Last week I had my first lesson with a new coach, someone I hadn’t met or worked with before. I’ve never been on a blind date but it seems to me that starting lessons with a new coach must be a similar experience.
As the student, I was nervous. I wanted to make a good impression and to show him my skills, my focus, and my quickness to learn. At the same time, I was assessing: does this guy really know what he’s talking about? What of my fencing is he going to keep and what is he going to change?
The coach also wants to make a good first impression on the student, I’m sure. If the student doesn’t see the coach as somebody worthy of the kind of trust and respect I talked about in The Coaching Relationship, it’s possible that the partnership will never work out. When I was in figure skating growing up, I had a coach for one area of skating whose abilities I didn’t trust and it was a miserable two years working with her.
I suspect that in fencing, there’s more pressure for the match to work out well than there would be in a blind date. For fencers who are not in a position to easily relocate for the ideal training situation (i.e. almost everybody), there may be only a few coaches who can teach your weapon within a reasonable commute. The field is even thinner when you only look at coaches whose clubs have a culture that supports your goals in the sport. Maybe it’s less like a blind date and more like an arranged marriage?
Fortunately, things are going pretty well with my new coach. I’ve had five lessons with him so far. It is a big adjustment; he’s making some changes to fundamentals and he definitely has a different pedagogical style than my previous coach. My shoulder was really sore after my first few lessons, so I know something is not quite right, but that’s been less of a problem each day, so maybe it was just nerves. I’m definitely getting a workout; the lessons are full of movement and I’m nice and warm at the end of my half hour.
I have been worried about the consequences of such a dramatic change so close to the season – only a week and a half before the Remenyik Open! But because events have transpired such that I don’t have many options, I am making the best of it. I still have a lot to learn and I know that more than one person in the world can teach me.