Perhaps the most important principle of training–one which is possibly overlooked more than any other and which has a tremendous impact on the art, science, and business of coaching–is that, in order to be most effective, everything that happens during a fencer’s training should be designed to be fun.
A lot of coaches (and fencers) have the confused understanding that fun is detrimental to learning and that the best, most “serious” training is hard, grueling work that the athlete must suffer through in order to achieve success. Fun, some believe, is for small children, not yet old enough to get “serious” about their training.
Not only is this “Prussian” mentality misguided, it’s actually detrimental to an athlete’s development.
Human beings learn best when they’re having fun. The human mind seeks knowledge and development. Learning, adapting, and growing have all been critical to our survival as a species. We would be extinct if the best way to learn was through misery. The feeling of “fun” is a positive feedback mechanism that informs you that you are engaged in a healthy, helpful activity.
Things you learn while enjoying yourself are retained more thoroughly and more quickly. Conversely, if you are bored while engaged in an activity, your learning will be slower and more difficult.
To accelerate their fencers’ development, coaches need to be make fencing training–all of it–fun. The dichotomy that exists in many coaches’ minds between what is “fun” and what is “serious” is a false one: fun is not the opposite of serious. Truly serious training ought to be fun. The best way for a fencer to reach a superior level is for him to enjoy the process of training.
Not only will a coach improve the rate of his students’ growth by following this principle, he will also have a positive and healthy effect on the culture of his program.
A fencer who is trained to believe that fun and serious training are oppositional, works hard in spite of boredom and even misery because he believes it will help him win. The result is a fencer with far too much external motivation and far too little internal motivation. He is not getting pleasure from the activity itself, but is only working toward the reward. That kind of imbalance in motivation will more likely result in a fencer being frustrated with his performance at competition, frustrated with his sport, and will likely lead to burn out.
Of course, the difficulty in making “serious training” fun is that, to be effective, a coach has to have a keen understanding of the sport. He needs to understand what skills and abilities need to be developed and how to find creative and innovativesolutions to develop them. The fact alone that something is fun doesn’t make it relevant. However, if something is relevant, the coach much know how to make teaching and perfecting it fun. One reason that fencing training–especially group training–is so often boring is that coaches don’t understand the sport well enough to effectively create new and exciting exercises.
Another thing that a coach much possess for this approach to work is high-level communication skills–including, especially, empathy. A coach must be able to set the appropriate tone in his club and understand how his fencers react to different situations and environments. He must understand when they are or aren’t engaged and how to reengage them when necessary.
By designing his training to be fun, the coach will find his students more enthusiastic and learning more quickly, and his program will grow in size and quality much more readily.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?