by Victoria Pritchard:
It’s your first competition. There are lots of fencers milling around, warming up or having practice fights, and you feel like the new kid on the block. Was that toast you had for breakfast or butterflies?
Nerves can help us win fights by releasing adrenalin, but all too often they ruin our concentration and lose us hits. The guilty culprits: our minds. If you find negative thoughts overwhelm you, or start wondering why you ever thought you were good at fencing, try the techniques below to build up your mental fitness, beat the nerves and get into the competition ‘zone’.
1. Keep Your Concentration
a) Come up with a fixed routine to follow when you arrive. This might include a set warm up, followed by a lesson from your coach and/or a practice bout with a fellow competitor (make sure you spot their favourite moves in case you have to fence them!). This will relax any muscle tension, and get you into fencing mode.
b) Do you get distracted during a bout? Maybe your entire family has turned up to watch, or people are cheering your opponent? If so, you can use ‘trigger words’ to stop the nerves and keep focused. For example, if you usually rush in to attack, think ‘distance’. If you’re prone to London-eye-sized circular parries, think ‘small’. By concentrating on how to achieve the hits, you’ll be half way to winning them.
2. Stay Confident
a) Arrive at the competition with a plan of attacks to use against your opponent. If you’re really dedicated, you can think up attacks your opponent might make, and how you would combat them. Just knowing that you have a few fencing aces up your sleeve will increase your self-esteem, reduce nerves, and turn you from a target dummy into a prize fighter.
b) Don’t put yourself down. If you find your mind brimming with negative thoughts while you’re waiting to fence (‘He’s better than me’; ‘I’m useless’), imagine a red stop sign. Then replace the sign and negative thought with a positive one (‘I can beat this one’ , ‘I’m going to prove just how good I am’).
Having confidence in your ability means you’re more likely to win hits.
3. Keep Your Emotional Control
a) If you tense up when you’re nervous, try some breathing exercises to make you relax. Inhale slowly, counting to eight (slow) seconds, hold for four, and then exhale, again for eight seconds. Repeat this as often as you need to. Beware of overdoing it – you need to be geared up for the fight of your life, not half-asleep!
Most fencers spend hours practising their technique and building up physical fitness, but they forget that mental fitness is just as important. Learning to deal with nerves can make the vital difference between losing a bout and winning it. So take a few minutes after every training session to get your mind into shape. A tough mind means a tough fencer. Your opponents want to intimidate you; resist them and the battle is half-won.
Oh, yes: don’t look at the box!