This blog is going to focus on some of the practicalities of training for fencing overseas. Things like the costs involved, tips for reducing costs, moving around cities with equipment and how to plan your trip within a yearly competition and training plan.
Firstly, I would like to address a point asked by a reader about when you know you are ready for a training and competition tour overseas. The answer relates back to my first post about training overseas: you have to organise to train and compete in places that suit your level of fencing. It makes no sense to organise a tour to train with the Hungarian Senior Mens Sabre Team and compete at Senior World Cups if you haven't even made a top 4 in a Senior National Competition. I would even say that you are not ready for that level unless you have won a Senior National Competition. As a rough guide here are a couple of questions to ask yourself before deciding if an overseas tour is right for you:
- Can you get more out of training and competing in Australia? Is there any more training or any level of competition you can do in Australia that will allow you to improve? Going overseas is an expensive exercise, look for options at home that can give you benefit before looking overseas.
- Is it possible for you to do a training and competition tour overseas that is suited to our level? For example if you are a Junior fencer, not quite ready for A Grade competition but in need of more competition practice the Asian and European Cadet/ Junior/ U23 Circuit is quite well developed. This would allow you to do an easier level of competition (satellite) and you could also look for somewhere to train that will give you benefit without being too hard ie local Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. A big mistake Australians often make is first of all going to big competitions like World Championships over a training tour and regional Asian competitions.
- Can you qualify to compete overseas? Do you have enough Australian ranking points to compete in certain competitions? Is the entry to some competitions restricted? ie Commonwealth Championships, Asian Champs, and World Champs. All answers to these can be found on the Policies part of the AFF website -> www.ausfencing.org
Know you have decided whether you are ready to take on an overseas trip or not, you know have to fit it into your schedule! Here there are many things to consider such as the National competition timetable, school terms, University semesters, and work. For some it's easier to do multiple trips a year when work is quieter or during school holidays. I decided to do one trip a year during the big uni summer holidays so that a) it doesn't interfere with my study and work experience b) it is during a quiet time for my work (Fencing Victoria, coaching and retail) and c) it is during the break in the National competition circuit which allows me to get as much competition practice as possible.
Here's some things to consider when trying to plan a trip:
- What are the aims of your trip? To gain experience, to compete to get international ranking points, or to train to improve?
- What is the timetable of the international season? For Juniors/ Cadets this season starts earlier (October) than the Senior season (January) and finishes earlier (April compared to July).
- What is the national circuit timetable? The national season is at odds with the international season. Our break is December-Feb, whilst overseas its during their summer (August-September). This is great for gaining more experience during Australian down time but not so good for planning rest during the season. This is where you need to consider your aims for competitions. For example, I see this trip overseas as the peak of my season (because I'm not fencing Asian or World Champs) and then I rest afterwards. The national circuit competitions are practice and then National Champs in December is my lead up competition to this peak. When you rest and peak are major considerations for a combined training and competition tour.
- When does School/ Uni have holidays? Education comes before fencing. Ideally, trips need to be outside of term/ semester, or if you have an opportunity to go on exchange in uni use that option.
- When can I take a break from work? For me this is easy to answer because the State Competition season finishes before national champs and doesn't begin until late February. Additionally, retail work and coaching is very quiet throughout January when everyone is away. For others working full time this may be more restricted as to when you can take annual leave, or time you may be given off.
Ok you have planned a time for your trip, now you have to save the money! Keep in mind that costs are going to vary significantly depending on where you go. Because of this I am going to use my trip to Europe as a fairly detailed example of the break down of costs.
Here is a break down of the cost of a 2 month tour to Europe for 3 World Cup Competitions (Incl. 1 teams comp) and a total of 4 weeks training:
- Flights (including three internal European return flights): $3,345.37
- Accommodation (during training): $1,038.14
- Accommodation (at competitions): $1,428.22
- Competition Entry Fees: $549.12
- Food ( per week for training): $22.83
- Food (4 days for competition): $30.43
- Travel (train trips from airports to competition venues, taxis, transport during training): $423.02
- Travel Insurance: $249.68
As you can see this trip is expensive but cheaper than the cost of going to Asian Championships and World Championships separately, given that within this trip is 3 individual competitions and a teams competition, and 4 weeks of high level training.
TIPS FOR REDUCING COSTS
Even so it is expensive so here a few tips for reducing the cost of your trip.
- Flights: Buy flights on sale! I managed to get all my flights at a decent price but with really good airlines such as Emirates and Alitalia, which means I don't need to worry about budget airline baggage restrictions.
- Accommodation during training: If you know the people and place you are training in well then try and see if you can stay at someone's house. There are heaps of options! An American girl I met over here found a cheap apartment a accommodation for her stay in Italy. I was really lucky and a small and quiet hostel (with a kitchen!) 2 train stops away from where I am training, its cheap, easy, and I can cook for myself!
- Accommodation at competitions: Most competitions (particularly championships or World Cups) have official hotels. The buses to and from venues leave these hotels and sometimes weapons check can be here as well. That doesn't mean you have to stay there! Find out if there is a cheaper hotel close to the official one, that way you can reduce the cost of your accommodation but still get the benefits such as transport to the competition venue.
- Food: During training I have been able to find lots of cheap supermarkets and in Rome there are heaps of fruit and veggie markets around so living off $20 a week has been easy (pasta is very cheap carbohydrate!). My main tip for reducing food costs is don't eat out, stay at a place with a kitchen. At competitions this is harder but most hotels have an all you can eat breakfast option, this is a really good one to pay for during competitions because you can eat a good breakfast and sneak a sandwich out for later. Then you are only looking at the cost of buying dinner.
- Travel: Unfortunately there isn't a lot you can do to reduce the cost of train travel and travel from airports other than using public transport where you an instead of taxis. This is one of those expensive parts of the trip.
- GRANTS: Chances are if you are good enough to start training and travelling overseas then you are eligible for sporting grants from local governments or private organisations. Local councils always have individual initiative type grants for athletes, and you never know what you can find from your State government, school or University. Here's a list of grants and sponsors I have received for this trip:
- Fencing Imports Australia (my equipment sponsor)
- Voyager Victorian Travel Fund $500 grant
- Victorian Government Elite Athlete Travel Grant for up to $2,000
- Local Bayside Council Grant for $500
- Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation (girls only)
- Local Sporting Champions Program
- Oceania Fencing Federation
- Monash University Elite Athlete Support Program
MOVING AROUND WITH FENCING EQUIPMENT
- Trains: Trains are annoying to get on and off with a fencing bag, but its possible and preferable to the cost of a taxi. Some inter-country trains I have been on Europe have had issues with a fencing bag being on board (trains like the Eurostar) but it was basically a matter of paying a little more money and checking the bag in (still cheaper than flying). The only major tip I have for train travel and fencing bags is AVOID PEAK TIME TRAIN TRAVEL WITH LUGGAGE. Trying to get to the airport on Rome Metro at 8am with a fencing bag and carry on suitcase is not pleasant, and other (already squished) commuters really dislike it.
- Carry On: This applies to plane travel rather than trains, but always pack your fencing gear that you can't easily replace in your carry on so the airline can't lose it. This means items like: your breeches, lame or plastron (for epee), fencing shoes, and if you can fit it your mask. This is because if you have to compete the next day and the airline looses your bag you only have to replace your weapons, wires, glove, and underplastron. You have to carry your breeches and marked jacket with you because you will not be able to replace the country colours and name within a day.