In both group and individual lesson the fencing coach spends a significant amount of time attempting to correct athlete performance of skills and tactics. In that process it becomes apparent that fencers have varying abilities to absorb and apply corrections. Coaches cannot actually correct performance; they can only demonstrate correct performance and provide the athlete detailed instruction in the how and why of that performance. Therefore it is to the coach’s advantage to be able to identify how capable the athlete is of absorbing those demonstrations and instructions.
Based on my experience as a coach, there are several levels of readiness for correction among athletes ranging from beginner to elite:
(1) Unready. Some fencers are unready and will remain unready, unable, and unwilling to modify poor performance. These fencers often have underlying psychological issues that prevent acceptance of instruction. In some cases the fencer is operating in a personal fantasy world in which he or she is something other than a fencer. In other cases, the fencer knows that they know more than you do as a reinforcement to their ego, regardless of their actual lack of knowledge and experience. And in some cases the individual’s image of how his or her body works means that the student will ignore corrections or believe that he or she has made them. This belief will persist even when confronted with video evidence or when watching their performance in a mirror. To become ready, the fencer must want to solve the problems and to become proficient as a fencer.
(2) Ready for Correction – Unskilled. The beginning through intermediate fencer who is unskilled in a particular action, but who is ready to learn through correction, will respond to the standard correction cycle of demonstration, guided performance, and free performance of the skill as a routine part of the lesson. This is the level at which correction requires the most time commitment and the most monitoring over a long period while the fencer executes enough repetitions to master the skill.
(3) Ready for Correction – Skilled. The intermediate to advanced fencer who already has a substantial repertoire of skills and tactics may require the correction cycle, but is likely to be able to compare similar skills and correct more quickly. After a short number of repetitions, the fencer will be executing the skill correctly with increasingly less frequent correction. The fencer will more often quickly recognize the intent of a correction, and be able to incorporate it as an item for emphasis in drills and solo training.
(4) Reminder Only. The advanced or elite fencer with good development of a skill will often require only a reminder of correct execution, as (a) an oral reminder, (b) a correction with the coach’s blade, or (c) a threatening action into the error by the coach.
(5) Self Correcting. These fencers have learned a skill and have internalized it to the extent that they can sense incorrect performance. They will correct the execution themselves to the accepted range of performance without coach input.
I should stress that these are my perceptions of athletes and their readiness for correction, and are based on my observations, not on research or knowledge of the psychology of learning sports skills. However, I would suggest that this model provides a useful progression for assessment of students. As you progress from (1) to (5) several things happen. First, the amount of time spent in correction decreases. Second, the range of acceptable actions that meet the standard of performance you desire in the athlete tightens. Third, corrections become smaller in the modification of position and movement required of the student. Fourth, the student increases his or her understanding of the implications and importance of the corrections. Fifth, the student accepts greater responsibility for internalizing the corrections and for self-correcting. If this progression does in fact occur, this model can help you modify your corrective techniques to better train the athlete.