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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Fencing


The Mental Game of Fencing

Use Your Mind To Improve Your Performance

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Bill Cole, MS, MA was asked to conduct his workshop, The Mental Game of Sports, for the Stanford University Fencing Camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto California. In attendance were a group of young national and international fencing competitors. This article describes this program, The Mental Game of Fencing, and what everyone learned, how it was conducted, and some of the participants' comments.

Fencing is one of the most mental of all sports. It has been likened to badminton in terms of its speed, time periods, head to head play, and high demands for balance, quickness, fakes, mental acuity and mental agility. In short, fencing is chess on your feet, using a weapon. The mental demands of competitive fencing require strong control over mind, body and emotions, and any fencer wishing to succeed under fire needs calmness, poise and mental toughness.

This article on my program The Mental Game of Fencing gives you five mental fencing strategies I used with the Stanford University Fencing Camp that you can use right away in your own fencing game.

1. Before You Can Succeed, First Succeed In Your Mind: It is possible to win an event if you do not believe in yourself. Athletes surprise themselves this way all the time. However, you would agree that it is far better to believe you can do something than not, correct? If you go into a competition worrying about the outcome, or believing you can't win, or worse, believing you do not deserve to win, you are stacking the odds against you in huge ways. Better to have an open mind and think, "I deserve to win as much as the next person. I've worked hard to get here. Let's just see what happens". The Mental Game of Fencing says you should keep an open mind and give yourself every chance to succeed.

2. Where Your Breath Is, So Is Your Mind: It is amazing how many high-level sports competitors do not pay much attention to their breath. And I don't just mean in terms of relaxation. I mean in terms of concentration. Everyone knows that to relax, proper full diaphragmatic breathing is vital. Fewer athletes and coaches know how this affects the mind and powers of concentration. The key principle is this: If you focus on your breath, your mind stays in the moment. When you are worried, and anxious and in a hurry, your breathing is corrupted, and is higher, shallower and less efficient. Learn to come back to your breath during breaks in the action, and learn how to attach your breath to key movements you make in the action. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should stay in close touch with your breath at all times.

3. Time Slows Down In The Zone: With training, an athlete can slow their sense of time down in a competition, so they play better. Time alteration is a main feature of the zone. Time either goes away, or slows down so much that the athlete has almost extra-sensory ESP-like anticipation and time galore to execute. By learning a specific centering method, the mind clears out the many filters of self-talk, emotions, fears, doubts, strategies, self-instruction and other self-distractions, leaving a pure, uncluttered, direct perception of what is really taking place, without any interpretations getting in the way. That is how time slows down. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should learn how to calm your mind, your body and your emotions.

4. A Tense Mind Produces Tense Muscles: One of my favorite quotes that describes poor play is "A tense mind is a tense body". Fencers who try too hard, "give it 110%", force the action, worry about errors, try to hurry, and try to control the uncontrollable suffer from mental tightness, and that produces physical tightness. Fencers often ask me, "Why do I play so well in practice, but not in an event?" The reason is tension. In practice they are loose and enjoying themselves. In an event if they tense up, even ever so slightly, those previously fine movements, with pinpoint timing and superb balance, are corrupted. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should only use the level of effort required for success, and no more.

5. Focus Only On What You Can Control: Athletes tend to needlessly, but understandably, worry about things that are truly out of their control. Instead of creating tension within yourself over things that either may never happen, or that are not controllable, learn to accept these things, and put your focus and energy into that which will pay you dividends. The Mental Game of Fencing says you should know what you can control, and what you cannot control, and have the wisdom and will power to focus on the right things.

I told the fencers stories that illustrate these principles, asked them about their experiences, did demonstrations, and then had them get into their fencing gear, and I coached them as they performed a combination of mind techniques we learned.

Here are some of the comments made by these young international level fencers that participated in the workshop:

Your workshop on sports psychology was very meaningful to me. It changed my understanding of sports. It was great.

I realized that a strong mind can help an athlete improve. One can benefit from clearing the mind and emotions.

Bill kept my attention the entire time, and it completely changed the way I will fence now.

This workshop helped me have more confidence, and to fence better. From learning this material, I am now closer to reaching my goals. This is a very good program.

The most important thing I learned today was how breathing correctly can help us relax and perform in the zone. The mental imagery techniques were very helpful. I wish this workshop could have been longer.

I enjoyed today's program because Bill talked about things that should be common sense, but that are not practiced. Thank you!

I enjoyed this program because I learned how to breathe correctly to enhance my mental approach to fencing.

I learned practical mental strategies for improving my fencing. I will be able to perform better by using breathing and zone skills when I compete. I really liked it, and enjoyed how Bill taught the program.

The Camp Director loved the program:

Bill Cole is a fantastic mental trainer, teacher, speaker and coach. I have heard sports psychologists speak about the mental approach before, but I have never seen someone present these concepts and techniques in such accessible, insightful, practical and enjoyable ways as Bill is able to do.

If you run a sports camp, sports school or sports academy you really need to have Bill come in and present this program to your athletes. It's awesome, and your athletes will thank you.

Lisa Milgram
Co-Head Coach
Stanford University Men's And Women's Fencing Teams

This mental game of fencing training program had these elements:

  • Motivation And Goal-Setting
  • Removing Self-Limiting Beliefs
  • Mental Readiness: Pre-Event
  • Mental Readiness: In The Event
  • Turning Stress Into Success
  • Controlling Nerves In Competition
  • Breathing For Peak Performance
  • Stopping Choking
  • Finding Ideal Effort Levels
  • Attention Control Training
  • Getting In The Zone
  • Mental Game Match Management
  • Self-Coaching Skills
  • Controlling Emotions
  • Practicing The Mental Game
  • Visualizing Success
  • Thinking Like A Winner: Developing A Championship Mind
  • Building Self-Confidence
  • Avoiding Slumps, Staleness And Burnout
  • Building Mental Toughness

As a result of undergoing this workshop on the Mental Game of Fencing, these international fencing competitors learned much about the often hidden part of fencing-the mind game. They are now inspired to continue discovering how their mind can help them succeed in bigger ways.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2011-2013. All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a Wall Of Fame Honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at or

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