WASHINGTON, February 20, 2013 — Months ago, I wrote a blog called “An Open Letter to Fencing Parents,” a primer I developed as a guide for new parents getting their kids into the sport of fencing and the important role parents play in the development of their children as athletes.
After attending both the Capitol Clash Super Youth Circuit and the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, I thought I would share a new parenting tale. We’ll call it “The Tale of the Quintessential Fencing Parents.”
Meet the Quintessential Fencing Parents
At the 2013 Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, DC Fencers Club members Clinton Rodell (Cadet Men’s Epee) and Amanda Sirico (Junior Women’s Epee) were crowned Junior Olympic Champions, with their parents Scott M. Rodell and Cindy Sirico no doubt playing a pivotal role.
Scott is a world-renowned swordsman and the director/teacher of the Great River Taoist Center. During the event, Scott used his deep knowledge of Tai Chi to help Clinton focus and properly channel his energy through his body. Throughout the day, Clinton overcame many critical deficits to win bouts from behind. He often looked to Scott, who never said anything but encouraging words, and Clinton responded with a nearly flawless day. Scott also had constant dialogue with Clinton’s longtime coach Robert Suchorski. To keep Robert’s tactical plan for Clinton discrete, Robert would speak commands to Scott who would then translate to Chinese, which served as a shining example of the parent and coach working as a team.
Scott M. Rodell played a pivotal role in his son’s preparation for the tournament too. “You can’t expect teenagers to be responsible all the time,” Scott told me. “But that doesn’t mean they are dumb. When Clinton had been playing videogames too long, I would go in his room and just ask him, ‘What do you want to remember when you are my age? Your high score, or being a Junior Olympic champion? It is all your choice.’ Then I would leave him be. A few minutes later I would hear the thwack of his epee hitting the fencing dummy.”
Cindy is the matriarch of the esteemed Sirico fencing family and another shining example of the role a parent should play in a tournament. Cindy will rarely utter a word during the bouts of her daughters. Cindy is a certified armorer, and with the force at which her daughters hit, Cindy can seemingly repair weapons at the speed in which a NASCAR pit crew changes tires on a car. The only scenario that Cindy steps in to “regulate” is when emotions go awry and she has to work with the coach to refocus her kids.
“Parents make or break the success that their children have in a tournament,” Cindy said. “Parents can play many roles when it comes to these little beings. It is important for them, the parents, to understand what works best for their fencer and roll with it. The biggest challenge for a lot of parents is the ability to let someone else step in and guide their child.”
Eight Rules of Tournament Parenting
There are two paths you can go by as a parent during a tournament: the path of the “Psycho Parent” or the path of “The Quintessential Fencing Parent.” One allows a strong bond between the trio of coach, parent, and athlete; and the other means that as a coach, I hate you. I offer the following rules of tournament parenting, based on my observations of the Rodell and Sirico families, as well as other great parents over the years:
1. Unless you are a coach, you are not the coach.
2. Do not speak of ratings, do not speak of national points and do not speak of college coaches who might be observing the bout.
3. Never get in the way of the fencing coach. S/he is paid to teach your children for a reason. A parent can work with the coach but never independently of them.
4. Unless you offer positive encouragement to your child, you should probably stick to the sidelines and read your Kindle or something.
5. Learn basic armory. Fixing weapons as a parent can sometimes be the most helpful role to play in a tournament.
6. When your child loses, s/he experiences a maelstrom of emotions. Allow ten minutes for the fencer to return to reality before approaching them.
7. Ensure that both the fencer and his/her coaches are well nourished and well hydrated. When I say well hydrated, I mean buy the coach beers after the tournament.
8. Video-tape bouts if possible. It will go a long way for the kids when they’re trying to figure out how to improve.
Follow these rules and your child will go a long way — maybe even become a Junior Olympic Champion like Clinton Rodell and Amanda Sirico.
Damien is a competitive fencer and volunteer assistant coach at DC Fencers Club in Silver Spring, Md. Damien was the coach of a London 2012 Olympic Athlete in Modern Pentathlon. He is an A-rated epeeist and was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team.
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