(For)getting Results

A friend of mine–a former Olympian who has recently become a full-time coach–was lamenting recently that his students (all youth fencers) weren’t getting competitive results. Between the pressures from the club owner, his students’ parents, and his own pride, he was becoming very frustrated that the group he’d been working with for less than a year wasn’t doing well competitively.

The problem in his thinking was one that is exceedingly common: he was worrying about his results and not about his program.

Youth competitions are great fun and can serve as an invaluable learning tool for young fencers. However, from the coach’s point of view, the results of youth competition are meaningless. While the coach can gain a lot of insight into his student’s development by watching him compete, he shouldn’t be concerned about whether his student is Y10 national champion or not. The coach should instead be focused on building a cohesive program.

Are all of the students learning the fundamentals of fencing? Are they progressing steadily? Is their understanding of the sport constantly expanding? What concepts and ideas do they know and how can that be furthered? These are the questions that the coach, in forming his program, needs to answer.

There is no “competitive vs recreational” dichotomy in youth fencing. All youth fencing is developmental. A coach’s focus–his creative energy–needs to be turned toward improving his program. He needs to be constructing an educational system, rather than simply trying to train individual fencers.

The way to do that is to approach training as an organic, systematic process. The coach should be able to “diagram” the path on which the system takes the fencers. In other words, he should be able to say, “The beginner starts here and learns these things in order to get to here, where he learns these things, which allows him to get to this point and learn these things…”. Each step in the system should be designed to bring the fencers to the next step. If the fencers are not able to progress to the next step, the coach needs to assess the previous step and alter it to alleviate any deficiencies. No step in a youth fencer’s development should be seen as an end in itself. A coach should not be teaching the student things that do not help him move to the next step in his development (the most obvious example of this behavior is when a coach teaches his youth students “tricks” that will only work against other youth fencers, but which they will have to “unlearn” if they want to progress as they get older).

A training system needs to be adaptable. The coach should be constantly looking at ways to grow and improve the system, if it is to remain viable. Immediate competitive results, however, do not enter into the design of the system because they cannot add anything.

There are so many factors influencing youth competitive results, that it’s senseless to worry about it. The “top” 10 year old in the country may simply be the tallest, or perhaps most emotionally mature, or maybe his coordination has developed earlier than that of his peers.

A coach should train his youth fencers so that they will get results later. Besides instilling in them a love of the sport and making training a fun experience, the coach should be developing the proper skills, abilities, and understanding that will allow his students to continue to develop in the sport, so that they may eventually become top Juniors and Seniors.

In taking this “long” view of training, a coach should forget results in order to get results.