I am the assistant volunteer coach for a collegiate fencing club. The coach is keen on teaching fencing fundamentals and some advanced maneuvers. I am his second set of eyes and goto for general fitness, for example, introducing new routines for warmups and conditioning.

We were/are working toward putting fencing back on the map at our university (about 20 core members in 2006, 4 in 2012). Last school year, we started from scratch, but we started out with good interest. As the year progressed, interest dropped and "storms" came. For next year (as it currently stands), we have about two chief members of the club.

During winter break last school year, we were brainstorming how to collect more interest. Two things that came up were:

  • The coach being too hard on the "casual" members.
  • Lack of diversity within the club.....as in, each member had interest in rpg, magic the gathering, sword fighting, etc and held rpg gatherings twice a week. I would like to see a diverse team stay involved, feel included, and help one another out.

To combat coach being too hard, we "cupcaked" our drills, and that proved to be a huge mistake. We also made an attempt to include others interested in fencing without an outside interest in rpgs and such (this didn't work either...I can hang out with anybody, but this was overkill). On top of all that, all the PR material I made had to be changed when the club president didn't reserve our usual spot for the semester (as volunteers, coach and I have no administrative say over this). That took the wind out of our sails and started a rough semester. At least we closed out the semester well, gathering interest and praise at a local children's festival.

As we brainstorm, I have a general plan of attack as we approach the upcoming year. This includes:

  • A monthly newsletter for our e-mail list.
  • PR (flyers, brochures, etc.) fresh and hot out of the oven when the school year starts. Perhaps reserving a table in a common area to gather interest and spread the word.
  • An interest meeting for new/returning members to see how involved they want to get (casual or competitive) before the annual club fair
  • Keep our baggage at the door. This was an issue to a greater extent two years ago, but I believe this also applies to the "lack of diversity" within the club. I would like to see a diversified team, rather than a copy of the same person across the board.
  • Keep a challenging workout. We don't ever push people beyond what they can bear, but we also motivate and encourage progress as well.

I know individuals without lack of motivation is beyond our control, but we also want to properly deal with individuals who carry dead weight. For example, one of our chief members started out as a difficult case last year, but she eventually became one of the hardest working members of the club by the end of the year. A former chief member who felt overwhelmed with tasks pointed the finger at others and didn't do much herself, and she eventually quit.

Is there anyone who can share his/her strategy for our situation? The main points I'm asking advice for is team diversity/chemistry and maintaing interest while executing challenging routines/drills to encourage progress. PR is one thing, but how do we gather and maintain a core group of individuals to coach?

2 Answers 2


I was a member of a collegiate fencing club. We had about 8 members in a school of ~650. There were two distinct classes of people that participated: Those that thought "Oh cool, swords" and those that were a step above that and actually interested in a more serious approach. The person that ran our club would specifically pair off people based on the type of interest that they had and lead the groups differently. We had one or two people from the casual side move to the more serious side and another couple of casual folks dropped out due to waning interest. The waning interest generally happened because people wanted to be swashbucklers and sword-fighters rather than traditional fencers.

Depending on the pool of people you're pulling from (the size of your university) you may want to 'mix the models' and have the club, for instance, spend the semester learning a famous sword-fighting scene for performance at a festival. That can keep it fun for the casual people, introduce legit technique for the serious folks and potentially open up your talent pool in subsequent years. I would also probably have smaller sessions for the serious people only so they can hone their techniques and learn more in the traditional fencing model.

  • 1
    Exactly! "Oh cool, swords" LOL! Story of the club ;) Anyway, we have a pool of about 3k, so we're drawing in just over a tenth of a percent. We meet twice a week, from 8pm-10pm. When I was a student, I wasn't too fond of the 10pm ending time especially if I had a paper due or an 8am the next morning.
    – user527
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:11
  • Also, warm-ups would take about 30 minutes to complete (on a good day). I also thought about having quick warm-ups. Unfortunately, there are some people who come in colder than cold and just ate four cheeseburgers or something (oy, vey) haha. Thanks for the advice!
    – user527
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:12

As for drawing in new members:

You could try to advertise fencing in and around the fitness center to people who want to workout but not run in place for an hour. Make a website (it can be a tumblr, a google site or even a Facebook page) and post links everywhere. That way people can check it out from afar. Videos, practice info, and pictures of fencers looking cool would invite others to join.

I'd say just teach as many people as possible the basics. Then introduce gentle bouting strategy or have a demonstration to intrigue. If someone isn't motivated, they won't be changed, but you might find new talent and people who are motivated to better themselves and thus keep the club running.

I think team diversity will start with gender diversity if you don't already have this. People come to fencing for different reasons: some for the movie/rpg swords, some for general fitness, some "just because". If you bring in, say two female friends who want cross-training and a smart swimmer wanting mental exercise, then you have more diverse members who will further spread word of mouth.

Hope this helps.

  • +1 During our annual club fair, we do have a demonstration. That usually draws in 20 the first week, then dwindles. I agree more demos (planned with the uni or impromptu) should be scheduled. We have decent gender diversity. One female, who was/is a loner, started difficult, but became a key member of the club. She's not into the rpg stuff like the others, but she feels welcome (after a while, lol). Gives me enough to work with. Thanks.
    – user527
    Jun 19, 2012 at 18:35
  • Sure! I also mean a demo bout to show beginners that there is a real strategy and thought process behind the moves, rather than encouraging just choosing to lunge or appel and ignoring your opponent. Jun 19, 2012 at 19:06
  • Sounds like a made-for-TV drama! In all seriousness, that's a great idea. What better way to learn than to get inside the heads of the ones bouting!?!
    – user527
    Jun 19, 2012 at 19:13

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