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Parafencing Myths

Myth 1

Myth: Individuals with a permanent physical disability (in a wheelchair or not), cannot participate in the sport of fencing.

Not true!

Any Athlete wishing to compete in fencing (parafencing) must have an Eligible Impairment and that Eligible Impairment must be Permanent.  Examples of an Underlying Health Condition that can lead to permanent impairment include:

  • spinal cord injury (complete or incomplete, tetra-or paraplegia or paraparesis)
  • muscular dystrophy
  • post-polio syndrome
  • spina bifida
  • amputation (amputation due to bone cancer or congenital limb deficiency
  • cerebral palsy
  • traumatic brain injury
  • stroke
  • multiple sclerosis

Myth 2

Myth: You need a parafencing frame in order to start a parafencing program at your club.

Myth buster – NOT TRUE!

In the beginning, if a club has new parafencers, there are many skills that can be taught without the use of frames.  GETTING STARTED - "Pret Allez"

  • Introduction of gear -  - jacket, mask, glove, lame, apron, plastron etc, etc
  • Overview of the three weapons -   Foil…epee…sabre, what’s really the difference?  Each weapon has its own distinct “character” and resulting pace of action - etc, etc, etc ...
  • As with any sport, a specific vocabulary is necessary to describe the equipment and explain the movements - terminology is very important!
  • Basic skills from the wheelchair - positions in wheelchair, en garde position, target area, etc, etc, basic actions - parry, disengage, riposte, right of way, etc, etc, etc
  • Tactics for the beginning of bout (primary game - first intention)
  • Solo practice drills (tennis ball, wall drills, dummy, mirroring)

SAFETY IS IMPORTANT!  As the fencer progresses and moves beyond the beginning stages, a fencing frame will be required.  A true test of time for this moment will be indicated by the comfort level of fencer/coach when more aggressive actions are executed.  If funds are not available for a frame, THINK OUT OF THE BOX - DIY project!  Inexpensive frames can be made and/or unique methods in securing the fencing wheelchair.

  • IWAS WHEELCHAIR FENCING FRAME -  IWAS Wheelchair Fencing has produced a detailed instruction manual and video of production of an inexpensive wheelchair Fencing Training frame.  
  • South West Florida Fencing Academy uses the metho

Myth 3

Myth: Coaching parafencing is so different than coaching able bodied. 

Myth buster – NOT TRUE!

The art of coaching fencing (parafencing or able bodied) is similar in many ways. The true difference is learning the disability you are coaching. You treat the individual the same - they have the same basic needs, drive and dreams as any other athlete; no more, no less. And, for them as well, coaching is a crucial factor to the quality of their sport experience.

Many coaches who have never worked with athletes with a disability feel that to be effective you need highly specialized skills, knowledge or training. This is a misconception. In fact, most coaches who work with athletes with a disability soon discover that coaching these athletes is "fundamentally" no different than coaching any other athlete. The challenge is to truly understand the person, to focus on their abilities, and to see what they can achieve. Generally speaking, most coaches already possess the necessary technical skills and knowledge required to coach athletes with a disability. Typically, the only piece missing in your coaching “toolkit” is a basic understanding of a few key aspects that are unique to people with a disability.

Many coaches have expressed how working with athletes with a disability has enhanced their coaching abilities as they were compelled to see things differently and be creative.

“It must be athlete and sport first,” says Patrick Jarvis.  For example, the mindset should be - this person is a fencer who happens to be an amputee or has a spinal cord injury and who fences from a wheelchair. The key is getting past the disability. The passion for fencing should be the common ground.

Core element (parafencing or able-bodied):

  • Determine where the athlete is
  • Assess where they need to get to
  • Develop a plan

Initially, coaches who have never worked with persons with a disability need to consider a few key aspects 

  • Whether they can provide the right type of support  
  • New to coaching - you may not yet be totally confident with your own knowledge or abilities
  • There may be questions about safety and about how to communicate properly with a person with a disability.
  • It is normal to experience some unease initially, but you can go beyond these first reactions and do what you do best: coach.
  • Don't focus too much on the disability
  • Don't make assumptions about what persons with a disability can or cannot do - it is important at first to work with their abilities.  Communication is the key - it is OK to ask about their disability learn their abilities
  • You can emphasize their qualities to help them reach and sometimes even exceed their goals
  • Persons with a disability are very independent and don’t want help that you would not provide anyone else; if they need it, they’ll ask for it.
  • Have the right attitude when coaching a person with a disability for the first time - you have to be open-minded.  Open communication is vital, and coaches can ask a question that may be assumed to be offensive. The best question for coaches to ask themselves is what they would ask of able-bodied athletes
  • Coaches should simply remember, at first, you are coaches - you’re not there to be a nurse or a helper (and that is what the athlete prefers)!
  • Determine their fitness level, identifying what skills need to be improved, and educate them about good training.
  • Disability or not, athletes should be assessed based on the demands of the sport; use a process similar to that used with able-bodied athletes, but be creative; establish goals and objectives that are realistic but not limiting
  • It’s all about adaptation - sometimes you just need to make small tweaks to the drills.  This is literally the definition of any adaptive sport.
  • An athletes with a disability wants to be treated the same as everybody else - everyone needs to be challenged and coaches shouldn’t shy away from using techniques that they know best to help their athletes improve
  • Not to be scared to ask the questions - it’s just like you would ask anyone else, keep it simple, no preconceived ideas
  • The disability is part of who they are - they don’t want special treatment, but, at times, may need different treatment.  A coach learns through experience how to handle these situations.
  • A coach should get information from the person with a disability directly on what would be
    needed to make a facility easy to use,” adds Bourne. “Then it depends a lot on how much pull
    the coach has in assuring that there is a degree of change in improving accessibility.”
  • See the person, not the disability
  • Listen to the athletes: they are the "experts" on their disability and they know what accommodations they need
  • Understand the disability through communication and awareness

Technical aspects of coaching athletes with a disability (subtle differences):  The main difference is that those athletes with physical disability fence from a wheelchair that is secure in a fencing frame that sits flat on the floor or piste

  • Movement in the wheelchair vs footwork for the able-bodied - the cardio component (5 positions -3 is neutral; 1 is full lunge forward, 2 halfway back to neutral;  5 being full lunge back, 4 is half to neutral)
  • Timing - when to move (similar mindset with able-bodied)
  • Distance - close in wheelchair
  • Tactical wheel used in both 
  • Basic skills - parry 4, disengage, attack, beat, feint, point-in-line, remise, riposte, intentions, etc. (same language)
  • Blade work
  • Tactics - the mental component

Basic equipment (gear): all the same - jacket, lame, mask, glove, plastron, chest protector, pants, body cords, mask cords. Parafencing has an epee apron (only gear that is different).  The other equipment that is of major difference is the fencing frame and fencing wheelchair.

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