COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A SafeSport education session at Summer Nationals in Minneapolis will give athletes ages 13 to 20 an opportunity to listen, learn and engage in important discussions about ways to keep themselves and their teammates safe from harm.
“On Guard: A Real Conversation About Recognizing Abuse Within Sports” will be offered twice during the tournament.
The hourlong session will be led by Nicole J. Polanichka, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, four-year varsity epee and saber fencer at Princeton University, and current Division I and Veteran epee fencer.
Before beginning her current role at the UPMC Psychological Associates practice in Harrisburg, Pa., Dr. Polanichka served as the head trauma therapist at the Child Advocacy Center of the Central Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Polanichka says she has structured the SafeSport education session less as a formal training and more as an open dialogue — a safe space where athletes can ask questions and engage in discussion with their peers.
Key areas of discussion will include:
USA Fencing requires that coaches, volunteers, referees, committee members, vendors, staff and those who have regular contact with minor fencers complete online SafeSport training on an annual basis. This training is available through the USA Fencing member dashboard at member.usafencing.org.
While training is not mandatory for youth fencers, the “On Guard” session will fulfill one of the requirements of the FenceSafe Youth Ambassador Program, a new initiative debuting later this year for youth fencers who wish to take on a leadership role by promoting and sharing this FenceSafe information within their clubs.
The training itself will have immediate benefits, too: helping young people feel empowered to recognize and stop abuse.
“Teens are not responsible for stopping adults from behaving badly,” Dr. Polanichka says. “But education about the dynamics of sexual abuse will empower and equip you with the tools to help keep yourself, and your teammates, safe.”
The identical sessions will be offered twice during Summer Nationals and will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Meeting Room 103B at the following times. Advance registration is not required.
Parents: Dr. Polanichka will be at the location 30 minutes before the sessions begin, and you’re welcome to stop by if you have any questions about the event or what will be discussed.
Epee fencer Kat Holmes, a two-time Olympian and member of the USA Fencing Board of Directors, encourages her fellow athletes to devote an hour of their Summer Nationals experience to attending this training.
“Fencing has always been my place of refuge, where I go to let loose and be my freest, happiest self,” she says. “Every fencer is entitled to that type of careless joy when they enter the fencing club or pick up a blade. Learning more about how we can collectively create a culture of mutual respect and safety is thus essential to ensuring that everybody has that opportunity.”