Rob Handelman and Connie Louie point out quite accurately in the preface to “Fencing: A Practical Guide for Training Young Athletes” that there has been a dearth of writing on the subject of teaching fencing, particularly electric sabre fencing, to youngsters. This is ironic, considering the vast growth in popularity of sabre fencing in the U.S. and across the globe in the last fifteen years. In order to fill this void Handelman and Louie have attempted to create a complete guide for coaches and parents of young fencers. In my opinion they have succeeded and thus closed a huge information gap. The book is thorough, easy to read, and practical. Connie Louie’s photographs featuring young and obviously enthusiastic fencers effectively illustrate the concepts and the material is well organized in a very logical sequence.
As the owner of a fencing club (Cobra Fencing Club, Jersey City NJ) dedicated to the development of young fencers I think I am very familiar with the challenges of organizing a training program that attracts and keeps young people active in the sport of fencing. The first goal of any fencing coach who is training youngsters is to create and nurture love of the sport. From this wellspring, comes the student’s desire, dedication and work ethic. So it’s logical that the first chapters of the book address the subjects of Understanding Child Development, Sports Medicine as it relates to the young athlete, Fencing Fitness and, in Chapter 6, Making it Fun – Games. Of course making the training sessions fun for youngsters is a tremendous key and all of the games and exercises in this section are also geared for developing the body and mind of the student. Youngsters like to be challenged in interesting ways. A group of young athletes going through their paces really creates great energy in a club. The parents of the young fencers see their kids sweaty and happy at the end of a training session and they can’t help but become fencing enthusiasts themselves.
In most cases, when a parent takes his son or daughter to the fencing club for the first time they have little first hand knowledge of the sport. Many times it is at the urging of the youngster that they find a club and they really don’t know what to expect. The book makes the assertion, by its very title, that fencing is a sport for young athletes. I think this is a very important aspect of the first impression parents and youngsters get when they first visit a club. Generally, parents are not expecting their youngsters to be on path for the Olympic Games but they are interested in healthful, beneficial activities for their children. Once a club has established a serious, systematic training regimen for youngsters, every potential new family that enters the club can tell right away that there is something of special value going on. In this regard, this book can be a great help to a fencing club’s success.
The chapters on Technique, Footwork and Drills, Group Class Instruction are geared primarily for sabre but these drills can be easily fitted or modified for use in foil or epee by a knowledgeable coach. The drills are extremely well thought out and are even designated for the appropriate skill levels of the fencers. For example, on page 184 there is a drill for five fencers. Two fence a bout, two strip coach and one referees. The roles are rotated after each five-touch bout. So all five fencers are fencing, thinking tactically and sharpening their reffing ability. All are, of course, very positive activities. The drills are quite varied and address all of the skills necessary to help the young fencer make steady improvement. There is tremendous attention to detail in the description of drills and the authors really want the intention of each drill to be understood and performed correctly.
Another strength of this book is that a young or inexperienced coach can take the information and greatly improve their ability to train young fencers effectively. The tactical drills can help young fencers gain confidence in their ability to fence. The book is totally current with the sabre game of today. I am not aware of any other English language fencing book in the market today as directly useful for the training of young sabre fencers.
The section devoted to parents should be required reading for all parents of young fencers. It has a common sense approach. Here is a sample paragraph on the benefits of fencing: “There are many benefits to participating in youth fencing. Children learn sportsmanship and self-discipline (i.e., accept and give compliments to other fencers, maintain self-control after a loss, and be humble after a win). They learn to compete independently as well as for a team; they learn the joy of winning and gain lessons from defeats while becoming physically fit and healthy; and, most importantly, they learn to make complex decisions, analyze problems, and think fast. These ideals help children reach their potential in many areas of their life other than fencing. More importantly, the primary reason youths enter sports is the desire to have fun, and fencing is fun!” The book even contains a 17 point Code of Conduct for parents. The information on motivation, mental toughness and nutrition is invaluable to coaches, parents and competitors.
To sum up, Handelman and Louie have taken their years of great coaching and competing experience and created a very valuable book that belongs in active use today by all coaches, parents and young fencers. In my own library of fencing books it will take a place right next to the great books of the past written by the likes of Szabo, Vass, Lukovich, Alaux, Kogler, Czajkowski, Wojeichowski, and others. And most importantly, I will have a copy at my club for ready reference.
Steve Kaplan, Head Coach
Cobra Fencing Club
U.S. Olympic Sabre Team, Montreal 1976