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Sports psychology helps Archway fencer transform his season

PUBLISHED: 13:01 16 July 2015 | UPDATED: 14:19 17 July 2015

Islington fencer Dominic de Almeida

Islington fencer Dominic de Almeida

Dieter Perry

Dealing with disappointment is part of every young athlete’s sporting education – and Dominic de Almeida has certainly learned that over the past nine months.

The Archway teenager, a foil fencer with Great Britain’s cadet squad, seemed set to miss out on several high-profile international competitions after a dreadful performance at a Manchester tournament last October.

But, with hard work and the help of sports psychologists, the 16-year-old turned his season around in dramatic fashion to secure the Under-17 national title and qualification for the World Championships in Uzbekistan.

More recently, Dominic has been competing at the Under-17 Commonwealth Championships in South Africa, where he finished fifth, and last month he was also named sportsman of the year at the annual Sport Islington awards.

And the teenager, who has trained at the nearby Fighting Fit club ever since he was nine, now feels better equipped to cope with any setbacks that come his way in the future.

“At Manchester, I felt like everyone was watching me and judging me, even though they probably weren’t,” said Dominic.

“It counted for a lot of points, but I completely messed up. My coach even said ‘that’s it – we’re not going to qualify for the European or World Championships’.

“Technically I was all right, but psychologically I was awful. I think the pressure was too much, to be honest. I let it get to me and I had a low point trying to get my confidence back.

“I realised something had to change for me to have the slightest chance of qualifying – or even getting close, to prove that tournament was a mistake and overvalued in terms of points.

“So I visited a psychologist, a friend of my dad’s, and the psychologist at my club also helped. It literally changed from one day to the next and psychology went from being my worst aspect to my best.”

Fuelled with renewed self-belief, Dominic stepped up his training programme – including a 4.30am departure on Boxing Day to join a number of far more experienced fencers at a camp in Sweden.

He gradually fought his way back into the reckoning for the World Championships, culminating in the final qualifying tournament – the national Under-17 and Under-20 championships, held on the same weekend.

Dominic held off three rivals to win the Under-17 crown, lifting him to second place in the rankings – and followed that up with third place in the higher age group to book his seat on the plane to Uzbekistan in April.

“To qualify on the last day of the season was the best feeling – and a message to my coach!” said Dominic, a student at Fortismere School in Muswell Hill.

“Uzbekistan was a crazy experience – I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the first world championships they’ve ever had for any sport, so the whole stadium was packed out.

“Normally you get a little excited when you get a point, but the people in the crowd were a lot more excited! It was all quite overwhelming, but I made the last 64 there so that was ok.

“I’ve still got another year left at Under-17 level and next time it’s going to happen, definitely. I think as a fencer I’ve matured and become more resilient now.

“Not too long ago I had a disappointing result in the Under-16 British Championships, when I lost in the last 16 and I was annoyed with myself, but I bounced back straight away and won my next tournament.

“For sure I’ll have moments like that in the future but a huge part of fencing is experience. Having more experience is like gold dust and fencers do tend to be late bloomers – they reach their prime between 24 and 33.”

For some time, Dominic juggled fencing with his other sporting interests, including football and swimming, but he was steered firmly in a specific direction by Gabor Papp, a former Fighting Fit coach who now works with Germany’s national women’s cadet squads.

And there is no turning back now for the youngster, who has his sights set on achieving Olympic glory in the future.

“I never really took fencing seriously until the London Olympics or maybe the year after,” Dominic admitted. “It was just something I did twice a week for a laugh.

“Then the coach sat us down and told us to stop doing everything else except fencing. I didn’t really have a choice – the next day I didn’t go back to football and I wasn’t happy with him for a long time.

“But the next year I won every tournament I entered in my age group and I haven’t looked back. It was like a kick up the bum, which was definitely needed.

“In other countries there’s no debate – you’re doing fencing and this is when you come to training. Britain are increasingly successful because we’re going away from that mentality of trying a little bit of everything.

“The equipment is expensive and you have to pay to go abroad and compete against the best. British Fencing now make it more affordable but I couldn’t do it without the grant from Sport Islington – they’re a huge help.

“An Olympic medal is what I’m going for. In 2024 I should be starting my prime, so that’s definitely a goal, and by 2028 I should be at my peak.”

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