Cellphones be Damned: Staying Focused in the Fencing Club


I’ll be the first to admit there’s an element of hypocrisy to this post. I probably use my cellphone too much to check my work email, catch a Pokémon or 30 in Pokémon Go, swap texts with friends, or make an occasional s***post on Reddit (okay, more like frequent s***posts on Reddit and a few hundred Pokémon). I’m not one to sit here and rue the dangers of the smartphone revolution or the evils of social media. But there’s a time and place to put them away and focus on the world around you, and that’s the moment you enter the doors of your fencing club.

In a world where we’re constantly distracted by the Facespace, ChapSnaps, Instaface, and a game of NightForts, teens are becoming more engrossed with their smartphones, impacting time well-spent while fencing.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research, 95% of teenagers now have access to smartphones. 45% are online ‘almost constantly’ (up 24% from 2015), and 9 in 10 are online several times per day.[1]

My anecdotal experience as a Coach is supported by the data. More and more I’m seeing kids enslaved by their smartphones to the point I’ve instituted a fairly draconian policy with my students: when you’re in the club, the smartphone stays tucked in your bag unless you’re using it for music to warm up or to get in contact with a parent.

Because razor-sharp focus is such an important part of Fencing performance, even a quick glance at your phone can have adverse effects on a concentrated practice.

In a Psychology Today article titled “How Media Use Hurts Athletes,” Dr. Jim Taylor wrote: “Focus impacts learning; without the capacity for sustained focus, athletes will forget what they are working on technically or tactically during practice. As soon as athletes lose focus, they stop doing whatever they were working on and further ingrain old and bad skills and habits. And, without that extended focus, they won’t be able to gain enough quality repetition necessary to effectively ingrain new skills and habits.”[2]

Beyond impacts to focus, cellphones also present detriments to camaraderie and good communication between athletes. In the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Season, Texas Tech had gone on a three-game losing streak. The captain of the team mandated his teammates put the phones away before their next game. They won the next game, leading the coach to make the team turn their phones in every night. The Raiders only lost one more game and would end up making it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before losing to Villanova. [3]

This is a parable we could learn from in Fencing. Dialogue and constant feedback loops are important to understanding what went well in a practice bout, what could have gone better, and most importantly—building rapport with your teammates. When our heads are in our smartphones, we detach from our teammates and fail to work as a collective club.

I am cognizant of the fact I sound like an old man screaming at a cloud. But for the benefit of yourself, your teammates, and for respect to your coach, unplug while you’re in the salle. The only Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) you need to worry about is getting sick touches and sick gainz. Put the phone away and fence.

[1] https://www.geekwire.com/2018/new-research-finds-95-teens-access-smartphone-45-online-almost-constantly/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201701/how-media-use-hurts-athletes

[3] https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/texas-tech-banned-smartphones-amid-ncaa-tournament-run-report

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