An Interview with Serena Pivotti

Serena Pivotti was a successful international fencer who represented Italy at Women’s Foil, and is now a fully qualified international level coach at Ginnastica Comense. We have had the privilege of Serena’s coaching in Scotland on a couple of occasions now, and as part of our Coach Education Programme, Scottish Coaches had the chance to benefit from her knowledge, watching her give lessons and participating in a question and answer session at this year’s Scottish Fencing Summer Camp at SportScotland’s National Centre Inverclyde.

As part of this initiative, I got the chance to interview Serena to ask her the questions that I think most of us would like to ask her…

 

DM; Serena, we are delighted to have you back in Scotland, as a nation with a long way still to go in fencing, it’s our great fortune to be able to benefit from your experience.

Italy is without doubt the World’s strongest fencing nation, and is particularly dominant in Women’s Foil and we are very interested in the reasons for this. Could you begin by saying why Italy stands out so much in our sport?

SP; I think that one of main reasons why Italy stands out in fencing, particularly in foil, is because for decades the coaches have dedicated their time to researching and studying this weapon in depth. Furthermore, up until a few years ago, all of the fencers would have to begin by practising only foil until the age of fourteen, because of this the coaches were increasingly forced to improve their knowledge of the bases of this weapon to continue to motivate their pupils.

In additions to this, however, we say here in Italy that the competition between the coaches has been the driving force behind the high standard of the competitors which can even be noticed amongst the youngest categories (10-14 years).

In fact, at elite level, foil is composed of lots of different types of opposing methodologies within which each year one proves to be more successful and take precedence over the other. The advantage of this is like the competitiveness between two businesses in that as a result the quality of the fencing is increasing more and more each year.

DM; One of the things one notices when visiting Italian fencing clubs is how young some of the fencers are. What do you consider the right age to start fencing, and can you tell us what kind of training – and how much – these youngsters do?

SP; I believe that the correct age to begin fencing is between seven and nine years old.

At the beginning they should go to about 2 training sessions a week that should last no longer than 1 and a half hours, but as they begin to increase their knowledge of the sport they should do at least three training sessions and one session in the gym a week.

I believe that up until around 12 years old sparring and lessons with the coaches should all be integrated into the same training sessions along with a very general athletic preparation session. This fitness session, however, should be to teach the children how their body moves and reacts and they do not need to do strength training. 

 

DM; When you walk into a competition venue, you can always spot the Italian fencers immediately from their distinctive style. How would you describe the features that characterise Italian fencing?

SP; We regard a great fencer to be one who can score a point by performing the simplest action possible. To be clear the best fencers are the ones that can execute a direct attack and hit into the preparation of the opponent.

In terms of technique in fencing there are many actions from parries to attacking and counter-attacking actions that the fencer must know, however lessons should mainly be based on teaching the correct choice of timing and distance to score hits.

DM; Coaches often disagree about how much competition young fencers should do as well as about the standard of competition that is best for them. Can you describe what in your opinion, is the ideal competitive programme for your youngsters?

SP; During the year the youngest fencers (between 10 and 14 years old) are always changing physically and are always having to come to terms with these physical changes, for this reason their reactions and movements tend to be different from one month to another. Because of this they should do competition as they are in a way an exam that can help show them how much progress they are making. I believe it is necessary that the fencers do at least one competition every two months at this age.

 

DM; In Britain, a lot of investment is being made in the Strength & Conditioning (athletic preparation) of our young fencers. How is this delivered in Italy and how big a part does athletic preparation play in Italian success?

SP; Well, as I already mentioned, I believe that up until 12 years old any athletic preparation needs to be only to allow the children to understand how they move in general, and begin to have a perception of their bodies and their attitudes. It’s better to do more fencing and less athletic preparation.

After 12 years old fencers require more strength and increased responsiveness and therefore they should start strength and conditioning training. Therefore after 12 years old the fencers should be doing a similar level of strength and conditions training as they are fencing but this training should never surpass the level of fencing.

DM; Are fencing stars born or are they made? Is talent ultimately the deciding factor or can anyone be a fencing champion if they are prepared to work hard enough?

SP; The champions are those born with more characteristics and can win without a great deal of training, but this usually only lasts up until a young age, around 18 years old.  Instead with hard work the particularly gifted athlete can become a phenomenon and the average athlete can become a fencer of an extremely high level and also probably at the same time be a great coach that can really understand the difficulties of his athletes. 

Furthermore, I believe that with commitment and hard training anybody can overcome their limits and find gratification in the practise of fencing, this is what every good coach should aspire to, they should encourage their athletes to never find any limits and always search to improve themselves. 

 

DM; Now that you have had a chance to watch and to work with some of our best young fencers, what do you think is the next step for Scottish Fencing? What should we be looking to achieve if we are going to progress?

SP; Watching and replicating how Italian clubs operate should help. It would also be really nice if the Scottish National Team can get together once a month with Italian fencers or fencers of a similar level of the Italians to train for at least 3 consecutive days.

I think you need to have specialized coaches who are dedicated to coaching all the time – meeting the fencer’s requirement for lessons out with their valuable sparring time.

Finally, you need to raise the standard of the competitions; there is nothing more useful than a competition to raise the technical level of the fencers.

DM; Serena, thank you for answering our questions and we are delighted with your continuing association with Scottish Fencing.

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