James Basler (left) at the Pan American Course for Epee Coaches. (Photo courtesy of James Basler)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It was the trip of a lifetime — and not just because of the unique location in a scenic locale.
Last month, an epee coach from Pennsylvania traveled to Peru to learn with some of the region’s best coaches. And there’s good news for all of us: He’s happy to share some of what he learned with the entire USA Fencing community.
Here’s how it went down: In November, we emailed all USA Fencing registered epee coaches with a unique opportunity from the Pan American Fencing Confederation: an expenses-paid trip to Peru to attend the Pan American Course for Epee Coaches, held Dec. 10-20, 2022, in Lima.
While many qualified coaches applied for the opportunity, USA Fencing could select only one. That lucky coach was James R. Basler, a 34-year-old epee coach with the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia.
Now that Basler has returned from his South American sojourn, we asked him to share five things he learned during the trip.
“The importance of planning cannot be overstated,” Basler says. “Building a competitive athlete who achieves their goals requires effectively crafting a strategy at both the macro and micro levels.
“Whether it’s building a season-long curriculum, or a more tailored individual lesson, devising a strategy that shores up weaknesses and reinforces strengths is of paramount importance.
“A coach should always be examining and re-evaluating their developmental plans to help improve the lot of their athletes.”
“The basic techniques, not just for our athletes, but the craft of coaching itself, can often be overlooked during the progress and training of an athlete and our own professional development,” Basler says. “It is vital that the core areas, whatever a coach decides those areas may be, are not glossed over and forgotten. A mastery of the basics and fundamental principles will take both an athlete, and their coach, where they want to go.”
“Staying on the cutting edge of achievement requires a mastery of what we know and an acknowledgement of what we don’t,” Basler says. “The sport of fencing has seen so many changes, both in hard rules like noncombativity, but also with softer influences such as emerging trends and paradigms on the strip.
“Our task as coaches is to remain knowledgeable on the subject matter of our craft. To do this, we must continually strive to learn.
“Whether it’s through collaboration with our colleagues and peers, or pursuing the challenge of a certification, our students are bettered by our own drive towards self-improvement.”
“Building healthy connections with our colleagues, peers and even rivals is an important part of being a coach,” Basler says. “The contacts we build in our professional work can benefit our coaching abilities and knowledge base.
“Our connections can help our own programs by comparing notes and getting advice from more learned colleagues. Finally, you never know when you might need a favor, or be looking for another place to work.”
“While not directly part of the course, something that I personally gained a greater appreciation for was self-care as a coach,” Basler says. “As coaches, we often sacrifice our own well-being to advance the needs of our students and club members.
“Physical fitness, as well as knowledge of one’s own mental limits, is of critical importance for us as coaches to do our jobs well.
“Learning the signs and symptoms of burnout, and addressing them in effective ways, will translate to more effective coaching in the long run. We can’t do our job as coaches properly if we’re fighting chronic mental and physical fatigue.”
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