Preparing for the tableau starts as soon as you finish your last bout, check your scores, sign your scoresheet and shake your referee’s hand after the pool round.
Between the rounds you have to eat, drink, use the restroom, check your weapons, refill your water bottles, warm up again (including fencing again) and maybe even take a lesson to sharpen up again. At a local event there is very little time to do this, the pool round finishes and then the DE round starts almost right away, so sometimes your DE preparation is as simple as checking your weapons and using the restroom. If you don’t have to use the restroom at this juncture you have not been drinking enough. A smart fencer will eat during the pool round so as not to have a calorie deficit going into the DE table regardless of the level of event; although your body can metabolize energy from your muscles, your brain is entirely dependent on your blood sugar levels for energy. If eating while suffering competitive anxiety is a problem for you this is just something you have to learn to do.
School age fencers take note!
Fuel is important for brain function so skipping breakfast or lunch sabotages your academic performance. Eat. Something. Also eat again between school and training. No coach wants a fainting athlete on their training floor, or an athlete who can’t mentally process or pay attention because they haven’t eaten in 6-8 hours.
At a division level event everything is smaller, easily accessible and runs a lot faster. The event will likely be all in one room where all the strips and all the fencers and referees are within eyesight, and you will be able to hear all the announcements and referee calls to strip pretty easily. The on-deck mindset you practiced in the pool round applies just as much here. Mentally review actions and tactics you want to use in your bout, practice any calming or arousing skills you find necessary. Watch the current bout for ideas, especially if you will be fencing the eventual winner, this can help you stay mentally busy so you don’t get distracted by anxiety while waiting. Wearing headphones to listen to music is also helpful for many people, it is a signal to others that you are trying to focus and don’t wish to talk, and music can help to calm you or help you to get revved up or stay revved up and ready to go. Above all, you want to feel ready when you go to the line. When you have correctly prepared you know you are ready.
At a regional or national event there will be at least twenty minutes between the pool round and the DE tableau, possibly as much as two hours. If your pool round is double flighted (that means the event is larger than the number of strips assigned to it so one half the first round gets to start and the rest get sent out as strips and/or refs become available) then it is quite probable that if your pool was in the first flight you will have two hours between your last pool bout and your first direct elimination round. You will need to do your entire warm up routine between the rounds.
At a NAC or regional level event It is very helpful if you have an otherwise unoccupied teammate, friend or parent who can help listen for announcements and watch the monitors with you. Notice that we don’t say “for you”; the ultimate responsibility is yours as the competitor. Although at these larger events you can follow the assignments with liveresults on your phone you should remember that liveresults doesn’t always update in real time so look around and listen for the call. When you know what strips you are assigned to, check in with the pod captain (this is the referee in charge of assigning bouts to strips within the group of strips, the pod, you are called to) and be prepared to show your equipment inspection marks, that you are wearing correct uniform and that you have at least the one and spare weapon and cords. Try to ascertain where you are in the tableau so you have an idea how many bouts are ahead of yours. Remember that even if the list of bouts ahead of you looks long, they are running on at least 4 strips and some will go very fast. Make sure your coach knows where you are an when you expect to be up.
Be aware that the coach will try to see everyone’s bouts, but that can be an impossible task, even with two coaches at the event. If the coach has to waste time looking for you it impacts not just you but all of your teammates. This is highly critical for sabre, which has only 2 periods and is over in an eyeblink. The fencing coach also has priorities. In the pool round experienced fencers will be expected to take care of business so the coach can help the newer fencers try to have a better pool and make it out of the first round. Some events promote all fencers out of the pool round, some 80%, and some only 75%. Newer fencers will be finished earlier, and the coach wants to see them before they are eliminated. Athletes who have no chance at all of defeating their opponent may have to work by themselves so the coach can be with their teammate in a critical bout, who is trying to make the top 16 or finals, particularly when they are in a position to make the US team.
When you are finally eliminated, watch the fencer who defeated you to see what other fencers do against them, this will give you some ideas to work on. Support your teammates who are still fencing by watching, running to give the coach updates, refilling water bottles and generally making yourself useful. If you leave immediately following your elimination you are losing a tremendous learning opportunity and abandoning your teammates, especially if you are at an event without a coach. While this is sometimes unavoidable, if you support your teammates, they will support you!