Do you say “athlete” or do you say “fencer”? Do you say “I’m going to fence” or do you say “I play fencing”?
I’ve found when talking with people from college clubs, or fencing clubs in the US you get the fencing specific jargon. When talking to international fencers and NCAA fencers you get more sports style talk.
I was at a clinic once being taught by a really good French foil coach. The clinic was amazing. There were some pretty good coaches there learning stuff from some pretty awesome coaches. There were also a lot of rec coaches who didn’t know too much. A moment that stood out for me was when we were going through vocab, someone used a French fencing term. The coach running the clinic began to poke fun at him for being an American trying to use French.
Going to college events I’ve seen beginner referees trying to referee in French with bad pronunciation and incorrect words.
Sometimes people treat fencing like a weird niche activity instead of treating it like a sport. The romantic flair of Erol Flynn overtakes the high paced, physically and intellectually challenging athletics involved.
Fencing’s uniqueness has its benefits. It gives a backdrop for fencing culture that can build community and connections.
Knowing French fencing terms as sort of an international language of fencing can be useful. I had a student who trained and competed in South Korea for a year, and her temporary club mates thought she was a beginner because she didn’t know any of the French fencing terms. They realized she wasn’t once she started constantly medaling in competitions. It’s convenient that we have language that we can use to approach fencing when connecting with the world wide community of fencers.
On the flip side…what are athletes looking for when they look for sports and sports clubs? Are they looking for a place that will teach them to perform or are they looking for a place to be different? Clubs should be able to provide a space for both.
Fencing’s unique jargon, connection to history, and association with sword fighting and dueling provides a built in space for people looking for a unique recreational activity.
Those same elements can also be a barrier for drawing in competitive athletes.
I’ve had athletes ask how to get more competitive people and experienced athletes onto the team, or into the club or into the sport in general.
Treat it like a sport. From day one.
Focus on the opportunity to develop as a competitor from day one.
Encourage athletic training and work outs from day one.
Before people get to day one they have to be interested. Show them competitive success. Show them the physical complexity and intensity of training. Refer to it like a sport.
If athletes see it as something that can challenge them and develop them as athletes they will be interested. But that has to be up front. If it looks like playing Robin Hood they might be less inclined.
We keep Robin Hood and Zorro for the kids looking for that, but we need to remember we’re a sport, and keep that on the front line if we want kids to go in knowing that they have the opportunity to be successful athletes.
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