Deciding that you really want to do well at a tournament can be tricky. I’ve seen this decision be helpful, but pretty often I’ve also seen it hurt a fencer. Here are a few thoughts about setting a goal like this.

Deciding that your really want to win is both an emotional and intellectual decision. First off it’s a plan. Deciding that this goal takes precedence in your life means:

  • You train hard for the event
  • You gear your season to peak now
  • You have a great game plan

It also means that you make sure that you’re physically and mentally ready the day of competition. How you behave the week leading up to the tournament can affect that. I always had a mental countdown before NACs (today is 6 days from the tournament). It helped me to be ready, and my results were very consistent for a number of years, because of that preparation.

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat right
  • Deal with other issues in your life to the best of your ability so that they are not weighing over you when you compete. However, as event arrives let go of other concerns and focus on the meet.
  • Prepare your equipment.having enough reliable equipment ensures that you won't be distracted during the competition. Make a good checklist and bring all your stuff.
  • Get into and enjoy the excitement that tagging a day as a big event can bring.

Being ready on tournament day will require a different set of preparations for each fencer. Think about what you need the day of the event and do your best to be prepared to get it. Here’s some ideas.

  • Talk about what you need with the people who will be supporting you at the tournament. Some like quite so that they can concentrate. Others like insane cheering so they can get pumped up. Communicate! You may have parents, children, spouses, coaches and random friends showing up at the meet. Figure out what their roles will be. Will someone help with water, keeping a screwdriver or fix equipment?
  • Same goes with the coach. If the coach hasnft had this conversation with you, talk to him or her about what helps and what you find distracting. The coach may have a different view, but itfs better to pound this out before the meet, than to get upset during the tournament.
  • Rest between bouts and rounds. This can be a hard one. Some fear letting go because they might not be able to get ready again. Practice this cycle, ready to go, fence, let go, rest, get ready to go and fence again. Trust that you can get yourself back in the right space if you let go between bouts. To be rested and strong at the end of a long tournament you really need to pay attention to this one.
  • Rehearsing your fencing. I think most fencers really miss out on this one. If you watch high level skating they are always rehearsing their routines before they perform. Of course fencing is not a routine, but good fencing is a series of preparations with a set of definable options depending upon the opponent’s reactions. This can and should be rehearsed as often as possible, both in the gym and before the fencing.
  • Physical preparation. I think many fencers miss this one too. Most stay frozen on the sidelines between bouts. There are many ways to get yourself ready to fence through movement. If you’re energy is too low, make some ballistic jumps and catch your knees. If you feel tight, stretch. High levels of anxiety can be reduced with certain Yoga postures like a forward bend. Back bending postures can be energizing. Simply practice the way you want to move on the strip a moment before you fence. For me, I want to feel that the movement is smooth but also strong and stealthy like a lion getting ready to pounce.
  • Centering ideas. To win you have to stay in the moment. There are lots of great ways to bring your self into the present. Focus on your breathing, bring your weight into your feet. You want to experience your body, but you also want to perceive your surroundings.

Wanting to win raises the emotional stake a great deal. It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time.

  • Feel good that you’ve taken the emotional risk to try to win. Many people can’t do this because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t get what they want. The success is in having the courage to take the risk! If you get what want it will feel great. If you don’t it will hurt, but you can handle it, and always will have the satisfaction that you tried your hardest.
  • At the beginning of the bout you’re at the edge of the unknown. You might win and you might not. This creates an excitement, or some may call it anxiety. Whatever it is it is appropriate for the situation, since the outcome is uncertain and you have a stake in the outcome. Excess or inappropriate anxiety usually occurs when your mind starts making predictions (I can’t beat this idiot wearing black high top sneakers—I’ll never be able to put the light on if I attack). Your job is to stay on the edge of the unknown.
  • Wanting to win doesn’t mean that you’re thinking about winning while you fence. It means that you do the best you can to savor every moment. The whole day should feel like a meditation. Breathe, stay in the moment, execute the game plan.
  • Wanting to win doesn’t mean that the opponent’s don’t want to win. We’re good they’re good is a great place to be. Be respectful of your opponent’s goals. All you can do is the best you can to execute your game plan. If you’re calm and rationale, you’ll learn more, notice more, and be better ready for the next challenge.
  • You’re taking an emotional risk, but you don’t need to sacrifice your ego. Your selfworth should not be on the line when you go out to fence. You need to remind yourself of what you have accomplished, where you’ve gone, and this is only one step along a long journey. It’s a good idea to evaluate and inventory your progress right before the tournament. Do this by yourself, with a fencing partner or coach. Identifying your strengths should help your lasting confidence as well as help you formulate how you’ll fence that day.

Having big important days makes your life more interesting and full. Handling it is mostly about preparation and having the right perspective. Approach it in the right way and a “big” tournament will always lead to important new learning.

Dave Littell is a long time competitive fencer, a member of the 1988 Seoul Olympic team, and past coach of Haverford Fencing (2001-2007). In 2007 he lead the Men's Haverford Team to the MACFA championships. He continues to write about fencing, as well as perform his duties at the American College, where he is a professor specializing in Financial Planning.

Copyright 1989 By Dave Littell. Used with permission of the author.