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Why strip coaching?

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by , 03-26-2012 at 11:36 PM (420 Views)
I ached last night. I wasn't stiff. I just ached. Three full hours of full-on training takes its toll, especially when bracketed by an hour-and-a-half drive each way.

My husband gave me a certificate for a massage for Christmas, so I redeemed it today, and left feeling thoroughly unfocused. I felt good enough to go to fencing tonight - Will, qatet, Simon, and Alex the foilist were there. Will took the referee test and passed, and it seemed like a real positive step for him, because (we were reffing around) he did a thoroughly decent job of it and took suggestions well. I fenced qatet, Simon, and Alex. The inserts in my shoes didn't fit nearly as well as they did in Cincinnati - the socks were probably to blame - and I had to take them out.

I've been thinking (mostly from the point of the view of the fencer, not of the coach) about what works for me with strip coaching and why strip coaches are helpful. At one point there was a thread debating the usefulness of strip coaches, and I remember many people didn't see the point. For me, it's part of the package of planning to succeed to have someone there when I compete.

It used to be, for quite a long time, that I took a lesson with my coach before my event, but that often didn't help and sometimes even messed me up because it made me more anxious. My preparation these days before pools is ritualized but minimal - short warm-up, stretching, a bit of footwork, one warm-up bout, and that's about it. I don't need anyone to help me with that.

But having a good coach there still seems essential to me. Maybe it's partly because to me, winning is about the whole package. I don't think that it all comes down to me against my opponent in hand-to-hand combat. It's never that simple. It's the referee, the bout committee, my opponent's mother, the history I have with the sport and with everyone in the room, what I had for breakfast, and it's also the coach.

Some of the goal with the coach is to outsource part of the process. To get that side-of-the-strip perspective rather than to try to visualize it myself. A skilled strip coach who is attuned to what I'm doing can see what I can't see, and can make suggestions that I can use.

I'm also sort of outsourcing my thinking. My head starts to spin at these things, and my reaction to adrenaline can be counterproductive - I feel ill, I am grouchy, and much of the time I don't feel like competing, to the point where sometimes I want to go to sleep. (Heck, I wanted to go to sleep during labor with my daughter, I seem to remember). Having a coach around helps me to distinguish between reasonable thoughts and the obsessive discomfort of competition nerves. I talk out loud, and the coach can listen, screen out the noise, and choose the things to respond to. Obviously, an important requirement for anyone who coaches me is a high tolerance for grumbling and an ability to listen. And I don't listen well myself when I'm pumped, so a good coach has to have the ability to put things simply and to choose the important things to say.

In order to work well with a coach, I have to have some trust along with some willingness to discard. I have to integrate someone else's advice into my own strategy. And I have to be ready to tell the coach when to back off and when I can't use the advice.

Obviously, when you have one coach and multiple competitors, the coach doesn't have time to watch every bout or even most of them. But that isn't necessary either. Sometimes I just need to go tell the coach what's happening. But when a serious result is on the line - making a team, winning the Worlds - it's worth it to me to make sure someone is there focusing on my fencing.

The funny thing is I don't hear all that well, and much of the time my coach's advice from the side of the strip is incomprehensible to me. But even then, it helps. It's as if just having someone there who is just as interested in the outcome of the bout helps get me out of the locked-in mode that is so injurious to the fencer.

So in other words I don't want a strip coach there to tell me what to do, which I think was the rationale for people objecting to strip coaches entirely. No, I'm still the individual competitor, making my own decisions. But if I can have someone helping me with it, after all, why not?

qatet is obviously a good strip coach, not only because she's a good coach but also because she can see the referee's perspective and make it seem not only reasonable, but manageable. Too many coaches take an adversarial stance with the referee, which isn't useful for the fencers. Ahren is a good strip coach because he keeps me calm. My daughter did a good job with me the first time in Croatia, which says a lot about her.

I do know some things that wouldn't work for me: Coaches who yell at their fencers, or who lose their tempers with the fencers after they lose. Coaches who cheer too much, or who try to give too much advice. Coaches who blame referees.

I just can't seem to articulate what I'm getting at. Maybe it's just that it works for me, so I keep doing it.


  1. KD5MDK's Avatar
    I think you objectively improved my performance in Reno, if only to keep me thinking about actions, thinking tactically and providing validation that I really did have an idea what what happening. Thanks again.
  2. Peach's Avatar
    My pleasure! I actually think the part of "providing validation that I really did have an idea what was happening" is one of the most important things a strip coach can give, now that you mention it, and it's one of the things that helps me most when someone else does it.

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