180408 Motivation, Goals, Success, and All That Stuff

Recently in a conversation with a colleague the question was asked “how do we motivate our fencers to work harder and get better?” That question stemmed from a triad of behaviors observed in practice:

(1)  Fencers who could not answer the simple question “name a simple attack.”  [Just for grins check the content of last week’s blog post, and the content of our lesson plans, and …]

(2)  Fencers who repeatedly are corrected for the same inefficient movement, lack of control, errors in performance, etc., not just  over a week, but over years in some cases.

(3)  Fencers who show no interest in the basic knowledge of the sport, and come to practice unprepared intellectually to do the work of the day – do not read the blog, do not work on the knowledge component of the skills development program, etc..

But there is a basic problem with the idea that I should be able to motivate fencers to work harder, to study their sport, to make an effort to be good at what they do.  I CANNOT MOTIVATE ANYONE.  NO ONE CAN MOTIVATE YOU TO BE A BETTER FENCER.  I can remove barriers to motivation – provide a fencing floor that does not hurt your joints, give good instruction, recognize achievement, provide clean restrooms, create a welcoming team environment, etc.  But I can’t motivate you – motivation is internal.  You are either motivated or you are not motivated to achieve success.  Years of research have established that you are the only person who can motivate you.

Notice that I said “achieve success.”  I did not say “become a better fencer.”  Fencing is a reflection of life.  The important skills you learn in fencing are not how to do a disengage – they are life skills, how to focus on goals, how to work steadily to improve performance, how to think and work under pressure, how to learn, how to think and plan tactically and strategically to achieve your goals, etc., etc.

If you are a successful fencer, the odds are good that you will be successful in other things.  If you cultivate a personal attitude in fencing of not caring about your performance, not working to improve, not studying your craft, the odds are not so good that you will be successful in other things.

So what is success?  Success is personal.  It is meeting you goals for fencing and for life.  For one fencer, success may be an Olympic medal.  For another, it may be perfection of the physical skills of the sport.  For a third, it may be the joy of fencing and the ability to be a dangerous opponent to everyone in the Salle, making them work hard for each and every touch.  All of these are legitimate successes.

So what are the characteristics of the successful fencer?  In his book High Performance Fencing: The Seventh Essential, Ed Rogers (a veteran Scottish International and an examiner for the British Academy of Fencing) uses the criteria developed by N. Cochrane for Sport Scotland:

“Within any successful person you will find:

  • Utter determination, focus, and drive to reach their goals.
  • A continuous search for ways to improve.
  • The motivation and focus to go on when things do not go to plan.
  • The ability to remain positive and to learn from mistakes.
  • An insatiable thirst for knowledge.
  • Enthusiasm and belief that what they are doing with their life is right.”

I understand that this all flies in the face of the entire motivational speaker industry.  If you have ever attended a motivational speech, ask yourself what was the outcome?  Did your performance actually improve on a sustained basis?  Or did you just laugh at the speaker’s jokes, feel mildly uncomfortable at any challenges to how you were performing, think that you ought to do better – all of it forgotten the next day?

You have to want to be successful, all by yourself.  You can’t want to be successful today, and then not care tomorrow.  It has to be a sustained performance.  The good thing is that Cochrane and Rogers have given you the roadmap.  How does the roadmap translate into action?

  • Utter determination, focus, and drive to reach their goals:
    • Set a goal for every practice and every lesson.
    • Measure whether you accomplish that goal.
    • Keep a diary of your progress.
    • Identify the skills that you do well and hone and maintain them.
    • Identify the skills that you need to improve, focus on them, and work relentlessly to develop mastery of them.
  • A continuous search for ways to improve:
    • Develop and carry out a plan to improve your fitness and fencing specific conditioning.
    • Vision.
    • Work on some component of your fencing every day.  Focus intently on drills in practice and on your lessons.
    • When something is pointed out, fix it – today, not a general “I should work on that.”
    • Take 5 Minute Lessons before or after class and during open fencing.
    • Use the Skills Development Program to check your progress.
    • Fence in every tournament that you can enter – if you are a recreational fencer, fence in all the Salle’s events.  If you are a competitor, plan to fence in at least one tournament a month.
    • Learn to teach other fencers – it will greatly increase your understanding of what you are doing.
  • The motivation and focus to go on when things do not go to plan.
    • Have a plan
    • Practice the plan so that you can execute it under the stress of combat.
    • Practice modifying the plan – use your drill for between halt and fence.
    • Modify the plan to stop the rot or exploit success.
  • The ability to remain positive and to learn from mistakes:
    • Fence every bout you can in the Salle, in Salle tournaments, and, for competitors USA Fencing tournaments.
    • Embrace the idea that a mistake, a hit against you, a defeat is a learning opportunity.
    • Fence in tournaments that are not critical events to work on specific problems.
  • An insatiable thirst for knowledge:
    • Study the sport.
    • Work on the skills development program – set a goal for when you will achieve each level.
    • Read the Salle blog and Fencing Intelligence – not every now and then, but every week.
    • Explore the other weapons – take an occasional lesson in each, not just whale away at other people during open fencing.
    • Read a book about fencing, or two or three.
    • Study You Tube Videos.
  • Enthusiasm and belief that what they are doing with their life is right:
    • If you do not believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?

Just do it.  As a Maitre d’Armes and trainer, I can’t do it for you.  When I do try, all I do is give you an excuse for failing to try yourself.  You are responsible for your motivation, and your motivation is responsible for your success.  It really is that simple.

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