Tag Archives: Fencing

Failure IS an Option: a #LessonLearned by Iris Zimmermann

After our son tried (and rejected) what seemed like every sport invented, my husband and I were tearing out our hair. Athletic adults who recognize the value of competition, we wanted our son to be involved in something physical… anything, but we were running out of options.

At some point, we heard about the Rochester Fencing Club and from the moment our son held saber, he has loved the sport that fits his personality.

I am fortunate today to have Iris Zimmermann, Olympian and Co-Owner of the Rochester Fencing Club as my guest blogger. Iris holds the distinction of being the first U.S. fencer in history to win a world championship in any weapon or any age category. In 1995, she won the World Under-17 Championships at her first major international event. Four years later Iris became the first US fencer to medal in the Senior World Championships, earning the bronze medal in women’s foil.

Iris has an amazing teaching ethos and runs a terrific program. Of course, she wants students to have fun, but she is all about personal responsibility, good sportsmanship, hard work and patience. You might think a Champion competitor would be all about winning, right? Well, here’s what Iris has to say on that topic. Follow Iris on Twitter @rocfencing.

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Failure Is an Option

Failure is the new “F word”. The more I step into the life of coaching, the more I realize that failure has become something more feared than Snooki in a bathing suit. (If you don’t know who Snooki is, good for you). It’s not just the kids that fear the black cloud of failure, but the parents who put all their hopes into the athletic endeavors of their 6-12 year olds who can’t stand to see little Timmy “fail.” I think this is why so many school and athletic programs have adopted the “everyone wins” strategy.

I’m sorry Timmy, but everyone does not win in this world. Rather than go on a diatribe about the downfall of Darwinism and the culture of healthy competition, let’s start talking about what failure can do for you.

In order to do this, you will need to accompany me on a short trip down memory lane. While training for the 2000 Olympics (yes, I am type A), there was this United States team fencer who had a tattoo on his arm that read: “Victory or Death.” I joked with him about it and said, “Nice tattoo. You must win everything. What’s your secret?” The fencer, who could count height as one of his strengths, looked down at me and glared.

Let’s get this straight. No one is that good. Michael Jordan — “The Greatest Basketball Player of All Time” according to the NBA website — knows this. He said:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Well said, Mr. Nike Air. Let’s take an academic step forward and do some modern research. What does Wikipedia say about failure?

Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.

Interesting thing – “may be viewed as the opposite of success.” The Wikipedia community is, in general, back and forth on the scale of accuracy of definitions and explanations. However, in this case I would say they hit the nail on the head with the definition.

She

Failure is only a view or perception of the opposite of success. The problem with failure is that fear of this perception can keep well-meaning people from becoming great. So, if failure is just a perception, is it possible that if you altered your understanding of this perception you could make failure a valuable tool? For those of you like me that are to the point. Failure is merely a state of mind.

First of all, a person has to get it through one’s thick head that he or she must fail in order to succeed.

When I competed, I think my most powerful tool was that I wasn’t afraid to lose. I somehow knew that within every “failure” there existed an opportunity to learn about any weak points in my game. Having made peace with losing, there was nothing to be afraid of — which made me a very effective fencer at a very young age.

At age 14, I was the youngest to win a Cadet (under 17) World Championship medal and until recently, the youngest at age 16 to win a Senior National Championship title. I owe much of that success to losing competitions because if I was afraid, I would never have tried some very risky actions that ultimately helped me to win important competitions.

What separates the “good” from the “great” is the state of mind they chose to be in when they come up against a hurdle, a loss, or a failure. Unlike many people who are paralyzed by the thought of failure, the successful people are the ones who learn and move on. If you don’t believe me, take it from Michael Jordan.

How has “failing” helped you accomplish your goals? Anything you want to ask a World Champion?

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How Could We Have Known?

Who knew, this person would become ...

He was tentative. A boy who

walked ahead but

always looked back to be sure of me.

At night, his pinky-finger

curled neatly beneath his chin,

He was gentle.

Too gentle, we worried.

He didn’t like team sports, games with balls or pucks.

He said they were not games.

That games were supposed to be fun.

That some sports were mean.

“There’s too much, too fast,” he said.

“And so much yelling.”

Still, we made him try.

Made him put on uniforms.

Made him get on the field.

On the court.

On the ice.

We told him to have fun.

To get dirty.

And he came home, quietly peeled off his outer layer

and (without complaint), he took a scrap of soap

to wash his hands.

He was delicate, a white moth fluttering against the night window.

But he knew something that we didn’t.

He knew it with certainty, something

we could have put all our faith into.

If we had only been listening.

He knew

That he would grow into himself.

... this person?

This piece was written for Galit and Alison who asked us to share the “MEMORIES WE CAPTURE.”

Note: I am thrilled to announce that I actually was the lucky winner in the “Memories Captured” contest, and I can now select any image that I love and have it transformed into a  16″ x 20″ canvas from Canvas Press! Yay! Can’t wait to show you the results!

The Hideously, Fabulous Sneakers

Monkey's sneakers

My son has these ridiculous shoes. They came to us as hand-me-downs from friends whose son who never wore them. Apparently, the sneakers were custom-made for our friends’ son, but he exhibited some kind of advanced fashion sense and never wore them.

Because they are kind of ludicrous.

I mean, they are blood-red, white and royal blue.

Yup.

Clown shoes.

Anyway, my son fences. (No, he does not steal. He is a saber fencer.) And last weekend, his foot suddenly didn’t fit into his fencing sneakers. (How does that happen? Friday, good. Saturday, not so good?) Anyway, one hour before the big tournament, all we had were the clown shoes. Monkey tried them on and they fit. Like a glove. (Okay, that’s a terrible mixed metaphor. They fit like a pair of fabulously comfortable pair of whacked-out clown shoes.)

Thrilled, Monkey immediately ran upstairs and grabbed an ancient pair of unworn royal blue soccer socks. (You know, to match.)

And he kicked ass. (And by kicking ass, I mean he did better than he ever has before: He did not win, but he did not come in last place either.)

Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, everyone commented on his shoes.

And Monkey (who tends not to be an attention whore like his mother) actually liked the attention.

Those wigged out kicks gave my boy a little swagger.

Frankly, the patriotic Nikes seemed to be a constant and very visual reminder that he needs to move his feet.

Which is something his coach often reminds him that he forgets to do.

As stupid as it sounds, the clown shoes made for a great weekend moment.

Of course, now we have to go to the mall.

You know. To buy sneakers.

Tell me about that one ridiculous piece of clothing to which you were very attached as a kid. Or tell me about something you have to tackle on your to do list! 😉

Tweet this Twit at RASJacobson

Lessons From Losing

As a self-admitted, ridiculously competitive parent who wants her child to know how good it can feel to work hard and win, it is my duty to report that my son competed in a fencing competition last weekend. On the strip, he fenced his butt off and did not lose a single match. As parents, my husband and I were internally beyond psyched, but externally we tried to contain ourselves.

After two hours, Monkey came over to the area where we were standing and said, “Explain how I have won every bout but I am now ranked #7?” Husband and I looked at each other and said (practically in unison), “Don’t ask us! Ask the guy with the clipboard.” So Monkey did. He marched right up to his coach who is like nine feet tall and tattooed and has a goatee and sometimes yells at kids or bonks them on their helmets for not paying attention. (It should be said, this treatment is always deserved. Elliott is an amazing coach, but he can be intimidating.)

Several adults were standing in a small cluster when Monkey barged in. From my vantage point (wedged against husband and the cola machine), I could see Monkey say something and point at the clipboard. Then I saw everyone look at the clipboard. And then I saw four horrified adult faces. I watched people erasing and nodding. Eventually, words were exchanged and Monkey came back over to us.

Apparently, an error had been made. One of the refs accidentally wrote down the wrong last name in the brackets and so Monkey’s competitor, the kid he had beaten, moved ahead of him.

When the error was brought to his attention, my son was composed. He stayed for the remainder of the competition and watched other fencers compete. He even congratulated the winners afterward.

Later in the car, Monkey was mad. It’s the first time I’d ever seen anything close to a kind of fire in my son. He said he was frustrated – really frustrated. That he had wanted to go as far as he could, and he was mad to have been prematurely stopped in his tracks. He did not have a hissy fit or cry. He understood an error had been made. He knew it was not intentional. He knew that by the time the error had been caught, it was too late, as fencers were already fencing in the semi-finals. He just kind of wished he had known about the mistake earlier.

So there were lots of lessons that day. Lessons we take through life. Monkey kept his head about him and kept his cool, despite the fact that he got a bum rap. He understood his disappointment wasn’t so much about the losing so much as it was losing the opportunity to do his best. That was the frustrating thing for him. (And I’m guessing next time, he’ll be the kid hovering around whomever is holding the clipboard.)

There were lessons for this trophy-seeking momma, too. I have to admit, my first instinct was to feel anger. I felt Monkey had been gypped. Privately, I wanted the coaches to go all the way back in the seeding to where the error was made and start over. I didn’t care if it meant another grueling two hours for the fencers; I wanted justice! I was surprised by how quickly my inner Tiger Momma wanted to pounce: claws bared, teeth clenched. I wanted apologies and a free year of private lessons. I wanted someone to publicly acknowledge my child’s amazing composure. For the love of Pete, I wanted to scream, Someone mention that you guys screwed up and my kid did not really come in 7th place!

Of course, I didn’t.

I squished these urges down, but it wasn’t easy. But I took my cue from Monkey, and I rode the tide. And just so we’re all clear, I’m not a great tide-rider. But on that day, I had to be. We all did. Because sometimes life really does just happen and — even if you have a sword — sometimes you just have to put it away and prepare to battle another day.