In The Shoes Of Michel Sicard - Interview with the acclaimed coach
Fencing Master for 25 years, Master Michel Sicard was the coach of the Olympic Sword Men team from 1996 to 2004. Since 2014, Michel Sicard is the coach of the modern Pentathlon Olympic team.
Master Michel Sicard has conceptualized a principle where the attacker, performing the same gesture, perform various effective technical actions, depending on the reactions of the opponent. This method reduces the uncertainties of the attacker and promotes his faith in him.
"To create is to resist, to resist is to create"
FC: Michel, you are the current coach of the national French modern pentathlon team. How is the preparation of athletes for Tokyo 2020 going?
MS: I spend 80% of my time at the French fencing federation as the trainer for fencing instructors and 20% at the modern pentathlon federation for the Tokyo Olympics preparation.
After the Rio Olympics in 2016, I wanted to take a step back and especially to accompany one or two young fencing coaches in their future missions.
The national technical director, Christian Roudaut, did so much to make this happen. So the arrival of Gauthier Grumier, responsible for fencing, and his assistant Thomas Danjon, was an opportunity for me to share my experience with them.
Today, even if my being there sometimes allows me to exchange ideas on performance-related problems, the time has come for me to leave the space so that each one of them can embody themselves as the person responsible for this fabulous coaching career.
The preparation and current results of the group training at INSEP are very satisfactory for Marie Oteiza and Valentin Prades.
Both show a very strong potential for winning an Olympic title in Tokyo.
FC: Let's talk about the French fencing team. Even if the leaders have disappointed, we can be happy with the remarkable performances of young people like the amazing Aymerick Gally who managed to reach the quarterfinals of the SNCF Challenge. How are you feeling about the French team for #Tokyo2020?
MS: It’s always difficult to express a feeling on a group when you aren’t in close proximity to them. The results of the individual SNCF Challenge events are definitely not satisfactory; on the other hand, the second place in the team event shows that France is still well placed in this type of event.
International competition is getting tougher, fencing in competing countries is becoming more structured and most fencers today train once or twice a day.
If the French team combines the quality and quantity of training, then it will always remain one of the best nations worldwide or even the best.
FC: Does this quote resonate with you? "Successful coaches are visionaries. They have an image of success in their minds."
MS: Nice quote but I'm not really sure it’s for me...
I think that coaches who successfully help athletes to the top of global and Olympic podiums are not visionaries in the literal sense that "they have the feeling of the future," but rather people who have a precise vision of the ever-changing real world. From this vision, they can define a strategy, an organization and a way of managing to create the conditions to improve performance.
FC: Your Facebook page is a manifesto for "performance". Can you tell us more about your philosophy?
MS: Above all, performance is human, especially in complex sports like fencing.
In the word performance, even if sports results are part of it, I define it as a complex, cultural and emerging phenomenon.
- Complex: anything that leans towards hyper-specialization produces fragmented knowledge and produces global ignorance. The factors of performance optimization are its illustration. Today, whenever you hear coaches, athletes and the media, the mind is the most important factor in performance. I don’t believe in this substantiation of performance. As if any explanation was in one of the elements, a piece of the performance. An isolated truth is the start of an error. We must seek to connect rather than separate.
Edgard Morin wrote "You have to learn to navigate a sea of uncertainty among archipelagos of certainties"
- Cultural: absolutely every sport is under the influence of its culture. Even if we believe we are free, we are under its influence. Looking back into our representations, our accepted ideas and our practices requires taking distance, height with your own practice and having the courage to take other paths.
As Stéphane Hessel said, "to create is to resist, to resist is to create".
- Emerging: nothing is ever written in advance, everything is ready to build, to be rebuilt. Competition is not a long calm river. Faced with the obstacles that arise, we must learn to overcome them, work to find solutions to adapt to problems posed by the opponent.
Whoever knows or thinks they know how it will happen is not going to be able to accompany those who look for performance.
The fencer, who during their fight tries to place a touch, enters the act of performance. Thanks to their experiential knowledge of sword practice, they can face the contingency of situations. He will act, create and make decisions that will surprise whoever looks from the outside and tries to explain what will happen.
The unpredictable leads us to think and act in the present because the future is emerging and we cannot change anything from the past. We must not try to reproduce existing models but "work to think clearly" before the contingency of situations. Jonas Salk said, "the solutions of the past are the inhibitors of the future".
FC: Some of our young readers dream of participating in future Olympics. What could you tell them? Is serious training enough?
MS: It is important to have a secret world where you dream of extraordinary things. History shows us that many fencers have managed to become champions even at a young age. These athletes were able to turn their dreams into reality and gave themselves the means to make this possible. And yet we continue to hear that success at the highest level is all about patience; it's true for some, but I also knew fencers for whom it was all about impatience.
"The genius is common, but the particular circumstances needed to develop it are very rare". Helvetius
I think that serious training is I think an important requirement. You would still need to define what is serious training, what is important in one's training, whatever it is... but training has nothing to do with competition. Training is a means, competition is a goal. It is essential to have the desire to practice your sport through competition. This motivation, which comes from the deepest part of whoever engages in it, is like a flame, which, despite the many difficult moments that the athlete will encounter on their way to their performance, will always remain lit. You must enjoy facing obstacles and difficulties, accept making mistakes... but we must always put our heart in what we do, and only after we know if it worked.
FC: In a previous interview, Gauthier Grumier explained how important it is to have the right shoes on the piste. Do you have any good advice about the equipment?
MS: Yes, I think you’ve got to have comfortable shoes for fencing. But more generally, having "good" equipment, using a sword with a certain rigidity and curvature, using a French grip or pistol grip ... is built and evolves over time.
I’ll finish off by saying: "There is no bad tool!"
FC: You can find Michel Sicard on the web
Free video course from Michel Sicard:
Facebook Profile of Michel Sicard:
French Federation OF Modern Pentathlon:
credits: all photos from Michel Sicard Facebook Page and YouTube Channel.