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How to Motivate Your Fencing Students: Make Their Inspiration Specific

07/31/2018, 5:15pm CDT
By Jason Rogers

Jason Rogers, 2008 Olympic team silver medalist.

Let’s face it, students can be temperamental. Some weeks they put their heart and soul into practice, and others it seems like the last place they want to be. Shifting emotions are natural, however, coaches must be well equipped to help their students ride through these roller coaster moods. In this three-part series, I’ll unpack some of tricks used during my own career to help get me through the rough patches.

​​​​​​​Locking in Inspirational Memories

Every coach knows that students get inspired when they watch the best fencers in the world. When they see athletes pushing the boundaries of what’s possible it can help form the emotional and technical blueprint for the goals that they want to achieve in the long-term. In the best-case scenario, students are able to attend and watch top-level competitions where they can be up close to the action and really get a tactile understanding of what it means to fence at the highest levels.

But just attending competitions, in my opinion, is not enough. Tournaments are long and, after a few days, their memory of all the matches they have seen will start to bleed together. The key to creating lasting inspiration is to help your students choose and lock in very specific memories. In other words, help them focus on just a few extraordinary touches from that day that can be referenced later on to spark inspiration with them. For example, if you are watching a bout, and a top fencer pulls off an amazing touch that you can see excites them, ask them right away: “What did you see, hear and feel during that touch?” By getting them to draw from their other senses, you are aiding the encoding of that memory in their mind making it much more likely to be able to recall it in the future.

I’ll never forget first time I saw Stanislav Pozdniakov (4X Olympic Champion - Saber) fence at Senior World Cup in Kansas City when I was 14 years old. He was fencing against a French opponent and did the most powerful parry five riposte I had ever seen. For months, even years after, I thought back to that touch recalling how imposing he seemed on the strip and could still hear the slap of his blade whipping down on his opponent’s back. It was truly exhilarating and made me motivated to train even harder so that, perhaps one day, I might be able to pull off that same action just like him.

Of course, it’s not realistic to be able take all of your students to competitions just to watch, and, thankfully, YouTube also can provide endless inspiration for your fencers. You can use the same approach here by asking your students to watch several videos of top fencers, pick out a few specific touches, and write down what they see, hear and feel. Again, it’s all about specificity!

Taking Video Inspiration to the Next Level

It’s common practice to shoot video of your students for tactical and technical review. However, I believe the greatest value of capturing bouts on film is be able to pull out those few exceptional touches when they are pushing their own personal boundaries. There is nothing more inspiring for a student than to remember a brief moment when he or she performed beyond his or her own expectations. The key here is, again, to guide your students to pick specific touches and ask them to focus on the physical and emotional sensations they felt.

It was this thinking, that led me to create a motivational video for myself between the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. I knew the seasons before the Beijing Games would be grueling, and I would have to face many difficult moments that challenged my resolve. To start, I sourced videos of my favorite fencers like Aldo Montano (2004 Olympic Gold Medalist) and Stanislav Pozdniakov as well as my favorite athletes like Roger Federer (20X Grand Slam winner – Tennis) and Shaun White (3X Olympic Gold Medalist – Snowboarding). Then, I drew from my own video library of my best performances, picking individual touches that I thought reflected my fencing at its best. From there, I cut together a short video (about 4.5 minutes in length) that wove these clips together with text overlays of inspirational thoughts like “You have to risk to succeed.” With the help of a small portable video player, I was able to take this video on the road and watch it whenever I was feeling low on inspiration or confidence.

You might say: “I’m not a video editor,” but let me assure you that these videos are easy to make with free video editing software like iMovie. If you don’t have the time, you can suggest parents or the students themselves do the majority of the work. I pulled this together completely on my own over 10 years ago. The production quality is not important and I never showed my video to anyone else until now because, quite frankly, it’s quite grainy (sorry about that) and pretty embarrassingly bad. But that did not stop it from being incredibly effective and a non-stop source of inspiration.


Some days students need to be reminded why they love this sport. Ask them, “what did you see, hear and feel?” when they are watching matches of their favorite athletes or videos of their own fencing. By helping them create memories that are specific and tactile, you can help then reconnect with the powerful source of inspiration that comes from within.

About the Author

Jason Rogers is an Olympic Silver Medalist, two-time Olympian in men’s saber and founder of Better Fencer, a website offering advice and insights from the best in the sport of fencing. Click here to get the free Better Fencer eBook “10 Mistakes All Fencers Should Avoid." 

Tag(s): Blog