Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Push-Me-Pull-You

I get to meet a lot of parents of fencers, both at my home club and at national tournaments. Some of them I like much more than others.

Consider Family A. Kid A is about ten years old, enchanted with fencing, and is a generally upbeat and happy kid. His parents are both excited about his fencing, but more because he is excited about it than because they have any particular expectations about it all. He comes to classes, with at least one—and often, both—parents accompanying him. He looks like he'll turn out to be a pretty decent fencer, in time. His parents buy him a full set of gear, including electric gear, and after only four months, they decide to enter him in a Regional Youth Circuit (RYC) event.

We tell them all about tournaments: check-in, weapons check, referees, the format. We warn him that he will lose all his bouts, and explain that his goal should be to try to get a touch in every bout, to simply do the best he can and just figure out how tournaments work.

And he has a pretty good day. He does indeed lose all his bouts, but he gets more than one touch in a couple of his pool bouts, and he even manages to win one of the 5-touch bouts in his only DE bout, to force his opponent to a third. He doesn't come in last.

And he and his parents can't wait to try it again, once he's had a chance to learn some more about fencing.

There is, of course, a Family B. The B kid is about twelve, and Dad B is really excited about the kid's fencing. "I expect him to win me a mantel full of trophies for me," he says. "That's why we're here." Kid B comes to class regularly, with Dad along every time. They buy gear for both Kid and Dad, so Dad can help him practice at home. Kid B shows signs of one day becoming a pretty decent fencer. Dad B has to be asked to stay away from class, because he starts to try to coach his son in class. (What Dad B knows of fencing is what he's learned from watching his son's classes.)

After three or four months, Dad and Kid B decide that the kid will fence in an unrated event at the club. We start the usual "You will lose, so just work on getting one touch" lecture, but Dad will have none of it. "You have no idea how competitive this kid is—he's gonna win this tournament because he wants it more than any of the rest of them." We mention that there will be fencers there who will have more skill and experience, and suggest that perhaps such expectations are unrealistic. Later, we pull the kid aside and give him the rest of the lecture, anyway.

Tournament day arrives, and both Mom and Dad B come along to watch their kid fence. They offer advice with every touch, at fairly high volume, and complain to coach and bout committee that the referee isn't giving their son any touches. Coach and bout committee carefully explain that the referee makes calls according to the rules of fencing, and that their son is fencing more experienced and knowledgeable kids. Mom and Dad B listen, and then when their son comes up again to fence his DE, start yelling at him, about what he's doing wrong, about how he needs to want it more, about how he has to get his act in gear. B's results and scores end up about the same as the scores A got in his first tournament, but he's pretty bummed about it all.

Guess which kid's not fencing any longer?

I'll take the parents who get pulled into the sport by their kids—you can have the pushers.

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