At a recent club meeting, longtime fencing parent Kathryn Jackson gave a short presentation on the lessons she’s learned over the last 8 years traveling with her son to competitions. Here are her notes from that presentation:
I had the privilege to speak about my experience as a Lincoln Square Fencing Club parent for the last decade and thought I’d share my notes. The following topics came up over the last ten years as my son went from being new to fencing, to being in the competitive program to preparing to fence in college. This list is not comprehensive but may be helpful and perhaps trigger some good questions or conversations for your family if you’re new to fencing. Please note that these are the experiences of one family with full understanding that every family has different priorities, resources, & philosophies.
Traveling to Competitions
- Flying VS. Driving: We consider the 4 C’s when deciding – calendar, cost, control, & comfort.
- Car Rental: If flying means a car rental at your destination, consider the following: How is the rental market where you are going? Research the availability of rental cars at your destination, there has been a rental shortage in many cities since COVID. Also, contact the rental company to find out if there is a wait for pick up and/or if the pick-up is inside the airport or adjacent (a bus ride away) to the airport and adjust your schedule accordingly.
- Fencing Gear: Check it or carry it on the airplane? Carry on works well for the more expensive pieces, such as the mask, and ensures it does not get lost in the journey.
- Direct flights VS. Connecting flights: cost verses time spent traveling.
- Tech Tip: Use the Spothero app to research parking options and costs in unfamiliar cities.
- Biggest Lesson: All cities manage cabs and ride-share differently so while it may be easy to get from an airport to a hotel upon arrival, research the best way to get from a hotel back to the airport. Not all cities are easy to navigate as Chicago (looking at you, Philly!).
- Close to venue vs. Further away: If you find a less expensive hotel further away from a convention center will that result in paying high parking/ride share/cab fees to get back to the venue? Also, as your kid gets older and more autonomous, staying close to the venue provides an opportunity for the fencers to venture out a little on their own, watch other competitions and take care of things like weapons check on their own.
- Length of Stay: Is an all-suite or AirBnB better for a 4-6 day event like a NAC? A kitchen or kitchenette can save a lot of money and hassle, especially if you’re traveling with other family members/siblings.
- In-room amenities: Mini fridge, coffee maker & microwaves are great!
- Hotel Breakfasts: Are the hours, quality & choices of the free breakfast aligned w/your needs? Since COVID, many breakfasts have changed to “grab and go” items.
- Fees: Is parking included in your stay or an additional fee? Is there an early check-in fee (yes, that’s a thing)?
- Tech Tip: Check the hotel deals USA Fencing negotiates for the big events, they are often better than discount travel sites. However, those rooms book quickly so we use the Expedia, Hotels.com, AirBnB, and Priceline apps to research hotel options and prices.
- Biggest Lesson: As soon as we know our fencer is going to compete in an out-of-town event, we book the hotel room! Waiting often results in less choice & higher prices. We opt for “pay later” or “pay when stay” in case we must cancel or find a better deal later.
- Eating Out VS. Cooking: To stay on budget, we always purchase a small order of groceries to cover snacks, healthy breakfasts, and some comfort foods when traveling.
- Event Food: If an event is large or if your fencer has multiple events in a day, pack snacks or find out what is provided at or near the venue (even before COVID, venue food offerings vary greatly). Fencing travel is not a great time for the fencer to experiment w/new foods, in our experience. (After the competition, go crazy!)
- Tech Tip: The Grub Hub app lets you know what food options are near your hotel and which ones deliver which is nice for late night arrivals or other times when going out is not ideal.
- Biggest Lesson: Not all hotels are near restaurants or are only near fast food.
Probably skip the squid risotto the day before a major competition.
- Pre-Travel Scheduling: Are there things you should schedule BEFORE you travel such as a trip to the chiropractor? Is your student in a school that prefers they get their homework before they are absent or after?
- Multiple Events VS. One Event Per Day? Does your fencer have good endurance? What is your plan if there is a lot of waiting between bouts and/or events (Go back to hotel? Hang out in the venue?)
- Time Zone Changes: Will there be a time change in your travels? A time zone change can impact sleep schedules, homework due date/time, travel coordination and other things.
- Stay or Go: If your fencer has a late event (i.e. 4pm) and it is their last event, do you stay in the hotel another night and leave the next morning or leave immediately afterwards? If you check out of the hotel and plan to leave afterwards, will the hotel store your luggage?
- Surprises! Events don’t usually start at the exact time they are listed, that time is ACTUALLY when check-in/registration closes so plan for a slight delay for the bout(s) to start.
- Tech Tip: Keep an eye on the registrant list on the USA Fencing website to give you a sense of how long an event may take. For example, a regional event w/16 registrants is typically shorter than a national event w/200 registrants.
- Biggest Lesson: Go to weapons check as soon as possible to avoid doing it right before an event since lines/the wait can be long at bigger events which can be stressful. Also, if your fencer has a piece of equipment fail the inspection, have a plan (Replace it immediately w/a purchase? Borrow from a teammate?)
What to expect from (some) competitions
- Duration Can Be Unpredictable: Be prepared for a long day (lots of competitors, few strips, etc.) OR a very short day (your fencer gets eliminated early in the competition).
- Gear Shopping: Big events are a great opportunity to test, try-on and/or purchase gear (especially fencing shoes). NOTE: Vendors advertised to sponsor smaller/regional events don’t always attend the event.
- Food: Availability of on-site refreshments varies greatly so research your options.
- Health: Larger events typically have medical personnel on-site and ice packs; for smaller events, if our fencer is achy OR has 2 events in one day, we bring instant ice packs for icing between events.
- Rules/Etiquette: Talk to another parent about what to expect from tournament etiquette so that you can support your fencer appropriately. Things such as who can be on the strip when your fencer needs water; what does your fencer want from their parent when coach cannot be there in terms of talking, cheering, etc.; who oversees the back-up equipment; who takes video of your fencers’ bouts (we take them on our fencer’s smartphone so that we are not responsible for sending 22 videos afterwards), etc.
- Surprises! Fencing strips can be slippery so bring a small towel for your fencer to wipe the bottoms of their shoes; there is a carding system for fencer infractions, like soccer, that can also be applied to parents (pretty rare but can happen); many referees use a combination of English & French when refereeing; there is a point machine at each strip that keeps score, so you don’t have to.
- Tech Tip: Many events use the website FencingTimeLive to track bout outcomes, strips assignments, registrant seeding, etc. If you see everyone walking around looking at their smartphone, that’s probably what they are looking at https://www.fencingtimelive.com/
- Biggest Lesson: We learned that our fencer has preferences in terms of what mom/dad do and say while they are competing, so we talked to them about those preferences and adjusted (I’m not allowed to yell at other fencers).
- Check that your fencer has packed everything the day before you leave for competition.
- Used gear is great for practice but not 100% reliable for competition.
- Biggest Lesson: Purchase saber blades in multiples, when possible, as saber fencers are the heavy metal drummers of the fencing world and snap them in half often.
A big thanks to Kathryn Kaysen Jackson, forever known as “CJ’s Mom” for this valuable information gleaned over the course of several years of travel!