My nine year old, Mylène, has been training at Cutting Edge since last summer. She’s passed all the bronze modules, she did a full season of novice tournaments at the club, she cheered for teammates at one big tournament and volunteered at another, and she works hard at the salle. After discussions with her about her goals for next year, we decided to fit in one end of season tournament to get her feet wet and let her get familiar with the competitive landscape before next fall. Like a lot of kids, my daughter is very competitive, hard on herself and a perfectionist, all tendencies we’re trying to channel towards positive outlets, so we spent a lot of time prior to the tournament discussing realistic expectations and setting appropriate goals.
She’s not ready to “watch film” yet to review her performance, but that night, after competing at the Wang Memorial, an organic moment going through the pictures of the day turned into a cathartic exercise in reflection. As she and I looked through the pictures her dad and I took, she was sharing what was going through her mind at each moment; how she felt and what she was doing. She also got to see herself through our eyes and realize she’s kind of a rockstar. I began to record what she was saying, because some of it was so funny and some so poignant, and a story of her day began to take shape as to what a tournament looks like to a nine year old novice. Here’s that story with our reflections…
Mylène: Oh my gosh! There are so many people here. Where do I camp? Where’s Coach Kate? This is like a seek and find. Ah ha! I spotted her.
Mylène: Uh…. Where’s Coach David? Is he here too? Oh yeah, mom told me he’s probably at the big ref table. Ok, I spotted him too. But there are so many people here!
Mom: I’m glad we chose a tournament to start where many familiar faces were present. Having the team around was much more important to her than I realized. As she began to look around the room she spotted many others from the salle and it was a visible relief that she was in with her fencing family. Plus it gave us a group of experienced people who made it comfortable enough to ask our newbie questions.
Mylène: I warmed up, got my gear on and found my friends, Quinn and Jaden. Time to do some warm up bouting.
Mom: Doing the novice tournament series at the club really helped her prepare, not just physically and mentally, but socially. Kids like Jaden came from other clubs for the novice tournaments, so that added to the familiar faces at the Wang.
Mylène: So we got all warmed up and did some bouting, but now I’m stuck waiting because they’re running late. Time to glare at my parents for taking my picture all the time.
Mom: I think Mylène herself would tell you her spirit animal is Grumpy Cat. But really, it’s hard to get a kid to be chill when they’re fired up and ready, but then they have to wait.
Mylène: Finally! We’re ready to fence, but I have to bout my teammate first and that makes me nervous because she’s really good!
Mylène: This one makes me laugh cause of the face Coach Kate is making while Quinn and I bout. I wonder what she was thinking?
Mylène: Ugh. This is pretty much how the pool round went for me. Not what I was hoping for but I’m happy I got touches on everyone. But uhhhh… I’ve got on all this gear and I’ve got to run to the ladies room right now…MOM help!!
Mom: We weren’t sure how long her break was going to be before the next round, but thankfully she had prepared well at the salle getting her gear on and off quickly. Now she knows why the coaches insist on it.
Mylène: Time to have a snack and think about how to adjust in the DE round.
Mom: I’m glad I ignored the signs about no outside food, because healthy snacks were important and the concession selection was geared towards spectators and not athletes. I was glad I thought to pack a fork, napkins, wet wipes because we wouldn’t have had time to hunt for them at concessions. I’m also glad I packed a lot of food because my kid who normally eats like a bird had a bowl of fruit, some jerky, some almonds, a banana and some almond cookies over the course of the tournament and still had room for a big sandwich when it was over. I guess wearing all that gear works up an appetite.
Mylène: I didn’t feel very positive here. DE is starting and I don’t feel confident. I kinda want to go home, but mom says I’ll be mad at myself if we do that.
Mom: After doing relatively well in the pool bouts, but losing them all, it was hard for her to face up to DEs. We had to spend a lot of time during the break re-focusing on the goals she had set before coming. It was a tightrope of acknowledging her disappointment, but encouraging her to focus on her personal gains and loosening up with some jokes. I wished in that moment that we had written the goals on a piece of paper for her to have something tangible to focus on.
Mylène: Alright, let’s do this. I’ve got nothing to lose!
Mylène: Aw man! Off target and I’m down.
Mylène: Time for Coach Kate to give me some advice, cause I’m down 5-1 and I don’t feel like anything’s working.
Mom: A one-minute break in a 10-point bout turned into one of the most revealing moments to me about the nature of my kid. She demonstrated herself to be calm in the face of what I know was painful disappointment and completely coachable. My kid who will argue with me about the color of the sky, stood there calmly, listened and then confidently applied what she was told when she got back on the strip.
Mylène: Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! I came back from 5-1 and won 10-7!!! Coach Kate knew exactly what to tell me at the break.
Mylène: How do they expect me to sign this with a glove on? What do I do with it once I’ve signed it? I can’t remember…
Mylène: Well, I lost that last one but at least I got a few good touches on her, so I feel really good that I didn’t have any 0 touch bouts today.
Mylène: I got a bronze medal for 3rd and a cape! And my family is taking me to Dino’s for my favorite sandwiches. Today was awesome. I can’t wait for the next tournament!
Mom: She wore that cape all over town for the rest of the day, enough said. And if you haven’t eaten at Dino’s Subs in Arlington, you should.
It was an adventure and we learned so much at the Wang Memorial, both about the mechanics of how a tournament works and about our kid. The most important thing we learned is that she is willing to be coached. That’s a credit to my kid, but more so to the coach, now known as the “Mylène Whisperer” in our house. The coach who knows “just what to say”.
But we also realized something about the salle we chose to train our kids. My husband and I talked later about why Mylène has clicked so well at Cutting Edge. In looking at coaching in fencing: at Nationals last summer, watching the Olympics, the RYC in September and at the Wang, fencing seems to be skewed heavily to the male voice. During the time we were there, there were no other female coaches that we noticed (and I was looking). Kate stands out in that regard. And overall the Coaching at CEFC is balanced. There are as many female voices (often more) as male voices leading the kids in their training. Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful male coaches in the world, but having that female authoritative presence creates a different energy, a different balance. That balance of leadership is rare in the world of sports, we’re lucky to have found it because seems to make a world of difference to our kid. I can’t wait for the next tournament either.
Thanks for letting us guest blog!