Are You Beating Yourself on the Strip?
Why leave the most important part of your fencing - the mental side - to chance?
So what kind of a head do you have on your shoulders? Are you competing at the level that you’re capable of? Do you regularly perform better in practice than at tournaments? Do you mysteriously lose your aggressiveness and practiced actions when you step on the strip? Do fears and self-doubts paralyze you and prevent you from performing to your potential? Do you regularly lose to fencers that you know you should be beating?
If some of these questions bother you, then you probably already know how critically important the mental part of your sport is. If you want to take your performance to the next level, then you have to be willing to take your training far beyond where most fencers stop. Most serious athletes religiously work on the physical part of the sport. They’ll work on their strength, fitness, and quickness. They’ll work on the proper technique. Is this stuff important? You betcha! You can’t become successful without “paying your physical dues” in this way. Hard work is definitely one of the main keys to your success. Without it, you’ll quickly lose.
Unfortunately, this is where most fencers stop. When they go into their bouts, when they make it to the DE round, they hope they’ll perform well; they hope that they’ll have their practiced actions online today; they hope that they’ll win. You would never leave your conditioning or technique to chance. i.e. “I hope I’m in good shape today.” So why would you leave the most important part of your competitive fencing – the mental side – to chance?
Concentration is your key to fencing excellence under pressure.
- What you focus on before and during your bout will make or break your performance.
- When you fence well, your focus is always on what you are DOING and NOT on what you are THINKING!
- Great fencers keep their concentration outward on “seeing, reading & reacting.” That is seeing the moving target in front of them, reading their actions and then reacting.
- Fencing well involves putting yourself on automatic and NOT trying to coach yourself through the bout
- Keep your focus in the moment on one touch at a time.
- When your focus drifts to the future, (winning or losing) or the past, (a mistake or touch against you), quickly bring your focus back to the present
You can’t fence to your potential without consistently working on this mental side of your fencing. You need to learn to control your pre-bout and during bout focus so that you stay calm, loose and confident both before and during your time on the strip. You need to develop the mental skill of being able to calmly manage your last minute negative thinking and doubts which are so common to high pressured bouts.
You have to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence to fence aggressively, the way that you’ve been trained, perhaps the way you so naturally do in practice. You have to learn to stay calm in the face of your opponent’s runs. You have to learn to keep your concentration on point when you are close to winning or about to move on to an exciting result over a higher ranked competitor!
With a little work, these mental skills as well as a few important others can be systematically trained to the point where you develop the reputation as a mentally tough fencer.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is an internationally recognized Sports Performance Consultant who works with fencers, helping them overcome performance fears and blocks, develop mental toughness, better handle competitive pressure and perform to their potential. As a regular columnist for a number of national and international publications, Dr. G writes on the subjects of peak performance and mental toughness. He is the author of the revolutionary book, This Is Your Brain On Sports. Check out his popular Mental Toughness Training Package
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