Ideas for US Fencing to tighten Y12 and Y14 Qualifications for Summer Nationals 2020

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The planned cut in Y12 and Y14 is a “hot button” issue that must be resolved in a fair and open way. FP has received emails and comments from parents, coaches and US Fencing supporters.

See: CALLOUS ALERT - US Fencing Plans to Institute Cuts in Y12 and Y14 at Summer Nationals 2020

For the long term benefit of the sport of fencing, any resolution has to be data driven, logical and fair. It also has to motivate fencers and parents to stay in the sport and not abandon it due to excessively harsh rules at the Youth level. Scaring people off is not a solution.

Criticizing parents for following the rules for qualification, but jamming up the Summer Nationals field is not fair. US Fencing should be working with coaches to provide guidelines for when it is appropriate for their fencing students to compete at the National level.

For developmental reasons, every young fencer must be given plenty of tournament opportunities to help them gain emotional, tactical and physical experience on the competition strip, and develop and grow as fencing competitors.

The leap from earning qualifying RYC points within their home region to the national stage at Summer Nationals may be too overwhelming for many young fencers. Even the leap from SYC to Summer Nationals can be daunting given that most SYCs are attended by fencers from within the same home region as the SYC host club. SYCs are not national in nature despite offering a percentage of National Points to the top 40% of the field.

The current competition structure offered by US Fencing does not offer an interim path to the bigger stage for fencing’s younger competitors. They go from the SYC/RYC to Summer Nationals. That is a “fast track” that has resulted in fencers qualifying for Summer Nationals before they are ready to compete at that level.

From an operational standpoint, we can understand US Fencing’s need to winnow the field, and maintain fencing standards at the national level. From a developmental standpoint, a cut is not the right way to go. It is like taking a blunt axe to a problem that needs a scalpel.

While instituting a cut at the Y12 and Y14 levels at Summer Nationals will serve to discourage parents from signing their Youth fencer up even if qualified, and reduce the overall field sizes to more manageable levels for US Fencing, the cut will almost certainly be psychologically devastating for many of fencing’s youngest competitors, regardless of the ultimate field size at Summer Nationals.

There are several possibilities that US Fencing can seriously consider for Youth level competitions to reduce field sizes at Summer Nationals that still maintain an incentive for parents to keep their child in the sport:

  • OPTION 1

    • Introducing Regional Youth Championships as the regional qualifying path to Summer Nationals replacing the RYC. The RYC becomes the qualifying path to the Regional Youth Championship.

    • Simultaneously tighten the SYC path by awarding National Points to the top 30% of the field only.

    • Eliminate Division Qualifiers at the Youth level. OR

  • OPTION 2

    Tightening the regional qualifying paths in a way that will significantly reduce field sizes at Summer Nationals

Regional Youth Championships

We suggest that US Fencing create Regional Youth Championships that offer every young fencer an opportunity to qualify for and compete in a championship tournament without the need to go all the way to Summer Nationals. The Regional Youth Championship would provide a good bridge between the RYC/SYC and Summer Nationals.

The framework for how the Regional Youth Championships will work?

There are currently 6 Regions created by US Fencing for regional qualifying paths. Each of these regions varies in total number of Youth fencers. To ensure that only those fencers with national level abilities qualify for Summer Nationals, these 6 regions should feed into 3 Regional Youth Championships.

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For example, Region 1 and Region 4 will feed into the Pacific Regional Championship, Region 2 and Region 3 will feed into the Northern Regional Championship, and Region 5 and Region 6 will feed into the Southern Regional Championship.

To qualify to compete at a Regional Youth Championship, a competitor has to earn qualifying points at a level, possibly 40% of what is currently required for Summer Nationals through the RYC. For example, earn 50 RYC points (best 2 results) to qualify for the Y12 Regional Championship and earn 60 RYC points (best 2 results) to qualify for the Y14 Regional Championship.

The top 50% (or whichever percentage is deemed fair) of the field in each Regional Youth Championship qualifies to compete at Summer Nationals.

All of these numbers are for illustration of a concept that is potentially fairer to all, provides plenty of good tournament experience and treats our younger fencers with the dignity they deserve.

US Fencing has the data to run iterations and determine what the right levels are in order to winnow the field down to manageable size, and qualify a field that is truly competitive at the national level.

Advantages of the Regional Youth Championship

  • Creates an opportunity for youth fencers to participate in one championship event annually

  • The Regional Championship presents more skill appropriate competition for a developing fencer who is not yet ready for tournaments at the national level

  • Creates an incentive for young fencers to work hard to qualify for Regional Championships, a more attainable goal for many young fencers who enjoy fencing but whose parents cannot support trips to national competitions

  • The Regional Championship is more physically accessible,and reduces travel costs for parents.

    These championships will always be held in the fencer’s home region or in the region next door.

  • Reduces the number of youth fencers eligible to compete at Summer Nationals without taking away their chance to participate in a “championship”.

  • Regional Youth Championships will be more manageable in size and can be held in more local sports or convention facilities. They can be organized and run by local clubs, and avoid piling stress onto US Fencing staff.

  • The Championships can be held sometime from mid-April to early May allowing enough time to meet the Summer Nationals regular registration deadline.

Tightening the current Regional Qualifying Paths

As an alternative, US Fencing can consider tightening the regional qualifying paths in a number of ways:

  • for RYCs, increase the total number of regional points required to qualify. For example, increase the number of RYC points required to qualify for Y12 at Summer Nationals from 130 to 180. This could potentially reduce the number of fencers qualified for Y12 through the RYCs by about 30%.

    US Fencing can do an iteration with the points to get the desired outcome using the 2018/2019 Regional Points List as a baseline.

  • for SYCs, award national points to the top 30% of the field. or less, reducing potential qualifiers by 10% or more

  • eliminate Division Qualifiers for Youth events

In conclusion

Promoting the sport of fencing in the United States not only means encouraging the formation of as many non-competitive high school clubs as possible, it also means encouraging young fencers to pursue a competitive path by giving them the appropriate opportunities to build up and improve their competition skills through a hierachy of tournaments that are relatively inexpensive to access for all families.

The suggestions we propose are not onerous to implement, since US Fencing can invite clubs to bid to host the Regional Championships using a rigorously designed RFP (Request for Proposal). Alternately, US Fencing can simply tighten the qualification rules. We will get a fairer and kinder outcome for our youngest fencers than the cut at Summer Nationals.

The intellectual underpinnings for how to winnow the field need to be data driven, logical and fair.

These qualification rules involve the well being of our youngest fencers, they need to be implemented in a collaborative manner with parents and coaches. They cannot be unilateral.

Parents, please speak up in the Comments section. You can also email me at with ideas.

Please share this article with parents of youth fencers who have an interest in the outcome of this debate

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