Donald Alperstein

What role do you see fencing coaches playing in the growth of the sport of fencing and where do you see that growth happening?

Without coaches, fencing, and USA Fencing, do not exist, much less grow. Three decades ago, fencing grew slowly in the United States. Outside of the Northeast, what little expansion occurred depended on individuals engaged in local Division activity. More recently, fencing has exploded as clubs grew more numerous, became economically viable, and offered better instruction. Coaches provided the impetus and the foundation for the change to a club-driven environment. As the number of coaches grew, the number of clubs grew; as the number of clubs grew, the number of fencers grew. The influx of accomplished immigrants and domestic development of talented individuals motivated to introduce and teach fencing to people who otherwise had little contact with our sport initially fueled this expansion. That trend continues and must prevail for fencing’s further advancement. Coaches established and run almost every American club. Even for clubs where that isn’t true, they cannot exist, much less thrive, without coaches. The only way to continue fencing’s growth and success is to assure a pipeline of capable teachers of the sport. Stated simply, coaches are essential: no coaches, no fencing; no increase in the number of qualified coaches, no growth in the sport.

How do you envision USA Fencing working with USFCA on the recruitment of NCAA colleges to add fencing teams? If not, why not.

My first coach talked about “the golden moment,” that instant in each fencing phrase where the opportunity opens for one competitor to gain the advantage. This may be a golden moment for fencing in the field of collegiate sports. Right now, two very important trends coincide and have NCAA institutions discovering the unique benefits that fencers and fencing offer their athletic programs.   One is falling college enrollments and the need for good students; the second is NCAA’s newly instituted profit-sharing program.

Colleges and universities find recruiting students increasingly difficult and competitive in the post-pandemic era. They seek programs that attract new students, and particularly quality students. Fencing is such a program. Our athletes are smarter and better equipped for higher education than those in other sports, and just the kind of applicants these institutions seek. At the same time, the NCAA has begun distributing financial awards to schools whose athletes excel academically and who stay in college through graduation. Again, fencers shine at those criteria. Fencing stands poised to meet these needs.

USA Fencing and USFCA must collaborate to take advantage of this “golden moment.” New programs need athletes and they need coaches. USA Fencing, through its club system and competitions, offers aspiring fencers opportunities to hone their skills. USFCA can provide coaches to recruit and teach young fencers and to staff new programs. The two organizations can work symbiotically to persuade institutions of the benefits fencing provides and assure them of the athletes and coaches they need. Approximately 2/3 of current college programs and their coaches belong to USFCA, and they know the territory. USA Fencing has both direct contacts with the NCAA and useful indirect ones through the USOPC that can be brought to bear. Together, USA Fencing and USFCA can identify institutions where promotional efforts are most likely to bear fruit and help them understand how fencing solves the confluence of needs that creates this “golden moment.”

Except for USA Fencing, NGBs in all major sports organizations require certification and continuing education units every year to teach in their respective sports. Do you support coaching education, training, continuing education, certification and ultimately a licensing requirement for all US Fencing Coaches? Why or Why not?

Throughout my long career as a volunteer administrator in USA Fencing, I have been a proponent of coach education, both within and outside the organization. As reflected in my response to Question 1, above, I believe coaches are integral and essential to the sport. Among other efforts, on USA Fencing’s Board of Directors I successfully advocated to budget a staff position for coach relations and education. I was part of a joint USFCA/USA Fencing task force that explored possible ways of combining the organizations and coordinating their efforts. While a combination did not appear possible at this time, we identified ways in which the two organizations could work together. The Memorandum of Understanding now being implemented is a result of those efforts. Additionally, USFCA asked that I work with it as a member of its Standards Focus Group, and I did so.

I do not believe that USA Fencing is presently positioned to be a leader in directly educating coaches. But it can, and should, assure that each individual it credentials as a coach (i.e., that it licenses) possesses demonstrated skills that they maintain and expand. These skills include, but need not be limited to, pedagogical concerns. They could also encompass other aspects of the coach’s role. For example, coaches should receive credit toward licensing for first aid training, enhancement of business skills, DEI instruction, etc. The best way to realize these objectives is not for USA Fencing to become a testing organization or the sole provider of instruction. Instead, it should recognize relevant educational programs offered by USFCA and other entities and extend credit for coaches who complete them.

In considering matters of continuing education and certification, I look to the example of my own career, the practice of law, and to other professions. In order to maintain my license, I must complete a prescribed number of approved continuing education sessions, some of which are offered by my professional organization, the bar association, and some of which are offered by other parties. I think that is a model that would work beneficially in the context of coach credentialling.