Beginning to use Games

So if you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, or participating in discussions about ecological coaching on venues like Facebook or Discord, you might be curious about how to incorporate some of these approaches into your own coaching. However, if you’re currently running a “traditional” class, you might also be hesitant to radically realign your entire teaching structure in accordance with a set of ideas you’re still exploring – which is very reasonable! Using games based approaches to teaching fencing takes practice as a coach to do well, and radically changing the structure of your club can turn off existing participants. Here are two starting tips to help you try this stuff out without needing to throw away your entire current syllabus.

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Firstly, start with a game. If you’re currently using a standard class structure (warmup, drills, choice exercises, sparring) you can do this pretty simply: take your choice exercise and make sure it’s a fencing game of some sort, then move to the start of the class, immediately after the warmup. This will achieve a few things for you – most importantly, it means when you go on to your technical drills later, you’ve already established the essential context for those drills. You’ll find that a lot of questions people might currently be asking about the drills answer themselves for you when you’ve started with a game.

Secondly, use external cues. When you’re giving feedback on the drills, avoid giving people “internal” cues, instead use externally focused ones. A “cue” in this context is a piece of advice that they are going to try and hold in their mind while they perform the exercise. There’s a huge amount of sports science research which suggests that the best cues are externally focused – they refer to something outside your student’s body1. It can even be as close as their shoelaces or the seam on their shirt, but it has to be outside the body to work well. External cues help them focus on the goal of their action and allow their body to adapt itself to find the ideal way to achieve that goal.

Just these two simple steps by themselves should show pretty dramatic effects on your students within a few months at the most. As you’re gaining confidence with ecological techniques, you can then start to make some more drastic adjustments to how you’re structuring your classes.

  1. The book to read here if you want to learn more is The Language of Coaching, by Nick Winkelman. He outlines all the research, but the focus is on how you can put this into practice when you’re teaching, not on abstract theory. ↩︎