Many clubs, including mine, run events where non-members of the club pay for a event where they get to try out fencing, and have a competition for bragging rights at the end. I have done quite a few of those events – corporate kickoffs, corporate fringe benefit events for a successful project wrap-up, one company inviting people from important customers, stag parties, hen parties, and whatnot. Those events have two positives, from a club perspective, one major and one minor. The major upside is that they pay well. No other income generating activity that I have taken part of has had anything near the income/time ratio as the corporate events do. In addition to that, those events spread awareness of your club.
During all those times I have done those events I have learnt a few lessons about what works and what does not. If you have done this type of events yourself, all of the rest of this blog post is old hat. However, if you are going to run – or are thinking of running – such an event, but lack institutional knowledge in your club, here are my suggestions for what to do:
Before you start running events
- Do an inventory of your club gear – do you have enough gear? Consider buying more jackets and masks in grownup sizes, if you are going to market yourself to that age category. See to it – buy if necessary – that you have clothing that fits people with high BMI values.
- Repair gear as necessary.
- Set a maximum group size based on both the amount of gear in working order you have, and the size of the place that is available to you. If your customer can host, the latter might not be a limiting factor.
- If you rent space for your club: Check with your landlord that they are OK with you using the premises for revenue generating purposes.
- Designate which coach should be responsible for running this sort of events. Bear in mind that the required skillset is not identical as the one required to be a good coach for competitive fencers. For this type of coach, the coach does not need to be able to teach advanced fencing. Instead, he should be able to teach well in a group session mode, and it is critical that he has an ability to make people feel that they are having fun.
- Designate which club members should be assistant coaches for this type of events. One assistant is necessary, two are useful. Being an assistant coach is a good learning experience for the younger members of the club. If they are school-aged, it might count as a noteworthy extracurricular for them. If they do this task enough times, they will in many cases learn enough, by osmosis, to run an event as a head coach later on. These assistants should help fencers dress and undress, and help them holding grips. They should stand at the ends of the coaching line in line drills, with the head coach in the middle. With that layout no beginner will be craning his neck to see the head coach.
- Put up a page on your website where you clearly state that you offer paid events for groups of non-fencers. This might be the page that attracts the largest number of viewers on your website, so use some SEO and put up some nice pictures.
- Check your insurance cover, and upgrade it if necessary.
- Check that you have a first-aid kit.
Before you run an event
- Double-check with your landlord that your hired place has not been rescheduled to some other tenant, or non-tenant usage.
- Confirm to your contact among the paying group that the event is still on.
- Tell your contact which clothes they need to bring. Gym shoes with black soles are probably not OK with the landlord. Bear in mind that most non-fencers do not have jockstraps.
- Make it absolutely clear to your contact that all group members must be completely sober, and that insurance is voided otherwise. If it is a stag or hen party, advise them to schedule the fencing event before all other activities of the day.
- Double-check that all coaches – especially the assistant ones – are available for the agreed upon day and time. Rope in someone else if necessary!
- Check with the contact person if the group members want to do a competition for bragging rights, or if they just want to do some casual bouting, or if some group members want to do the former while the rest want the latter. Ask for an estimate of how many group members will want to compete.
- Based on the anticipated number of competitors, the number of pistes available, the number of coaches and other staff, and the allotted time, devise a competition format that is doable.
- Double-check that all necessary gear is available. If someone is loaning club gear for use at a competition that is going on the same time as the event, be sure to deduct that from the list of available gear.
- Print diplomas, if it is a group of children.
- Buy refreshments for the break, if that was part of the deal with the group.
- Get big bags to transport the gear in, if you are running the event in another location than your usual club.
- Pack the gear directly after the last training session before the event, if you are running the event someplace else. You do not want to find out that you cannot fetch your gear because the superintendent is not available on the morning of the event day!
- Drive to the event location so that you do not have to rush. Calculate the travel so that you arrive at the very least one hour before the event should start, even considering the worst traffic that can reasonably be anticipated.
- Check that you have all keys that are necessary for the event, especially if it is off-site. If the group is hosting, ask them to check.
- Lay out all gear in piles, with only one type of gear in each pile. Separate right-hand and left-hand gloves. Put the piles a significant distance from each other, so that people clustering around one pile will not hinder people clustering around another pile! Lay out the piles so that people will move in an orderly fashion, and not run to and fro. If the location has wall bars, hang up jackets and masks on them.
- If the group is not hosting the event and people have not started arriving within 15 minutes from agreed upon starting time, phone them and check that they have not gotten lost, or are going to some other venue.
- If the group is not hosting, and the venue is at least somewhat large: post an assistant coach at the main entrance so that they can go directly to the correct room.
Once the event starts
- Get cash payment from the contact person of the group, unless another payment option has been agreed upon beforehand.
- A brief mention, by the head coach, of the fact that people will try out fencing should be held. The contact person of the group might want to add some other information to the group.
- Describe briefly what fencing is, its history, the three weapons, and some fun anecdote that has happened to you while fencing. It does not matter that the anecdote might seem stale and hackneyed to you – it is new to them!
- Tell the group members how fencing gear is worn. While this is being done, one assistant coach should put on the gear so that the group members see it illustrated.
- Get the group members to get dressed. Be prepared to help with the most surprising mishaps while they attempt to dress themselves!
- Get the group members to line up against one wall in a line drill layout. Use lines in the floor if any.
- The head coach shall face the line, standing opposite the person in the middle of the line. All left-handed people should stand to the right of the head coach, while the right-handed ones stand to his left and in the center. The assistant coaches shall stand opposite to the end of the lines.
- Demonstrate the guard position, facing the group members. The assistant coaches shall show it facing the head coach, so that the group members see the position from the side. The assistant coach in front of the left-handed group members should show it as done by a left-handed person.
- Get everyone to assume the guard position.
- Give corrections, but do so in a manner that does not make anyone feel singled out. Do not strive for technical perfection.
- Demonstrate marche and rompe, The assistant coaches show it so the group members see it from the side.
- Do marche and rompe line drills.
- Demonstrate attack by straight-line extension, and let the group members try it out.
- Demonstrate lunge and recovery. The assistant coaches show them so the group members see them from the side.
- Do lunge and recovery drills.
- Explain the concepts of parries and ripostes
- Demonstrate parry quarte and sixte.
- Get the group members to form two lines facing each other. If there is an uneven number of group members, assign one assistant coach to one line so that pairs are formed.
- Get the pairs to do the following pair drills: marche/rompe with constant distance, lunge/recovery, attack/parry-riposte to high line target. During this section, the coaches that are free circulate around and help out with technique.
- By now, it will be about time to take a break. Schedule about 10 minutes for this.
- One assistant coach should set up the electrical gear for a competition piste, if needed. This includes taping up pistes.
- The head coach and any free assistant coaches shall answer questions. There will be lots of them!
- After the break, the group members shall have the opportunity to try out bouting. Those that just want to try some casual bouting shall get that opportunity. Those that want to try out a beginner competition shall have that opportunity.
- Do not have too many pistes up and running. There must be one staff that is not bound to a piste by refereeing duty!
- There will not be as much time available as there is in a usual competition. Adjust the competition format accordingly. You might need to run the competition as a DE with 5-point matches from the beginning. If you have a little more time, you can get creative with the competition format – I once tried out a format that basically was a bubble sort, and that worked out quite well!
- Once you reach the last few bouts, you might find that bragging rights and intragroup dynamic results in some really hard-fought bouts. The combination of big men, next to none fencing experience, and a strong will to beat the other guy can lead to some stiff hits. This requires a significant level of diplomacy on the part of the refereeing coach. I have been there where one staff member stopped a final quite early on, and declared both finalists winners!
- Have a medal ceremony.
- Answer followup questions, and invite the group members to ordinary training sessions.
- Help the group members to get undressed.
- Pack up everything, and leave the hall if the event was held off-site.
After the event is finished
- Put back all gear to their original places.
- If anything broke, adjust the inventory.
- Check that payment has arrived, unless it was paid up front as cash at the event.
- Hold a short meeting where the coaches and other staff discuss what went well, where improvements should be made, and other observations. Write down the salient points.
Two short points to remember:
Ordinary coaching is intended to make fencers better, despite the fact that a lot of the necessary training is tiring, or tedious. Event fencing is geared to non-fencers who are there to have fun. They are paying customers, and you are in the entertainment business. All other considerations flow from that.
In order to make fencing as accessible as possible to the beginner, and limit the number of bruises, you might want to let the group members fence with foils, but combine that with the epee lack of right of way, and the sabre target area. RoW discussions are not conducive to instant fun for beginners. Sabre target area limits the risks when beginners are fencing without jockstraps.