An important sign of an athlete’s maturity and confidence is his ability to set goals. The only real goals of a child learning to fence is (rightly) to learn something new and have fun. He may dream of one day becoming Olympic Champion–and such dreams are important for excitement and motivation, but they cannot yet be called goals. The mature (or maturing) fencer must move beyond dreaming.
In order to transform a dream into a goal, the athlete has to commit to a plan. You may dream of losing 10 pounds, but if you never change your diet or exercise habits, you have at best a desire (and at worst a delusion), not a goal. To be successful, an athlete has to take responsibility for his success. He cannot simply wait, hoping for luck to provide him with what he wants. He has to, along with his coach, form a plan to attain what he wants and then hold to it (refining the plan over time).
The amount of work that is necessary to be a superior fencer is tremendous. No one becomes a top-level fencer by accident. Nor should any one expect to ride their “talent” to the top. According to the research of K. Anders Ericsson [pdf], one can only achieve an expert level in their field through “deliberate practice”. Put simply, top level performance can only result from engaging in a significant amount of the specific work necessary to achieve it.
For many fencers, goal setting–particularly competitive goal setting–raises the discomforting prospect of failure. It is much easier to face an unrealized dream than a missed goal. However, in order to achieve great things in the sport, the fencer must at some point overcome his fear of failure.
If you want to make real progress in your fencing, discuss your goals with your coach, make a plan, and then follow it. Along the way, assess whether or not the plan is correct and make changes if necessary. Gauging your performance in terms of your goals is, in fact, much more productive than just trying to compare your results to that of other fencers. By seeing your fencing in terms of the plan you are following, you can more objectively determine your progress and decide how to proceed. If, at the end of your plan, you’ve reached your goals, you are ready to set your next one; if not, you can use the information you’ve gathered to improve your plan for the next time.
Dreaming is nice, but goal-setting leads to success.