What role do you see fencing coaches playing in the growth of the sport of fencing and where do you see that growth happening?
Coaches are often the first point of introduction and provide many of the earliest experiences of the sport for aspiring athletes; it’s clear that coaches are a critical part of fencing and the sport ecosystem. While the focus on youths is a natural area of growth, I believe that we can look at that growth in both a direct and indirect way. Parents and youths who are already aware of and interested in fencing will find a way to our sport. However, I believe there is an opportunity to grow coaches who are interested in a more structured approach to families who have little to no awareness of the sport through school districts, local parks & recreation departments, and other sport development organizations. A second area of growth is centered more on increasing athlete retention post-college. Current data strongly suggests that there is a natural drop-off in this age group as they enter a different life stage and this may be another area where innovative coaching instruction and engagement strategies can play a strong role in ensuring the continued strength of fencing across multiple dimensions. A third area of focus and growth is increasing the representation of women in coaching (last year, just 23% of fencing coaches identified as women) as well as growing significant interest in parafencing coaching. A strong and diverse coaching community that is reflective of our future athletes is a positive catalyst for growth and change.
How do you envision USA Fencing working with USFCA on the recruitment of NCAA colleges to add fencing teams? If not, why not.
USA Fencing and USFCA share common goals to grow the sport of fencing and each organization brings unique strengths and knowledge to the table. Firstly, on a macro level, USA Fencing’s vision to “inspire a lifetime enriched by fencing” is aimed at fencers of all ages and a growth in the sport overall will continue to advance the profile and attractiveness of fencing. This directly contributes to the viability and awareness of fencing as a promising NCAA/collegiate program. Secondly, there are some specific regions that the USFCA have identified where the number of NCAA fencing programs aren’t representative of the college density in that geographic area (e.g. western region, southeast, etc.) or even the number of actual fencers. There’s an opportunity to collaborate in a data oriented way to have specific strategies addressing this gap. Lastly, there are a number of collegiate fencing clubs that may be viable candidates to become NCAA programs. Understanding the challenges they face and how USA Fencing and USFCA can help these club programs transition to the NCAA platform is an area where the collective resources and expertise in both organizations is hugely beneficial.
Except for USA Fencing, NGBs in all major sports organizations require certification and continuing education units every year to teach in their respective sports. Do you support coaching education, training, continuing education, certification and ultimately a licensing requirement for all US Fencing Coaches? Why or Why not?
Coaching, like any profession, should have opportunities for education, ongoing training, and professional development with an eye towards an appropriate introduction to coaching the sport at various levels including the specifics of parafencing, keeping current with relevant areas that are beneficial to athlete development and athlete safety, and flexible training paths to accommodate personal growth and career goals. Coaching has been a major area of focus for the fencing community and I believe that a growth mindset towards exploring what a consistent platform for ongoing education, continuous skill-development, and demonstrating mastery of the sport is a positive step in the right direction for fencing overall. The specific considerations for certification and licensing should be explored with a nuanced understanding of both the benefits as well as any unintended consequences that could potentially impact the growth of the coaching community at large across multiple dimensions including a fair skill assessment and objective criteria encompassing a diverse and international landscape of coaching styles, small business considerations for fencing clubs of all sizes (particularly in a post-Covid environment and challenging macro-economic circumstances), as well as increasing potential barriers to entry in a sport that is still in many ways prohibitively expensive, regarded as elitist, and still in the early stages of its DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) journey.