Monday, June 11, 2007

Youth Chess, Parents and Coaches

Awhile back I linked to chessloser's report on his first tournament, highlighting this part:

outside, i thank him. i tell his mom and coach he played really well, i got lucky. his mom is angry at him, his coach is angry at him. his mom says “you didn’t get lucky, he played bad and let you get lucky.” i thank her and quickly back away. poor kid.

Great stuff, sure to make a lifelong chess lover out of the kid, no doubt! I also recently reviewed Josh Waitzkin's The Art of Learning and though I didn't mention it there, Waitzkin writes in a couple of places about how many of his opponents in grade school and junior high tournaments had a similar chess background, with most of their study devoted to sharp openings and attack, and almost nothing devoted to other aspects of the game. He says the pressure on the coaches is to produce winners, now, and forget about long-term development of overall chess skill, or lifelong love of chess. Once the kids leave the school, they're of no use, and every year there's a new crop of first-graders to be molded...much of Waitzkin's success, he says, was based on the training he got from Bruce Pandolfini in the endgame; if the other kid's attack didn't win quickly, they tended to get discouraged, and they didn't play the endgame well.

Put these two things together and I think you have a pretty good idea of one reason why so many American youth players don't become adult members of the USCF (some interesting discussion of other aspects of that that problem here); if winning is the only pleasure associated with chess, one is going to be disappointed at some point, as one plays stronger opposition, and the same with the certain long-term failure that awaits the student of the sharp-opening quick-attack school of instruction.

I doubt my little blog post is going to change the youth chess scene in America much but if you're going to get your child into chess, as I plan to do, teach the beauty and enjoyment of chess, and the study of the broader areas of the game. Young chess players are not disposable parts, to be berated and dropped when they don't live up to parent's or coach's expectations.

One's success as a chess teacher, or parent, lies not in wins and losses, but in the child's lifetime enjoyment of the game.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Well said.

Ryan Emmett said...

I second that. Well said indeed.