Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On the subject of teams

I rarely think of fencing as a team sport. I have participated in a few team format competitions, but for the most part it's me alone against the hordes. And those same hordes often include other members of my club. But when it comes to practice, and seeing the same guys (I am the only female epeeist at the moment) week in and week out, sweating along beside me, I find myself referring to them in my head as "the team."

I am now at my third club in three years. Three very different clubs with different demographics, styles, and levels of competitiveness. So I feel somewhat qualified to speak on the topic of camaraderie in fencing practice. All have been mostly friendly places, though fencing, by its nature I think, always breeds a few standoffish, haughty types. But I've never felt as really welcomed into, and as much a part of, a group as I do now with the other epeeists at my club.

While I suspect this has a lot to do with me and an increase in confidence overall, I think it also has something to do with the level of competition at the club. Of the three clubs I have belonged to, my current club is the most competitive-minded, with nearly everyone competing at least at the local level. It has the most people competing at the National level and the most rated fencers - not that that is a valid measurement of anything by itself. How does this contribute to a team atmosphere? Common goals for one. Plain ol' human nature for another: No one wants to be left behind so no one is slouching off at practice. We're constantly egging each other on and pushing one another and sharing feedback. It helps, I think that we're all competitive with one another and no bout is ever a sure thing. It seems to mean absolutely nothing that I am the only female, which is good for me.

What does all this mean? It means that when one of my teammates wins a tournament, I am nearly as excited as if I had won it myself. (It was a rough day on Sunday, watching two of my teammates fight the gold medal bout and not really knowing who to root for. I just cheered for all the good touches and congratulated both guys at the end.) It means I always look forward to practice. It also means that I'm scared to death of falling behind these guys, of being a drag on the team. Whether it's because they're younger, stronger, or just have more free time, I am spurred to work as hard as possible on our two practice nights a week to make sure I can keep up.

I've had a lot more thoughts about the subject of teams, but I'll save them for another post.

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