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

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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!!

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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!

Out of My Comfort Zone

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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!!

Guest Blogger: An Interview with Andrey Geva – U.S. National Coach

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About once-a-month (starting this month), we invite a guest blogger, who has been influential in the sport of fencing, to share their insight and perspective on our favorite sport of fencing.  This month, as the start of the fencing season is only a week away, we asked Andrey Geva, the U.S. National Coach for women’s epee (and 2016 Olympic coach and head coach and owner of Alliance Fencing Academy in Houston), to answer a few questions  about the upcoming season and insight that other fencing fans might have an interest in.  Below is the interview.


Q: Can you provide us with a little information about your background as an athlete and as a coach?

Andrey: I started fencing back in the 70’s and was developed into a high level competitive athlete in St. Petersburg, Russia during the Soviet Union. I was a “Master of Sport of the USSR” as well as a member of several national junior and senior squads.

In 1989 I immigrated to Israel where I became a four-time national champion. I have represented Team Israel in numerous World Cups, World Championships, and World University Games. I started my active coaching career at Hebrew University of Jerusalem where I developed 6 national champions, a Cadet World Championships bronze medalist, and several Junior World Cup medalists.

In 1999 I was invited to coach in Houston, TX at local fencing club, and 4 years later, I opened Alliance Fencing Academy. As of today, Alliance Fencing has produced over 30 U.S. National Champions, NCAA champions and medalists, won over a dozen national team titles, 2 Cadet World Champions, and we have over 20 winners and medalists at top international competitions.

I have served as the Team USA national coach for women’s epee since 2013, and in 2016 I served as the head women’s epee coach for the Rio Olympics.  

Q: If a young fencer was interested in making the Olympic team, what would be your advice to them?

Andrey: Love the sport, all aspects of it. Train with passion, come to practice 15 minutes earlier and leave 15 minutes later than everyone else. If your coach asks you to do 10 lunges, do 15, if you are asked to fence 15 bouts, fence 20. Watch Olympic videos, read books and articles about Olympians, talk to Olympians and ask them questions. Have ambition to be the best by setting goals to win Olympic medals at the beginning of your fencing career.

Q: What do you see as your top strengths as a U.S. National Coach for women’s epee?

Andrey:

  • Successful coaching experience. I have coached for almost 30 years producing national and international champions and medalists
  • International exposure and experience. As an athlete and coach I have participated in fencing camps in Soviet Union, Hungary, France, Israel, and Germany. I’ve been in over 20 cadet, junior, and senior World Championships, over 50 World Cups, and one Olympics
  • My demeanor is patient, friendly yet demanding, and I bring a structured approach to the training process and strip coaching. I develop an individual approach that varies from one fencer to the other.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you in coaching a team at the international level?

Andrey: I am used to working with fencers from the very beginning of their career and developing them into high-level mature international athletes. Now, as a national team coach going to international events, I have to deal with fencers who come from different coaching philosophies and I have to create a positive team dynamic so that the entire team is on the same page.

Q: Heading into the 2017-18 season and the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, what are your goals for the U.S. women’s epee team?

Andrey: My goal is to medal in both the individual and team event.

Q: What are your strategies for reaching these goals? (2017-18) and (2020 Olympics) if they are different.

Andrey: For the team event my strategy is to develop “shooting”, “stopping”, and “sniping” skills for my fencers.  I also plan to develop an individual strategy for each top team by watching and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and testing these different strategies during the 2017-18 season in order to determine which one works the best.

For the individual event, my strategy is to analyze the top potential opponents and find what techniques work the best against each of them, as well as develop a general rich fencing arsenal with the Olympians and fencers with whom I work. Finally, I want to fine tune the psychological preparation for my athletes so that when they arrive at the games, they are at the very top of both their physical and mental game.

 

—- The End —

Mind over Matter

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Courtney

 

Have you ever had a problem that you can’t seem to think your way through?  I mean, something that seriously affects your success at work or school? In school, it might be that you just can’t seem to understand math and you need math to graduate or at work, perhaps your co-worker is the biggest drama queen that has ever lived but you need her support to complete a project on time.  Most people think that fencing isn’t really a career but it has been my career for 12 years.  As with most careers there are  hills and valleys but you have to hope the trend line has a positive slope.  With a great deal of confidence, I can say that my fencing career has had a positive slope. While that is true, I am struggling with one major problem: winning in PRIORITY*. Flash back to the 2012 London Olympics in the Bronze medal bout with the Russian team. If you remember that bout (and if you don’t, you can still find it on You Tube) in the final bout, I scored the winning touch in the PRIORITY period. YIPPEE! We won a Bronze medal. Life couldn’t get any better. Fast forward to the Rio Olympics, in almost an identical situation (albeit not the Bronze medal bout), I lost the PRIORITY touch against Romania (btw, I also lost in PRIORITY in my individual bout in Rio).  As the anchor for the USA women’s epee team, my discomfort with PRIORITY situations is a real problem.

I am determined to overcome the fear of PRIORITY!  My goal for this season is to work on developing a strategy to overcome it; to marginalize it and to wipe it off the face of the earth! I’m open to your ideas! If you have strategies that you have utilized to conquer this fear, please send them to me (you can comment on this blog post or send me a message on Facebook or Instagram. More to come! Check back to see what I’m working on!!


*[For you, non-fencers out there, PRIORITY occurs when regulation time has ended and the score is tied. The referee flips a coin and the fencer who wins the coin toss, has PRIORITY.  The fencers then have one more minute to fence and if no touch is scored (rarely ever happens) then the fencer with priority wins. However, this is a “sudden death” period where the fencer who scores the first touch, wins.]