The mental or psychological game in fencing is just as important--if not more so--than the physical aspect.
You can perfect your moves in practice, yet "crump" under the pressure of competition. It's critical to realize that the pressure IS artificial--it's induced by how you perceive the game (you probably don't see it as such).
That pressure is created by you, not by the situation per se.
Mastery of fencing requires both a solid physical and mental game.
Mastery of fencing requires a perception of the game--"a Frame"--that doesn't get in the way of optimal performance. Mastery of fencing requires choosing a Frame that makes learning easier as well as a Frame that allows you to perform at your best under any circumstances.
In this section are presented some of the main factors that once understood and harnessed will improve your competitive fencing performance dramatically.
- Framing & Re-Framing -- How to Fence Better by Changing the Way You See Things
- The Worm of Worry -- How It Hamstrings Your Performance
- Cage The Bear --How to Fence Better and Still Have Fun
- The 11 Deadly Sins of Fencing -- Have You Sinned Lately?
- Striving for Perfection -- Don't Do It!
- Destructive Self-Talk -- Put the kibosh on it!
- Dealing with Expectations -- Set a zero expectation.
- Coping with Anger & Frustration -- How to re-cage The Bear once he's escaped.
Fencing is one of the most mental of all sports. It has been likened to badminton in terms of its speed, time periods, head to head play, and high demands for balance, quickness, fakes, mental acuity and mental agility. In short, fencing is chess on your feet, using a weapon. The mental demands of competitive fencing require strong control over mind, body and emotions, and any fencer wishing to succeed under fire needs calmness, poise and mental toughness.
This article on my program The Mental Game of Fencing gives you five mental fencing strategies I used with the Stanford University Fencing Camp that you can use right away in your own fencing game.
1. Before You Can Succeed, First Succeed In Your Mind: It is possible to win an event if you do not believe in yourself. Athletes surprise themselves this way all the time. However, you would agree that it is far better to believe you can do something than not, correct? If you go into a competition worrying about the outcome, or believing you can't win, or worse, believing you do not deserve to win, you are stacking the odds against you in huge ways. Better to have an open mind and think, "I deserve to win as much as the next person. I've worked hard to get here. Let's just see what happens". The Mental Game of Fencing says you should keep an open mind and give yourself every chance to succeed.
2. Where Your Breath Is, So Is Your Mind: It is amazing how many high-level sports competitors do not pay much attention to their breath. And I don't just mean in terms of relaxation. I mean in terms of concentration. Everyone knows that to relax, proper full diaphragmatic breathing is vital. Fewer athletes and coaches know how this affects the mind and powers of concentration. The key principle is this: If you focus on your breath, your mind stays in the moment. When you are worried, and anxious and in a hurry, your breathing is corrupted, and is higher, shallower and less efficient. Learn to come back to your breath during breaks in the action, and learn how to attach your breath to key movements you make in the action. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should stay in close touch with your breath at all times.
3. Time Slows Down In The Zone: With training, an athlete can slow their sense of time down in a competition, so they play better. Time alteration is a main feature of the zone. Time either goes away, or slows down so much that the athlete has almost extra-sensory ESP-like anticipation and time galore to execute. By learning a specific centering method, the mind clears out the many filters of self-talk, emotions, fears, doubts, strategies, self-instruction and other self-distractions, leaving a pure, uncluttered, direct perception of what is really taking place, without any interpretations getting in the way. That is how time slows down. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should learn how to calm your mind, your body and your emotions.
4. A Tense Mind Produces Tense Muscles: One of my favorite quotes that describes poor play is "A tense mind is a tense body". Fencers who try too hard, "give it 110%", force the action, worry about errors, try to hurry, and try to control the uncontrollable suffer from mental tightness, and that produces physical tightness. Fencers often ask me, "Why do I play so well in practice, but not in an event?" The reason is tension. In practice they are loose and enjoying themselves. In an event if they tense up, even ever so slightly, those previously fine movements, with pinpoint timing and superb balance, are corrupted. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should only use the level of effort required for success, and no more.
5. Focus Only On What You Can Control: Athletes tend to needlessly, but understandably, worry about things that are truly out of their control. Instead of creating tension within yourself over things that either may never happen, or that are not controllable, learn to accept these things, and put your focus and energy into that which will pay you dividends. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should know what you can control, and what you cannot control, and have the wisdom and will power to focus on the right things.