How good do you feel when you know you have improved? How much more motivated are you? Nothing is more inspiring to Fencers than signs of improvement. Evidence of increased competence is a fundamental driver of motivation and the first of the 5Cs development model (competence, confidence, connection, character, creativity).
Typically, we rely solely on competition statistics (victories, hits, placings, etc) to determine and then convey performance gains. It is an easy and convenient way, but has risks based on the level of competition.
How can we use other ways to actually show our fencers that they are better at something than they were before?
Where are some important opportunities to capture and share meaningful information with fencers about their progress?
One possible methodology:
In the review part of the season, just before preseason, distribute a fencer affirmation card. On the card, ask each Fencer to print their name and list three things they feel make them a better fencer, that they want to improve in as a fencer this season. It is important that the fencers be as specific as possible.
It should take only a few minutes to complete this step.
Fencers then return their cards to the coach. Over the next few days, the coach (or coaches if working together with a coaching staff) can review the cards and ask fencers for clarification, if needed. Coaches can look at how they work with the fencer to build these affirmations into the training programmes.
Periodically, throughout the first two weeks of practice, pull aside each Fencer and film them performing one or more of the skills from their self-improvement list. Keep it simple and practical. Use a smartphone, ideally their own (to record the film and keep each film short, ideally no more than 20-30 seconds).
Later in the season, either when you notice that a Fencer has improved on their skill or simply in the last two weeks of practice, pull Fencers aside and again film them performing the skill or skills. Try to film them in the same way you filmed them originally to provide a meaningful comparison.
Combine the two films for each Fencer and prepare to share them. Don’t bother with special film editing. Simply show each Fencer their before and after films back-to-back. Seeing the difference and evidence of their significant improvement should boost athletes’ pride. You may elect to present each Fencer with their films right away or hold them until the end of the season and present them as part of exit meetings with each player.
Of course, this strategy only works if Fencers improve their skills by the end of the season. Allowing the athletes to identify the skills they want to improve (step 1) will increase the odds of each Fencer showing improvement by the end of the season. Research consistently shows that motivation to learn is enhanced when the learners themselves have some control over features of the learning environment.
Further increase the likelihood of all your fencers earning a positive progress film moment by revisiting the fencer affirmation cards periodically during the season. While reviewing the cards, determine whether the practice activities you are designing give each Fencer the training, feedback and support needed to directly improve their desired skills.
This film-based strategy can show each Fencer powerful evidence of their skill development from the beginning to the end of a season. Actually seeing the improvement in their performance on film is motivating and builds pride, increasing the likelihood your athletes will return the following season excited to improve more skills.
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