The Fear of Failure
“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” – Babe Ruth
As we move full swing into the fencing season, many fencers will be attending one or more competitions outside our home turf. This is where the challenge to our training really begins. For many fencers, maintaining focus on the things that matter can be a difficult task. While every fencer has the dream of winning and one day standing on the finalist’s podium, having this image looming over you as you begin your day of competition could actually harm your performance. For many fencers (including myself) setting the goal to win transforms into a fear of losing. If you think, “I need to get this point” and then you don’t get the point, it feels like failure, which then increases the amount of pressure you place on yourself to get the next point. And what happens then if you don’t get this next point? Or the next? This thought process can send a fencer into an unhelpful spiral of what if’s and self-induced pressure to perform that results in the very thing the fencer is afraid of; losing.
So how can a fencer avoid this during competition? First, set some rational expectations for that day of competition. Based on your individual skill level and how much you’ve been able to practice, (and by talking with your coach) you should have a good idea for what you want to achieve that day. Next, remember the biggest factor that is in your control is where you place your focus and effort.
“Always make a total effort, even when the odd’s are against you.” – Arnold Palmer.
Whether you’re facing the number 1 seeded fencer, your teammate, or your ‘rival,’
your fencing all comes down to your commitment and belief in what you are doing.
At the moment of competition, you can’t make last second improvements to your technique or strategy, you need to work with what you’ve got on that day. Make the most out of what you do know by placing 100% of your effort on the strip.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden
There will be days in competition where something isn’t working. Maybe it’s the referee’s call you disagree with, or a move by your opponent you just can’t get around, or your timing is off. Regardless of what it is, you recognize this moment and realize what you still have. When one thing ceases to work, be resourceful and change up your game.
“What you do with a mistake; recognize, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” – Dean Smith
It is inevitable that you will make mistakes in competition. And the only way to deal with those mistakes is by taking useful information from them and moving on. Dwelling on failure does not improve your fencing and only distracts you from your next step.
This last one comes from me, fight for the love of the game rather than the fear of losing. At the end of the day, most of us fence because we get joy out of the sport. Why take that away by being afraid of losing? Win or lose, a competition is another opportunity for you to go out and enjoy fencing. Remember that losing is not embarrassing and it’s not a disappointment if you finished your day putting everything you have on the strip.