is in the Y8 or Y10 age group, you have time on your side to develop fencing and competition skills.  In general, don't sign your young fencer up for competitions until they've had, at least, 6 to 12 months of regular coaching at the fencing club.  There is no rush, and you want to avoid unnecessary stress before your fencer is ready.

While coaching develops the fencing skills, the mental toughness for a very young fencer develops from consistent and regular experience with a competition environment.

Local tournaments in your fencer's age group are the best place to start, and you should plan on attending as many of them as you can once your fencer is ready.  These tournaments are smaller casual affairs, providing your fencer with great opportunities to  get used to competing, learn the basic rules of competition in a relaxed environment, and get accustomed to competition.  The stakes here a low for both of you.  You can find local youth tournaments in your area listed on on ASKFRED, and you can find Regional Youth Circuit (RYCs) and Super Youth Circuit (SYCs) tournaments in US Fencing's Regional Tournaments List

If competing makes your fencer nervous and the tournament environment intimidates your fencer, the local competition is an opportunity for you to gently guide your fencer through the experience, and an opportunity for your fencer to develop competition resilience.   

Once your fencer has a few local tournaments under the belt, your fencer can try competing in an event one age group up .  If your fencer is in the Y8 age group, your only viable event may be in Y10.  If that's the case, leave out the Y12 events until your fencer ages into the Y10 age group. 

Depending on your location, there may be very little difference between a local tournament and a regional qualifying tournament in terms of size and skill level of the field.   However, the difference can be pronounced in larger metropolitan areas with established fencing communities like the New York Metropolitan area, Boston,  the Washington DC corridor, the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.

Sign up for regional qualifying tournaments, like RYCs and SYCs only when your fencer is ready.  Your fencer's coach knows whether your fencer has developed the skills for a higher level competition, so consult him/her about the skill level, and you are always the best judge of your child's mental and emotional readiness for a bigger stage.  Certainly, once your fencer has completed 12 months of regular twice a week training, it's a milestone that signals he/she is ready to step out to RYCs.

An experienced Y10 fencer with 2 years or more of training should be able to confidently compete in both Y10 and Y12 age groups.  A few stretch up and compete in the Y14 age group (after they earn Y12 national points), but this is not a necessary goal for a Y10 fencer, as there will be still a big gap in skills and physical development.

RYCs are a regional qualifying path to the Summer Nationals championship.  While you can fence an RYC in any region, you only earn qualfying regional points at RYCs held in your home region.  You should not have to venture too far from home to find one.   Even if you don 't plan on going to Summer Nationals, RYCs are still terrific competition experience for younger fencers.  

Unlike RYCs, fencers can particpate at SYCs anywhere in the country to earn national points.  We recommend that you stick with SYCs closer to home at the Y10 level.  Regardless, SYCs usually require some travel whether by car or by plane.  If it's within your budget, then definitely include SYCs in the competition schedule.  The level of skill is higher overall, and the tournament is much larger.  The SYC experience is an interim step to a national competition.   

National competitions, like the March NAC and Summer Nationals are really optional for the youngest age groups.  If it's in your budget, and your fencer is ready from a skill and emotional level, then the national competition makes sense.  NACs and Summer Nationals are huge events with more than 80 competition strips, and several hundred fencers competing on any given day in a very large venue, it can be intimidating if your young fencer is more accustomed to regional events with 25 competitors. 

While your fencer will have to be exposed to the national environment eventually, try and make the introduction as fun and as smooth as possible.  Every child responds differently, so you have to manage the expectations.  Most of the top fencers in the Cadet and Junior levels gained experience at the Y10 events at national tournaments.  

Remember that a Y10 fencer must have competed in, at least, one SYC or RYC to fence in the Youth March NAC (North America Cup), unless the fencer has national points and is on the National Points List.

And there are specific qualifying criteria to compete at Summer Nationals.  (How to Qualify for 2019 Fencing Summer Nationals and July Challenge)

COMPETING IN Y12 FENCING COMPETITIONS

If your fencer is a total beginner, follow the recommendations for the Y8/Y10 age group, except that you can shorten the time frame before your fencer competes to about 6 months.  An 11 year old is better developed physically and mentally, and will be able to synthesize the basics of fencing much faster than a 9 year old.  Also, if you have goals for your child to be competitive at the national level, you need to increase the intensity of training and competition.  A Y12 age group fencer should be competing in both Y12 within 6 months of starting and in Y14 events within a year of starting.  

Between the ages of 11 and 14, there are real variances in physical development, you can have a 5'10" fencer with an opponent who is 3' tall.  Your fencer needs experience fencing opponents across the size and skill spectrum.

At the Y12 stage, in addition to local tournaments, you should be going to as many Regional Youth Circuit (RYCs) as you can manage, and competing at both the Y12 and Y14 levels.  Not only will your fencer gain competition experience, they are opportunties to earn regional points, and in some cases in Y14 events, a rating classification.

SYCs are mandatory practice for the competitive fencer in the Y12 age group.  The level of competition at an SYC is generally higher, and provides your fencer with real competitive fencing experience.  Again your fencer should compete in both the Y12 and Y14 age group.  In the Y12 age group, your fencer is working towards earning national points.  At the Y14 level, the goal for your Y12 fencer is to gain experience at a more competitive level. 

Some parents calculate that travel to a larger SYC is worthwhile since national points are awarded to the top 40% of the field, so there is a better chance of earning national points.  However, keep in mind that points are only awarded to the top 64 fencers regardless of the size of the field.  These large SYCs usually attract enough rated fencers in the Y14 events to meet event rating classification criteria, and they present ratings opportunities if your fencer has the potential to finish in the top 8 or top 12 of the Y14 event.

Some parents look out for SYCs hosted in cities away from the established fencing centers (see Y8/Y10 section for a list of established centers) where the field will be less competitive, and the chances of placing well and/or earning national points go up.

Following either one of these calculus can be expensive as very large tournaments (exceeding 100 fencers per event) are concentrated on the east coast, and smaller less competitive tournaments are situated in cities to which there are few nonstop direct flights. So unless you live close to either of these, you are looking at increased flight costs and possibly more travel time, and therefore more days out of school and away from work.  Your fencer may also struggle with jetlag associated with coast to coast travel.  The maximum time difference you want your fencer to deal with is 2 hours for an SYC.

It's advisable to pick 2, and a maximum of 3 SYCs every year that are located as close to you as possible.  Maybe, go to an SYC early in the fencing year, and to another one later in the fencing year, your fencer will certainly make progress over the course of 6 or 7 months during the season.

Some parents reason that if their fencer performs well at the 1st SYC they go to, they can forgo other SYCs for the rest of the year since their fencer could not better that 1st performance and therefore, could not better the national points they earned, so there is no need to go again..  While this argument makes sense for a 2nd year Y14 fencer, this is not a good argument for a Y12 fencer.  The Y12 fencer will benefit from additional experience in the Y14 event, and should give the SYC a second shot except maybe, when the fencer ranks within the top 10% of Y12 and Y14 age groups on the National Points List.  And, for all of us parents, budget considerations may still take priority, and you make choices that deliver the best value for your fencer.

If they are ready, Y12 fencers should go, at least, to one if not both the national tournaments they are eligible for, the March NAC and Summer Nationals.  These are very important preparatory tournaments for fencers with ambitions to become nationally ranked Cadet and Junior fencers.  The experience will be invaluable and is the best preparation for higher level competitive fencing. 

National tournament fields in Y12 usually exceed 160 fencers, which means points  are awarded to the top 64 finishers.  The competition is tough, and sets a benchmark for your fencer to aspire to.

COMPETING IN Y14 FENCING COMPETITIONS

The start of the Y14 age group opens up tournament opportunities for your fencer, who can now compete in RYCs, SYCs, RJCCs, ROCs, local senior tournaments, in addition to an expanded group of national tournaments.  All these tournaments represent competition practice opportunities, and you will have to be selective, or you can end up at a tournament every weekend during the fencing season.

For 1st year Y14s, the RYCs, SYCs and RJCCs represent the best practice opportunties.  These competitions provide the practice necessary to become competitive at national tournaments.

While 1st year Y14s should still fence at the RYCs, most fencers move on from the RYCs in their 2nd year. 

SYCs are still important as they present great competitive experience and the opportunity for national points.  While a 1st year Y14 fencer should compete in 2 SYCs, if possible, a seasoned 2nd year Y14 can do with one SYC.

Y14s are eligible to fence in RJCCs (in fact they can do so as Y12s after the age-out at Junior Olympics), and they should actively seek these tournaments out within their home region..  While regional qualifying points for Junior Olympics and Summer Nationals can only be earned at tournaments in the fencer's home region, fencers are free to compete in RJCCs anywhere in the country - many SYCs now tag on an RCC event. 

RJCCs are frequently opportunities to earn a rating classification.

1st year Y14s should, as far as possible, compete at the March NAC, October NAC, November NAC and Summer Nationals.    

  • the March NAC is an opportunity to earn Y14 national points in the Y14 event,

  • the October NAC is an opportunity to test the waters at the national Cadet level, and the Division 2 event is a rating classification opportunity that will also qualify your fencer for the Division 2 and Division 3 championship events at Summer Nationals if he/she finishes in the top 40%, and is classification eligible.

  • the November NAC hosts Y14, Cadet and Junior level events, and presents your fencer with several opportunities to test their skills, 

  • Summer Nationals presents opportunity for Y14, Cadet and Junior events as well as the Divisions 1A, 2 and 3 championship events. Many of these events at Summer Nationals are scheduled in sequence, and it will physically exhausting for your fencer to compete in more than 3 events, so pick wisely.  If your fencer has national points goals, then it's wiser not tot sign up for a Division 1A, 2 or 3 event the day before as your fencer will be tired for the event that matters.

Be aware that early in the fencing season in October, many 1st year Y14 fencers are not quite ready for the competitiveness of a Cadet event, and your 1st year Y14 fencer may be eliminated after pools. Note that at Cadet and Junior national tournaments, the bottom 20% are eliminated after pools.  For many 1st year Y14 fencers, the goal is simply to make the cut, ie. not be eliminated.  If the past is a good predictor, your fencer should make the cut by winning 2 pool bouts, although we have seen a few fencers who win one pool bout make the cut.

Many 1st year Y14 fencers don't compete at Junior Olympics despite qualifying through regional points at RJCCs.  The risk of elimination is high for a 1st year Y14.  You need to decide if you want to spend your resources here.  

In the 2nd year of Y14, your resources and your fencer's time should focus on the transition to the Cadet level, which means your fencer must participate in RJCCs, and as many national tournaments as possible including the October NAC, November NAC, Junior Olympics, March NAC and Summer Nationals.  A few top level Y14 fencers compete in the December NAC, January NAC and April NAC for Division 1 and Junior events.

ROCs are senior competitions at different rating classification levels, they attract not only school age fencers but also adult fencers. The quality of fencing is inconsistent, and they are not the ideal competition practice venue if your fencer's goal is the pursuit of national points.  ROCs do represent very good rating classification opportunties though.  So let your fencer compete at a ROC if

  • your fencer wants to qualify for the Summer Nationals Championship in Division 1A, Division 2 or Division 3, or

  • your fencer is seeking a rating classification

The same reasoning applies to Division 1A, 2 and 3 NACs.  There are no national points awarded for these events, and they are primarily rating classification opportunities.

ENJOY THE YOUTH FENCING YEARS

They pass very quickly, and you'll likely look back with nostalgia at the tangled and messy fencing in Y10, or you'll look back with a smile to the begining of the Y14 years when the universe of fencing opportunties fell wide open for your fenecr.  It may be stressful at times, when your fencer isn't listening to the coach or your fencer is going through a rough developmental phase, but the hope keeps you going.  Every new tournament is a new opportunity for your fencer to do well.

You and your fencer will make a few good friends along the way.



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Donna Meyer