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Coach Profile: Keith Knight

Coach Profile: Keith Knight

Keith Knight (right)

Keith Knight has been the head coach at East Lyme High School in Connecticut since 2011. A graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University, where he was president of the fencing club, Knight also coaches at Thames River Fencing Club as well as East Lyme Parks and Rec.

How have you developed such a strong high school fencing program in the state of Connecticut?
There were four things I did to make sure I could build a strong high school program - a program that would not only provide the students with an opportunity learn and compete in the sport, but also provide them with the tools they would need to go on and compete at USA Fencing and college-level events.

  1. First, I revamped the current program in order to have it align with up-to-date fencing standards. To continue that concept, I always look to improve myself and learn new coaching techniques. This keeps the student athletes prepared for competitive fencing today and tomorrow as the sport grows.
  2. Second, I joined a local fencing club, was voted onto the board of directors and then helped them increase their numbers 10-fold. I would then encourage the high school fencers to join the club and continue with the sport in the offseason. Here they could meet even more people who enjoy the sport and eventually start competing in USA Fencing events.
  3. Then I found myself with an opportunity to rebuild a youth program at the local parks and rec. Here I started coaching an almost year-round youth fencing program. This gave me an opportunity to introduce the sport to fencers even before they hit high school fencing scene.
  4. And finally, the most important thing I did was to surround myself with great assistant coaches and support personnel. I have been fortunate to have two great assistant coaches who have really taken on the mission of this team. In addition to that the parent involvement in fundraising and equipment matiness is amazing. Thanks to them I can concentrate on coaching and not get bogged down with other matters.

What is your philosophy when coaching young fencers, maybe someone with no experience?
I regularly coach young and high school level fencers who have absolutely no fencing background. And over the years I have made mistakes and hit bumps in the road.

Sometimes I would push a student too hard and they would walk away from the sport. Sometimes I wouldn’t push a student hard enough, and they would become disappointed in their lack of success and walk away from the sport.

But, through it all, one thing has always rang true with all fencers at all levels. If they do not have fun, they will not continue with the sport. A young fencer that has fun will want to come back and the more they return, the more time a coach will have to train them. Structure and development are vital, and every student will need individual degrees of those. But having fun is the most important aspect of having fencers continue with the sport. So, my philosophy for young fencers is "Use structure to develop, but have fun to continue to develop."

Do you have buzzwords you use when coaching? Anything you say often to help communicate effectively to your athletes while they are fencing?
Much like other coaches and athletes I have always trained in a matter that breaks actions down in steps. When I am coaching an action for the first time, or even reviewing an action that needs work, I will break the actions down to steps and assign each step a sequential number.

When I am trying to communicate with an athlete that they are not executing an action correctly, I will call out “by the numbers” and that always lets them know to be mindful of how they are executing their last action.

Other than that, there are the basics all coaches use, but I try to have fun with it. I will regularly include pop culture references in my students training. For example, we often have practices that run into the evening hours, so when I am trying to get the students moving I will tell them, let’s get to it “we are burning daylight,” referencing John Wayne from the movie Cowboys. Of course, they look at me funny because the sun set, and when I ask them what famous actor said that I do get a kick out of how many young fencers do not know who John Wayne is. Also, when they are in attacking distance, I will reference that range as the “danger zone” from Top Gun. Again, I and the fencers will have fun with seeing who knows where that saying came from. Just things that will get the students to laugh or smile during a lesson.


Date Created: September 2020