Thursday, March 26, 2020

Winding The Clock

 A conversation with a friend during a work out recently brought up the issue of sleep. He complained that he didn’t feel he had performed as well as he should have at a NAC because he couldn’t reset his sleep well enough so he did not get much sleep. I’ve had college athletes run into issues with this. Teenage athletes often make poor choices about sleep. So here are some things to keep in mind.

First, you won’t perform well if you’re tired from lack of sleep. Being tired from fencing is something you can reduce by building endurance in training. You can engage in training exercises to help you overcome performance drops when you’re tired from effort. But being tired because you didn’t sleep the night before could slow reaction times, it can reduce your ability to make choices, it can lower your attention and focus. Your ability to see, assess, and respond will drop even if you can still move around fine. You could easily lose some of your drive to win.

So we need to plan to be able to sleep.

High School and College athletes sometimes want to go out with friends or party the night before an event. Events are usually on weekends, social time is usually on weekends it can be an unfortunate match up. While adults working as officials might say “Guess I’m not going out that weekend since I’m refereeing in the morning.” Young athletes might feel like they can handle it. One of my middle schoolers once thought he could convince his friends to leave him alone so he could sleep if he stayed over at a sleep over party the night before a qualifier.

As expected…they kept him up more because he asked to be allowed to sleep.

I’ve had college kids oversleep and miss meets, or need teammates to come to dorms to wake them up. It hasn’t happened in a long time but some have shown up drunk or hung over. Most commonly you get them up late at night and then not awake enough to perform the first round or two.

How do you avoid this?

Don’t tell them not to have fun.

Allow some fun. Make sure they schedule it early enough that they can finish early and get to sleep. Make sure they have guidelines for good choices so the don’t over do it. Trying to convince them, college students or high school students, to just stay in and do nothing won’t consistently work. Giving a little room but with guidance for good choices can help.

Even better…set up a social activity. If you have a team, set up a team dinner, and some games or social time. A scrimmage or fencing game can work too. Then remind them to hit the hay when they’re done.

For athletes in general, regardless of age, sleep for tournaments involving travel can be tough. It’s pretty normal for people to have trouble adjusting to sleep in new surroundings. It can be harder to get to sleep and if you do get to sleep the sleep may not be as sound or refreshing.

Sleep aids aren’t a good solution for this because it might be harder to wake up sharp the next morning, or they might make you need more sleep than you have time for.

The best solution is to travel a day early. If its an important enough event and your competition is Sunday, arrive Friday night if you know you need adjustment to be able to sleep. Or Thursday night if you’re fencing Saturday. If that’s not a possibility, bringing a pillow from home, an air freshener that matches what you use in your bedroom, or something familiar that will help you feel more at home can help. Meditation and relaxation exercises might help solve it too.

The final sleep issue we see a lot is a poor sleep wake cycle relative to your tournament schedule. If you’re on spring break or summer vacation, or if you’re in college and keep weird hours, or if you’re just home and have an open schedule and tend to be up late and sleep late…you probably will have trouble getting to bed on time to get enough sleep for your tournament.

Athletes are often clever enough to try and adjust when they’re going to bed a few days before hand. I frequently here from them how they didn’t start early enough so it didn’t work. Usually the problem is they move the wrong direction when winding the clock.

Human circadian rhythms are set off from the day and night cycle. So when we adjust them we have to be careful how we do it. Trying to force our bodies to go to bed earlier than we’re used to can be pretty hard. It often does not result in us waking up earlier. Even if it does it does not usually result in a comfortable reset that sticks.
If we want to reset our sleep wake times we need to wind forward. So if you’re used to going to bed at 3am and waking up at 11am but you’ll need to be up at 6am to be ready to leave by 7am to reach the venue by 8am for your 9am event. You need to be able to get enough sleep comfortably to be able to wake up at a time way different than you’re used to, be refreshed, and able to warm up and function normally.

To do this a few days earlier start adjusting your sleep time so you go to bed a few hours later and wake up a few hours later. So instead of 3am go to bed at 7am. Then go to bed at 11am. Then 4pm. Then 8pm. Then you’re set. Your sleep wake cycle will have adjusted and you should be able to comfortably sleep at your new time, wake up correctly refreshed, and keep that new cycle if you want it.

Hopefully this advice is helpful as you plan to get good sleep for your tournaments. Hopefully you understand how important good sleep is and are planning to make sure you get it, not just for tournaments but in general!

If you liked this, follow us on Facebook for more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Awards, Scholarships, and Stuff

Well, around the world, everything is pretty crazy at the moment. But we're seeing a lot of people do the right thing and stay home and find solutions to help keep communities going without exposing people to more danger or risk. A lot of parts of government are trying to support and encourage this, and hopefully a lot of employers are being compassionate to their workers with this.

For  Triweapon Fencing, UMBC Fencing, and Fencing Institute of America Baltimore we've been working together to provide non-traditional options for our fencers to maintain their education and interest in fencing.

But fencing isn't always just about learning a sport, or about learning to support the sport through refereeing, or tournament management or armoring. Fencers are people, and the sport only has meaning when we treat the fencer as a person in tota.

This is how my coach did things, and it's how I always try to approach things.

For college fencers they are losing their National Championship in April. Locally we've lost our regional championship and I assume many other regions have as well. Seniors are losing their graduation ceremonies, and their experience of their last semester on campus. With all of these things gone it's a loss of several opportunities for athletes to be recognized for their hard work.

USA fencing is trying to figure out how things will work for Summer Nationals and the IOC just postponed the Olympics. Moving stuff like this around or losing stuff like this can feel disappointing, but it's better than the alternative and it's pretty epic that globally we can all pull together to find solutions to protect people.

But still...while we find ways to keep fencing going by sending out blogs, or videos, or giving people bouts to watch or teaching online...we can't let the community part drop either.

For my UMBC team we brought back our annual cook out last year, and this year planned to bring back the end of year awards we traditionally did with that cook out. For my youth fencers we do awards during December, and graduations and other ceremonies in they might be ok. But for the college kids we'll be working to figure out how to still provide recognition.

I hope other programs do the same.

With that in mind, I am imagining USA Fencing is still doing their annual awards and scholarship programs. The deadlines for those will be coming up soon. Clubs usually post info in their clubs (we have hand outs up in our vestibule). But postings and hand outs don't help right now.

I was going to send an email out to my students, but figured it might be better to post here in case other people miss announcements because of missed practices, so everyone in the community gets the chance to be reminded that they've worked hard, we still appreciate their hard work and success, and here is the info for some of the opportunities to get recognized for it.

Currently the websites don't say the awards are postponed or suspended. So hopefully they're still running as planned. Check out the links below!

This first one recognizes your work as an athlete and acknowledges high school students who have earned or renewed a rating during the current season.

The deadline is 11:59pm May 1st 2020. You will need a school transcript.

The Absolute Fencing All Academic Team Scholarship acknowledges athletes who do well academically. Fencers can apply just for recognition, which requires a little less work, or they can also apply for a scholarship. The scholarship consideration will require a teacher recommendation letter and an essay by the fencer.

A school transcript is also required.

The deadline is 11:59pm May 1st 2020.

So check these out and get the recognition your hard work deserves.

For more updates like this, and ideas, thoughts, and items of interest for fencers, coaches and parents, follow us on Facebook and please share us with friends and team mates!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Two Ways of Considering Errors

Recently I was listening to an older fencer talk with a younger fencer. He asked the fencer why he was doing something he was doing. The fencer gave an answer, and honestly, what he was doing was not the most adaptive choice he could have been making. The older fencer responded that the kid wasn’t wrong in his choice because he scored the touch so it must have been right.

Later in the night I was giving a lesson and the athlete I was working with commented that when he kind of follows instructions he can sort of make the action work, but that it seems more solid and consistent when fully follows the instruction. This should kind of be obvious, the more correctly you do something, the better the result.

My response to him was something along the lines of “You’re at a point where almost right isn’t good enough.”

Thinking about it later made me think on the two different approaches to the idea of an error. Both students could score with what they were doing. One would continue his error because it worked in practice, the other was going to fix it.

The student continuing the error will eventually find that against a more serious opponent or a better opponent, the bad choice won’t work as well. The student working to improve his mistake will have a tool he can use in a broader number of scenarios than he can use now.

A tough thing with recognizing that we have to do things right even if the wrong thing works is that sometimes our mistakes get rewarded and our efforts to correct how we make an action get shut down.

In a bout a student might do something ridiculous that scores because his partner does something poorly or ill chosen. Or it might just be too weird for their opponent to figure out how to stop. A student recognizing an error and trying to fix it might think he’s fixed it and might just be fencing a better opponent, or someone who knows how to stop that action, or someone who gets lucky with a weird touch. They might take steps to fix their action and the steps might just not be enough to fix it…yet. Not scoring might reinforce not using the action or not making the correction, and so sometimes we have to help illustrate the incremental improvement, or how the execution is better even if its not yet successful.

On the flip side, sometimes we have to make the awkward choice of explaining that something was not a good choice even when it seems like it worked. Students don’t always get this when it’s explained because the positive reinforcement from scoring is stronger than us telling them otherwise. Even if we show them that the mistake loses against a better executed response, the positive reinforcement of scoring is stronger than the positive punishment of getting scored on. So if we let the mistake go long enough it can be tough to extinguish it.

A helpful element in this is if the student has a cohort of teammates they’re close with and they all have a sense of what the right way to execute the actions are, even if they can’t all consistently do them. Not only do they help remind each other to correct errors but having that culture of being committed to correctness allows the students to focus on it themselves as well. When they begin to correct themselves as soon as they notice the mistake it can help get them on track before the error is reinforced.

While having some sort of negative response to poor execution isn’t necessary, I’ve had college students who would assign themselves push ups if they realized they were executing actions incorrectly. I’ve had youth fencers successfully extinguish some basic errors in their teammates with the same approach. Self-directed and peer directed correction can be pretty powerful and offset the strength that reinforcement through scoring with the wrong choice would otherwise have.

The biggest piece of this though is just instilling a sense of the importance of correct execution and the broader success that it will lead to. That said, students still need to understand that once they have it right then they have room for personalization and innovation. 

Follow us on Facebook for more.