Confidence and the Fencer

So as I gave a lesson today I ended up discussing confidence with my athlete.  This got me thinking, “What is confidence?”, “What does it look like when you are fencing?”, “How do you get it?”, and “Are there any downsides to being confident?”

I got to think about these ideas during my long trip to and from New Windsor and thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.  So let’s start from the beginning… What is does it mean to be confident? seems to have a couple of thoughts on the matter and they are:

1 : full of conviction : certain
2 : having or showing assurance and self-reliance

I personally feel that these are good descriptions of what it means to be confident.  It can be very easy to mistake someone who is “cocky” for someone who is confident.  I believe that there are a few key differences though.  Let’s talk about what a confident fencer looks like and how they behave.

A confident fencer would be someone who executes their actions without wavering.  What I mean by this is if they are going to make a beat four it is sharp, crisp and clean.  They can perform it at a variety of speeds and their positioning and balance are very good.  A confident fencer can perform their action(s) in a variety of circumstances.  I also think they have a better grasp of what their “game” is.  They perform their actions without fear of what might happen because they have the ability to handle a large number of responses.

In other words, what I feel I am describing is a fencer who has a good foundation!  Someone who knows their basic techniques, understands distance and timing, and understands control and how to be a leader.  This doesn’t mean the fencer has the best technique/distance/timing/control, but they know their abilities and can work well with what they have.

So now the question becomes “How does a fencer become confident?”  To answer this I would say that since confidence has a strong technical basis, technique is a great place to start!  Other places a fencer may choose to look at would be fencing theory, timing, and distance.  Most people can see gains in their physical ability very quickly, so technique lessons which involve a large degree of success is a great way to build confidence in an action.

So now, you may be thinking, this is perfect for someone who is starting out, but what if I am an A or B rated fencer with this problem?  I would tell you that there are several factors that may be involved.  First let’s look at your stressors.  If you have other problems in life aside from fencing, then these may have a negative impact on your ability or mindset and will cause you to feel like you cannot perform an action.  Another cause of stress could be self-inflicted.  You may be putting unreasonable goals on yourself, or you could be giving yourself goals that are not in sync with the reason you fence.  To fix this problem REMOVE YOUR STRESSORS!  This will be a big help although it may be hard to figure out at times.

Another way of fixing your problem is not to remove stress, but to rise above it.  Some people work best by conquering their demons.  This essentially means that you have found a way to handle more stresses at one time.  A great analogy is juggling.  Some people can juggle only one or two balls at a time, some three, others four or five.  If you can train yourself to juggle one more ball that is one more problem you have learned to handle and it will be very obvious to you that you have learned to handle it.  This tends to give people a big boost in confidence.  I would also caution that while this is a very easy sign to feel it takes time to learn how to juggle more balls.

Another solution which is very similar to the first is to take lessons or practice in an environment where you will have a very high rate of success.  Some have heard the story of the coach who would throw himself onto his epee fencers tips in the lesson (he would even kick the tip when they were going for a toe touch!)  This high degree of success will frequently give you a feel-good boost which can help you in changing to a positive “I can do this” mindset.

On to my final thought, “Are there any downsides to being confident?”

I would like to say “No”, however, I know that not everyone understands the difference from being confident and from being perfect!  If someone believes so strongly in themselves that they can never make a mistake, then they are fooling themselves.  Mistakes happen all the time.  If they did not we would be seeing a lot more bouts ending in a 15-0 win for someone.  This over confidence can be negative since it will create a false sense of correctness and the fencer will not have the ability to take criticism.  This student will also tend to not work as hard because “They can already do that action” or “They want more of a challenge”.  This leads to a deterioration of a skill because they are not practicing the basic elements which made them strong to begin with.  A classic example of “Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.”

Aside from the last scenario I would say that being confident is good, so long as you are still willing to admit you are human.  Confident fencers will make better actions and will have a more cohesive game because they can perform without second guessing their choices.  They understand that mistakes happen and they know how to make solutions or they can perform solutions given by a coach.  The most important thing is that a confident fencers understands their own abilities and they understand their own mindset.  In the end I think that the best way to obtain confidence is by gaining experience in your fencing.  Practice your skills and fence with as many people as you can.  You may have some tough times along the way, but if it was always easy then everyone would be confident!  Keep working hard, learn and redefine your boundaries, and you will stand out from the crowd.

Some final questions that I did not include above came to me as I was writing this.  I think I will leave it for you guys to answer…

Do you believe in your abilities enough to be a confident fencer?  Do you have what it takes to keep pushing yourself and to lose and regain your confidence (it will happen!) as you learn more?  I hope the answer to both is yes.