Artisan’s President Jamie Douraghy has been a competitive foil fencer since he was 17 and is a two-time 40+ U.S. National Champion. Jamie’s lifelong interest in fencing has led Artisan to our support of Soren Thompson, a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team. Jamie asked me to sit down with Soren and find out how he achieved such great success, what his process is, and what we can learn from his experience of becoming a world-class athlete.

In the first part of our interview, we will talk to Soren about how the team came together and what roles they play in their team success in an individual sport.

In Part 2, we will hear about the World Championships where they beat the heavily favorite French team.

And in Part 3, Soren will tell us what he thinks about the upcoming Olympic Games in London and beyond.

There are four of you on the World Championship Team, how did you meet?

Seth Kelsey, Cody Mattern, and I were all born in 1981 so we first met as rival athletes when we were 14 or 15 years old and have been competing against each other for over half our lives. When we made the U.S. team, we became teammates. Ben is younger and so came later to competition and eventually joined the U.S. Senior team as well.

How long have you been fencing together as a team?

Seth, Cody, and I became the primary members of the U.S. National Team in 2003 and were members of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, so we have been fencing together for almost a decade. Ben has been with us for about five years and has integrated really well into what we do.

How did you help Ben become part of your existing culture?

Ben started out several years behind us in his development as a competitor. We had already made an Olympic Team, multiple World Championship Teams and dozens of international team before he made his first team. There were a lot of tough learning experiences for all of us as we paid our dues, working with our coaches to create a unique vocabulary and mental approach, which Ben has embraced.

For example, we would strategize to push the score up or keep it low depending on our match-ups. We have developed a system for managing all nine bouts in a team match individually. Going into every situation with clearly understood and defined goals has reduced randomness and helped all four of us to achieve greater success as a unit by fencing within our abilities.

Do you each bring different strengths to the team or are you all similar fencers?

We all have very different fencing styles, so we feel we have an advantage in certain bouts. We definitely try to utilize our individual strengths. We also have set positions when our bouts occur in a match, which helps us be consistent from bout to bout. Of course, since matches often unfold in unexpected ways, forcing us to adapt continually, at least having consistent positioning gives us something to rely and build upon.

Do you mentor each other?

We are always sharing information, whether it is recent experience with an opponent or something we have noticed during a match. Communication is a continual process that happens before, during and after our matches.

I can see already that there are things for us to learn from Soren, even if we never try fencing:

  • There are always times when we need to integrate a new team member into an existing culture quickly and effectively.  Making sure they are part of the learning process is essential.
  • Someone with a different background, even from a different generation, brings elements that your team didn’t have before and can now take advantage of.
  • Knowing each person’s individual strengths, and utilizing them well, can make for very consistent results.
  • Communication is key – in any field.

Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative