Mentoring a Young Fencer

It’s early September, I find myself in a busy school hall north of Cardiff in the maestref of Radyr among familiar and unfamiliar faces. As you step in the hall you can’t help but notice all the activity. There’s a fencing bout happening right in front of me, and me being me I can’t help but watch and predict the calls. I’d compliment if I see a nice move, like a simple parry riposte or a feint, and grit my teeth when I spot a silly mistake. But that’s not why I’m there.

It’s the Leon Paul Junior Series in Cardiff and I’ve been asked by a parent if I could tag along and give advice to the club’s fencers. Effectively I was a mentor for the day. I made sure the fencers warmed up, had practice bouts, kept their fluids up while my bag contained tools (and work I couldn’t avoid work) in case a sword broke. I’d watch their bouts and make positive comments while at the same time highlighting things to look out for in their next bout. It was doubly beneficial as it was the first competition for one of our young fencers who had just started fencing the week before. In among this new and frankly alien environment I was able to reassure both the fencer and parent using some of my own experiences. I have to stress that I am not a fencing coach and while I wouldn’t be against getting coaching qualifications later in life (being the only Welsh fencing coach that can speak Cymraeg fluently would be awesome I guess). I’m just a fencing enthusiast who enjoys every aspect of the sport. Fencing’s a hobby while I don’t mind whether I win or lose, I like competing and pitting my wits against an opponent. But I can appreciate the draw of coaching; it was nice giving advice then seeing a fencer apply it. While it was also good going back in time and figuring out what I would have liked to have heard when I was that age. For example towels are really handy, not only can you wipe your brow with it, you can straighten a foil and scare off a Vogon. And as obvious as it sounds it would have been nice to have someone remind me to concentrate on the bout, keep assessing what’s in front and make sure I didn’t rely too much on blade engagement. It sounds really obvious but it’s something fencers on the fringe lack. It might also be one of the reasons next generation fencers, especially those whose parents are coaches, tend to do better than those without. Of course nothing will bypass hard work and determination but it’s still a moot point. In that context it’s generally better to come from a large club, yes you’ll get less time with a coach compared to those at a smaller outfit but it’s nice to be surrounded by people supporting you. Whether that’s on the side lines or simply by giving a supportive word here and there. I certainly felt a bit lonely at the Charlie Adams Cup in January when the entire room appeared to be supporting my opponent and I’m a grown up (I’ll get him next time).

Anyway that’s enough of a ramble, to end I want to wish everyone taking part in Bristol the best of luck and hope they enjoy it to the full. And for any parent out there to make sure you support your child, a few kind words can go a long way.

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