11/11/2019- Coach Digest

Losing Sight of the Invisible

In ‘late and long’ development sports, is a focus on a small group of developing athletes the best option? Do we risk missing out on discovering an ‘invisible’ athlete of the future?

Talent Development Programmes are often pictured as a pyramid and, by their very structure, are based on a reductionist approach often described as a “kick out culture”. This culture is created with the aim of providing the most resources to the few identified with the most potential. The concept of accelerating the development of players early in their careers is valid, however, anecdotal evidence shows that identifying a closed, small group to the exclusion of a still-developing player population is not the best option.

Over the last few years, the British Fencing Athlete Development Programme has made efforts to change the “Kick out culture” of SE talent development programmes.

For a number of reasons:

1. The typical development and maturation norms for fencing.

Fencing is a late maturation sport which makes accurately forecasting future senior internationals, whilst they are in their teenage years, next to impossible.


Weapon  (Date Range) Winners Fencers in the Last Four

Men’s Epee


30 29

Women’s Epee


26 26

Men’s Foil


27 27

Women’s Foil


27 27

Men’s Sabre


30 29

Women’s Sabre


25 24

2. International fencing at U17 & U20 is an excellent complement, but it is not the main ingredient for senior international success.

3. Looking at the numbers and doing the maths, there were 2220 U20 and 2354 U14 competitive fencers in 2019. Hundreds of fencers aged between 13 and 19 would be potentially “invisible” to the ADP Coaches if only a small selection was brought into a national academy. Some of these excluded fencers could, with the right environment, have every prospect of developing into better fencers than some of the ones identified as National Academy Fencers.

4. The daily variables that influence the development of fencer are many and complex. British Fencing and the Athlete Development Programme has some influence over the development of young fencers. The dynamic and non-linear nature of the development of young fencers, in conjunction with their local environment, is the best situation until the fencer has consistently demonstrated the attributes required to become a senior international fencer in their various club competitions. Quite often at some point, the aspirational fencers will make a choice to adapt the environment to continue their progress to a senior international fencer.

5. The journey to becoming a senior international fencer is a hard journey and for a number of fencers, they will choose a different journey.

The key aim of the Athlete Development Programme is to help those fencers looking to become the senior international fencers of the future, and in doing so retain those that choose a different journey. For the fencers that choose a different journey, we can then still find a space for them where they can continue the sport they love and have invested in.

“You don’t pay the cost to achieve your dreams, you enjoy the journey.”
Donnie L Cochran – Blue Angels Flight Leader

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