Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 2 of 3.

k+c-hurley2
Courtney (12) and Kelley (14)

As I discussed last week, speed, athleticism, and conditioning were the focus of Kelley & Courtney’s fencing workouts. A nice homemade plywood fencing strip (built on top of pallets) provided a convenient way to get the workouts done with minimal fuss.  By the time Kelley was 14 and Courtney was 12, they had just about given up fencing foil and we were all fencing at the U.S. Modern Pentathlon club. As you can imagine, there was a lot of fresh meat for practicing. For those of you who don’t know much about Modern Pentathlon, it contains 5 sports and one of them is fencing. Typically, these athletes come to Pentathlon as swimmers or runners. Few come to the sport as fencers.  That is actually how I started fencing – as a Pentathlete (I was a runner). Typically, when we went to the club, there were plenty of older boys and young men for the girls (as well as Tracy and I) to fence.  These guys were great swimmers and runners but for the most part, were fairly clueless about fencing. Although they didn’t know much about fencing, they were fast and strong and this is exactly what Kelley & Courtney needed.

We were very careful about suggesting an overall strategy for them to use against the boys.  That is, they were not supposed to rely on retreating back to their 2-meter line and countering. This is a typical strategy most girls will take against boys. While the girls will build up their knowledge and technique about countering and it might help them beat other boys, it most definitely would not help them beat other girls. Why? Because the girls will retreat back to their 2 meter line and jump forward with a counter at any offensive action! Typically, girls become pretty good at this strategy but it doesn’t help them beat other girls! Ultimately, what you will have is two girls being forced to fence games they hadn’t practiced much because their natural tendency is to retreat and counter.

So, Kelley & Courtney learned to beat the stronger, faster, and older boys by attacking or strategically countering or parry-reposting in the middle of the strip. As I mentioned in last week’s post, our thought was that if they could beat the boys with this strategy, the other girls wouldn’t stand a chance!  The strategy was successful!!

hurley-family
Bob, Tracy, Courtney (13) & Kelley (16)

Since there weren’t too many girls fencing at the club, what Kelley and Courtney needed most was to fence other accomplished girls!  That simply wasn’t going to happen in San Antonio or too many other places in the US during that time. We always focused on having them fence in their age group. While they might fence in an older age group also, it was never at the expense of competing in their own age group. At the time, some parents would regularly register their kids to fence in older age groups and not bother with the correct age group events.  We felt that was the wrong strategy. In fact, what we wanted Kelley & Courtney to do is to get used to winning, get used to the stress, the feeling, and the celebration. Often, that is not so easy if you’re fencing in an older age group.  It is an extremely important factor for developing a ‘winning’ skill set and building confidence!

At 14 years old, Kelley won the Women’s senior epee National Championships (she also won the Youth 14 event)! This was in 2002 and she became the youngest athlete to win the national title. It was time to move on to the international circuit for cadets (Under-17), juniors (Under-20), and seniors. Courtney was still too young to compete in FIE-sanctioned tournaments (the rules require fencers to be 13).

Kelley and I traveled to Europe to test the waters while Courtney stayed home with Tracy.  Since we decided what Kelley needed most at the time was more bouting with girls, we traveled to the world cups and would stay and train at local clubs between the events. Tracy would rent us apartments (this was before AirBnB), buy plane and train tickets. We called her command central! At the time, there was usually a couple weeks between the events and with 3 age groups to choose from, it wasn’t hard to find events to compete in. We would often be gone from home for a month to 6 weeks – compete in 3 tournaments and train at 3 or 4 local epee clubs. Bouting, bouting, bouting.  This was definitely the most intensive training that Kelley had done at this point. It developed her skills and confidence and we got to see her competitors!  In order to get Courtney in on the game, Tracy and I rented an RV in Munich in May and we traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, and Germany for 6 weeks with world cups for Kelley and a couple youth events for Courtney. And now, Courtney was getting the bouting exposure at the local clubs, too! This trip opened everyone’s eyes, gave us insight into international fencing, and what the rest of the world was doing.  This trip launched the Hurleygurrl’s international success!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post!

Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 1 of 3.

Since our family has been a great source of our success, we asked our dad, Robert Hurley, to provide some insight into his thinking in terms of what makes a successful fencer.  As a point of reference, he also provides some historical context at various points in our career (i.e., as youth, junior, and senior fencers). His insights are below and will continue in three parts over the next three weeks. We hope you enjoy!

——

bob-kelAs many of you may know, I met Tracy (my wife and Kelley & Courtney’s mother) at a fencing club many years ago.  It was the love and respect of each other and the sport that has bonded our relationship not only to each other but also as a family.  Kelley was 9 and Courtney was 7 years old when they started fencing. The story of their success consists of many phases and these phases are probably fairly typical for young fencers so I thought I would hit the highlights that we focused on as they grew.

Kelley & Courtney attended their first tournament at a National Championships held in Austin, Texas. They were 10 and 7 years old, respectively.  We initially entered them in the tournament because it was relatively close to home and we wanted to see what a Youth 10 tournament looked like.  The youth circuit was not nearly as advanced as it is now and there were only a few youth tournaments around. What we found out at that tournament completely changed our lives!  I still remember being amazed at all of the little “professional” looking youth 10 fencers out there with their expensive uniforms and equipment.  Kelley & Courtney were wearing hand-me-downs that were too big and zipped up the back (for you non-fencers that is a tell-tale sign of a beginner). Well, they were soundly whipped by most of the fencers and we left the event with two crying children who vowed they would never fence again!  Such a short career!!

Well, a month or so later, they were bugging us to start fencing again!  We knew at that point, they were hooked. What happened over the next 20 years has been a focused attack on figuring out the sport of fencing!

As young female fencers, we felt it was most important to focus on athleticism. That is they were too young to train exclusively for fencing and really needed a good grounding in sports. They spent a lot of time swimming, running, playing softball and basketball, and of course, fencing.  Somewhere around the time that Kelley turned 13, she begin to primarily focus on fencing as her main sport while complementing with other sports for aerobic conditioning. Courtney, who is 2.5 years younger, was still primarily bouncing basketballs and throwing softballs around although she definitely wanted to do the same workouts that big sis was doing! That happened, soon enough…

Our biggest focus was to emphasize footwork: aerobic and anaerobic footwork. We coupled their footwork with technique-focused lessons and regular tournaments. By this time, the Southwest Section of U.S. Fencing, had initiated a very successful Regional Youth Circuit for youth fencers and the Hurleygurrls attended every event! In the early days, these events were mixed (i.e., both boys and girls competed together).

Interestingly enough, the fact they were mixed events provided an excellent opportunity for Kelley & Courtney to compete against the boys – which, in general, are much more aggressive and athletic, than girls. We figured, if they could beat the boys….the girls wouldn’t stand a chance (this information will be important, later).

The focus of these years was footwork and conditioning and while the girls split their time between foil and epee, the footwork was similar enough to not cause any issue. In order to make the workouts as convenient as possible (fewer opportunities for distraction), I built a plywood fencing strip in the backyard that allowed us to just step outside and take care of business. A thirty minute fencing workout was sufficient at this point in time. The focus of the footwork was bouncing with advancing and retreating at different speeds. During their younger years, typically, they did 10 x 1 minute footwork drills (with 30 seconds of rest between) which included speed intensity during the last 10 seconds. Tracy would also give them a 15 minute lesson which concluded the 30 minute workout. Typically, we would do these workouts 3 times a week and go to the fencing club twice a week where they would bout.

During this time, Kelley & Courtney began to dominate both the Regional and National youth events in both foil and epee.  At one national championships, they had the fortune of winning the Youth 14 foil and epee (Kelley) and the Youth 12 foil and epee (Courtney) events. Btw, they no longer had back-zip jackets!

This routine continued for about 2 years until Kelley started to travel to international cadet (Under-17) events at the age of 14. This put a whole new slant on the project!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post as we enter the world of international fencing!

Out of My Comfort Zone

10
Courtney

In fencing, there are constantly problems you have to solve throughout your career. It is one of the reasons why fencing is an extremely interesting and tough sport. In my last blog entry (August 18), I talked about having trouble with priority. I am still working on solving this problem but I believe addressing another problem first, will help. That is, the problem of bout management.

In international fencing, the format of tournaments has two components.  Initially, the top 16 ranked fencers receive a bye to the second day (or top 64). The rest of the competitors have to slug it out in a pool format (pools of 6 or 7 athletes who fence each other to 5 touches). Once the pools are complete, athletes are ranked from best to worst. Approximately the bottom 20% are eliminated and the top 16 are promoted directly to the second day. The remainder, fence in a direct elimination bracket until there are 32 fencers left.

As you may imagine, the strategies or bout management requirements for a 5-touch and a 15-touch bout are somewhat different. That is, in a 5-touch bout (which lasts only 3 minutes), athletes must quickly figure out their opponent as there is little time to make many adjustments. In a 15-touch bout (which is blocked in 3 x 3 minute periods), there are many opportunities to make strategic changes as the bout progresses.

In fencing, bout management is the ability to change tactics and strategies when needed. In other words, each fencer has to figure out how to match their own strengths against their opponent’s weaknesses and these strengths and weaknesses are revealed as strategies change. Bout management is one of the toughest problems in fencing because you not only have to recognize when to change but you also need to have the ability and technique to change!

34Since my last blog post on the topic, I have successfully (I hope) identified my biggest problem with bout management!  That is, I have trouble knowing when to press for the attack or rely on my defense.  Recently, I have lost several matches due to losing 5 or 6 touches at the beginning of the match because I chose to press for the attack against people who have a better defense than offense. If I rely on my natural (aggressive) tendencies and general personality to determine my strategy, I find myself attacking without trying to focus on my opponent’s weaknesses.  This is easy to do as when you practice at the club with people who you fence all the time; that is, you get comfortable in relying on your “personality” to win.  Since (pardon my modesty), I am a more accomplished fencer than most athletes at the club, my brain has gotten a bit lazy. That is, “comfortable” strategies that work in practice do not work in international competitions!  It is time to get out of my comfort zone and restructure my bout management strategies at world cup events.

In order to fix problems like this, we have to understand the issues and have to constantly refine the strategies to see what works best. Identifying the problem is a strong first step in finding a solution!  With that in mind, I have archived many videos of my bouts to watch the strategies – what worked and didn’t work — against whom and why.  It is no different than a scouting report in baseball or football. I need to know my opponent before I fence them! I believe that once I fix this problem it will help my priority problem as well. More to come! Check back to see what I’m working on!!