Rules for Fencing Parents, Annotated

The Friday morning armory line at JOs this year was impressive. We BC folk gaped at it.

It wasn’t the length of the line. Friday morning armory lines are always long, and fencers and coaches always come and ask what we’re going to do about the start of the 8:00 am events because the line is so long. We always tell them not to worry, that by the time we’re ready to start the fencing, the line will be gone, and everything will be okay. Every once in a while, we tell the head referees they don’t need to rush their assignments because of the line, but the line almost always shrinks and disappears on its own by the time we send out the pools.

What had us gaping in Baltimore was the make-up of the armory line: at least half of the people standing in the line were parents.

I know what they were thinking. They were just trying to help their kids, so their kids could warm up properly for their event. Just like some parents like to help their kids by hauling their fencing bag or carrying their extra weapons and body cords for them or by tracking of their pool and DE scores for them, or by keeping their USFA card handy. What could be wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that none of those is a parent’s job.

When she was 12, when she began competing (after her older sister had been competing for a year), my younger daughter wrote up a set of rules for my behavior at tournaments. Her rules were in somewhat random order, written as they occurred to her, so for our purpose today, I’ve re-ordered and grouped them by topic. But they are an excellent set of guidelines, well worth serious consideration by any fencing family, and proven over a decade of her competitive fencing career.

13. No interviewing me!!!!

We’ll dispense with this one right away as a special case, irrelevant to most fencing families. My daughters are the offspring of someone who, when they were younger, was a medium-sized fish in a tiny pond, or what the older one facetiously referred to as a “Famous Homeschool Author.” This meant that whenever I was interviewed for PR for my books or whatever conference I was speaking at next, reporters often wanted to talk to the girls to judge for themselves whether homeschooling was turning them into antisocial oddballs. Neither was particularly interested in this continuing into their fencing lives, and by the time they were fencing, I’d become less active in the homeschooling community, so it turned out not to be much of an issue. (This demonstrates, however, my capacity for learning things from my kids.)

11. Do not carry my fencing bag.

1. Do not move my gear unless asked to do so.

5. Do not dare help me get my gear on.

“Fencing is my thing,” my daughter told me. “I am the athlete. I am responsible for my own gear. How else will I learn to take care of it unless I do it myself?” You wouldn’t have believed it seeing the normal state of her room, but her fencing bag was always neatly packed, every item in the same place every time—that’s how she could tell she had everything she needed. If I’d dared make even a slight move toward helping her with her bag, her instant response was a ferocious glare. The only exceptions were when a body cord failed or a blade damaged her lamé during a bout—only then was I allowed to purchase a replacement or repair and have it inspected for her.

4. Do not keep track of my bouts.

6. Do not go to the bout committee to figure out how I’m doing, who I’m fencing, or who my ref is.

Neither of my daughters ever wanted to know their opponents’ ratings, how they were seeded, or how they did in the pool round. “Just tell me where and when to fence and when to stop.” Everything else was a distraction from focusing on the next bout—no, the next touch. She never wanted what she considered extraneous information to influence how she thought she should do or what she believed herself capable of. Grudgingly, she eventually decided it was okay for me to look up all that stuff for myself as long as I never let a hint of it out to her. At some point, she began keeping her own notebook to record her scores and comments on opponents and referees and her own performance, and she quickly learned to check how each bout was recorded as soon as the referee wrote it on the scoresheet. (Each girl, as most fencers do at some point early in their competitive careers, signed a scoresheet with a reversed score once and only once. Neither ever let it happen again.)

8. Do keep a filled water bottle on hand at all times.

9. Don’t go wandering off with my water bottle.

10. Do get me food. (Hot dogs are unacceptable.)

12. Remember that you’re my money!!!

Providing food and water and purchasing power for new and replacement equipment fell into the category of general parental care, so they were considered perfectly reasonable things for me to do and were always allowed and appreciated.

2. Do not talk to me when I am warming up.

3. Do not say anything corny such as “Just go out and get ‘em.” I repeat, DO NOT SAY ANYTHING CORNY!!!

7. Don’t be annoying.

#3 was always difficult for me. “How do I know?” I asked her. “I never know whether you’ll consider something corny until I’ve already said it.” At which point, of course, she would just smirk at me. To paraphrase Thumper, if you can’t say anything uncorny, don’t say anything at all.

It’s tough being a fencing parent. Or the parent of any athlete. I remember seeing TV shots of parents watching their kids compete in some sport during the Olympics and being amused at their facial expressions, at how they looked like they couldn’t bear to watch and couldn’t bear not to watch. Once my kids started competing, I thoroughly understood that reaction. As parents, we want our kids to do well and we want to help them do it. We’re emotionally invested in their success.

But we aren’t the athletes. We aren’t the ones competing on the strip, figuring out what action is needed right now this instant, trying to maintain focus through long rounds of demanding competition. We can’t make them do it. We can’t do it for them. All we can do is give them the opportunity to do it for themselves. And that’s incredibly difficult. I couldn’t take the stomach-churning caused by silently watching my kids fence. As much as I loved watching them compete, it was too hard. I had to back away.

I found something to do to keep myself occupied at tournaments, of course.

But please consider whether the help you provide to your fencing child in fact helps. Are you sure? Have you asked your child? And are you sure you’re getting an honest answer, that they’re not just trying not to hurt your feelings? Are you certain that you’re not the sort of parent likely to be anonymously commemorated in the annals of the #imaginarysyc?

Catching Up on JOs

A strange Junior Olympics indeed.

Historically, JOs has been an easy and pleasant tournament from the BC point of view. The events are big, but until the Junior Team events were added, there were only three events per day—not a tough tournament to manage at all. Even with teams, it’s not a complicated event to run.

This year, though, we seem to have passed a tipping point: the events weren’t just large—they were huge, and came with the accompaniment of large numbers of testy spectators. (For purposes of this discussion, you may assume “spectators” = “parents + coaches,” with the emphasis on the former.) More on the atmosphere at JOs (or at least a specific aspect of it) in a day or two.

Otherwise, I’m choosing—mostly for my own sanity—to blog only the scenic parts of the trip to Baltimore.

More often than not, my flights leave at 6:00 or 6:30 am, which means I get to get up at 2:30 or so to get to the airport in time.  (This assumes I bother to go to bed in the first place—I’m a night owl and often don’t get to bed until 1:00 or 1:30 am, anyway, so going to bed to get up in an hour or two often seems silly.) Once I get to the airport, I wait around for Peet’s to open at 5:00 am, get my mocha, and keep myself awake until boarding, after which I spend most of the flight sleeping. Though I usually choose a window seat, there’s often not much to see, because the view mostly looks like this:

laxbwi 10

or this:


But I’ve been lucky with my plane travel this season. Either I’ve flown in a day early for setup or I’ve not had to arrive before the eve of the tournament, so I’ve been able to leave home after sunrise. Not only have I been traveling during daylight, but the weather has been spectacular, justifying those window seats.

To Baltimore, there was first a short hop to LAX:

From LAX, there was desert and Rockies and plains (and then it got dark, but I prefer the western geography, anyway):

I suppose it was only to be expected that after a day staring at wide open spaces, I’d be so startled by the optically distracting hotel hallway—I was half-convinced it was all an illusion with mirrors:

hallwayI was tickled, though, to learn that my 15th-floor room overlooked Camden Yards. I looked forward to seeing a great view of the ballpark when I got up the next morning. Then, of course, I remembered—I was working a tournament and getting up at 5:30 am for breakfast at 6:00. It would be dark when I left. And we expected late nights every night, so it would be dark again by the time I got back to the hotel. I checked every night, just in case the park lights needed to be tested or something, but this was the view every night and morning:


But then I remembered—I’d changed my return flight in order to be able to attend the Tuesday morning board meeting. Not only could I sleep in an hour or two, but I’d finally have my daylight view of Camden Yards—barely:

Finally—inevitably—I offer the Baltimore carpet collection: