Something Cool for Your Head
by Annie Morris

Have you tried finding books on fencing in your local bookstore? Were you frustrated? I know I have been. The chances of finding them in the bookstores where I live are slim to nonexistent and slim just left town.

If you go online and search at Barnes & Noble or Amazon Books, you will find a decent listing of books but you can't be sure of what's really in them. The same is true for the books you find in the ads in the tiny number of fencing magazines that are out there. I don't know about you but I am wary of sending off my money on the basis of what an advertiser or the publisher has said about a book. I mean, hey, these guys want your money. Do they care if you liked what you got after they've put the cash in their pockets? Maybe some do but skeptic that I am (having worked in bookstores for 12 years), I wouldn't count on it.

Well, my friends, I have some good news for you. (I am doing the happy dance in my chair as I write this.) By the end of this summer, you are going to be able to get a very cool, new, downloadable manual from the USFA Website. I first got word of it from coach Gerry Duran of Tampa's Fencing Academy. He read about it and asked me to send e-mail to the USFA and inquire about getting it. I did so and not only did I get an answer to my note but the whole rough draft of the manual. John Heil, coauthor of the manual (along with Clark Zealand), did this kind deed and has also given me permission to clue you guys into this by sharing a couple of brief excerpts from it.

The PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING MANUAL is being published as part of the United States Fencing Association National Coaching Development Program.

In the preface, we first are told:

Excellence grows out of a balance of opposites - planning and intuition, emotion and rationality, restraint and risk-taking. Often this melding of opposites is conveyed in the metaphor of "art and science." In fencing, the art lies in the everyday application of performance principles by the coach and the athlete. It is in the heat of the action where insights initially develop and where found knowledge is ultimately applied. The role of sport science is to enhance performance by identifying key questions and arriving at specific answers through precise and objective process of measurement and evaluation. Once in the hands of the coaches and athletes, new sport science principles may be applied, tested and refined. In the way the blending of art and science leads to optimal performance in sport.

A little later on, Mr. Heil and Mr. Zealand explain why they undertook to share their knowledge about sport psychology with us.

Practitioners and researchers in sport psychology have developed numerous psychological interventions for enhancing performance. When coaches and athletes turn to sport psychology to gain a competitive edge, they learn ways to manage competitive stress, control concentration, improve confidence, increase communication skills, promote team unity, and many other mental factors in sport.

The goal of this manual is to empower coaches and athletes to build psychological skills by providing methods and guidelines for mental practice. The benefits from psychological skill development will not only be seen in sport performance, but also in other areas of performance. Mental skills are life skills.

Some of the topics covered by Mr. Heil and Mr. Zealand are: goal setting, cardinal skills of mental training, relaxation/activation concentration, self-talk, imagry, and performance routines.

Those who compete in tournaments will be pleased to find a section that deals speicifically with preparing for tournament competition.

One of the things in the manual that I think could be quite beneficial is its "workbook" section to help you get yourself organized mentally. It goes in for a concrete approach to using sports psychology instead of dealing in ambiguous suggestions for its use.

Yeah, I know, this sounds like a big, giant ad. Let me say that I am not a competitive fencer and I'm not even a member of the USFA. What I am is someone who likes fencing and who has an interest in anything that helps fencers in the sport they love. I like the PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING MAUAL and the real deal is this. You aren't being asked to put out a bunch of bucks to get this manual. It's being offered to you just to help you become the fencer you want to be and I think that's worthy of note.

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