Learning from Fencing Coaches

Our youngest daughter has been taking fencing for nearly a year now. (She also takes archery. My husband claims we’re raising a 19th century gentleman. Our daughter’s explanation is that the heroes in her books, many by Tamora Pierce, fence and are archers. So…)

from West Point – The U.S. Military Academy’s flickr

As I have sat through many of her hour long classes I have noticed her coaches doing some things I think I, as a classroom teacher, can learn from:

  • water breaks – they take frequent water breaks and can get water whenever they need it. I’m surprised how many of my students start every year off asking if they can get a drink of water. If it doesn’t disrupt others, go for it. Asking is unnecessary. We should all be able to take care of our basic needs.
  • modeling – the coaches do a lot of modeling and have students model for each other
  • praising – the coaches identify what the kids are doing well and praise it, they make sure the students are aware of their strengths
  • individual work – fencing is only meaningful when done with someone else but there is plenty of individual work kids can do to improve their skills. They fence with others but they also work on skills independently
  • feedback – the coaches are giving constant feedback. This includes the praise mentioned above but also tips on how to improve and ways to tweak.
  • actually doing what fencers do – from the very beginning kids are actually fencing with others. They don’t learn isolated skills for months or years before doing what they are actually studying to do. They are doing it from the start.

I would bet that none of these coaches have any formal teaching experience. I doubt they’ve had any PD on management or assessment or such. I have learned so much from them though.

4 replies on “Learning from Fencing Coaches”

  1. Charlene says:

    Classic teaching. Great post. Good instruction crosses genre, content, population…!

  2. I love these observations, and they ring very true to my fencing experience!

    A note on your point at the end: the coaches might be certified, though! (I’d say probably, in fact.) Certification at different levels is actually decently involved — written, oral, and practical exams at all levels, and there’s a requirement of a thesis for the highest level (master).

    When I fenced, one of the older students was training to be a coach. (He passed either his assistant moniteur or moniteur exams while I was there, I don’t remember which.) A lot of techniques the more experienced coaches used in training him were the same as what you mentioned here for coaching fencing itself. He was observing them, coaching a class together with them, doing some classes on his own, and getting a lot of feedback from the other coaches.

    • jenorr says:

      Jessie, thank you for this. It does make sense that these coaches are certified. It is clearly a well respected fencing school and she’s had several different coaches and has really liked and learned from them all. I am a little relieved to think that this didn’t just come naturally to them all!

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