Chess Parents, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read this!
As someone who started chess at the age of 4, and spent the last 45+ years as a world-class professional player and elite coach, I am wring to you about a subject which is very dear to my heart.
The right/wrong way to support your children in chess!
During my chess career, I have attended COUNTLESS scholastic chess events in the United States and around the world. I have spoken to thousands and thousands of chess parents over the years. Some definitely supported their children the right way and some simply went toward the wrong direction.
THE VALUE OF CHESS
As we all know, chess offers many incredible benefits, especially to young people, such as critical thinking, objective assessment, analytical skill, patience, logical thinking, cause & consequence, decision making, time management, and many more. This is why I strongly believe that EVERY CHILD should be introduced to chess. So if you did this already, congratulations! You have given your children a wonderful gift.
BRINGING FAMILIES CLOSER
Most young players are brought to chess tournaments or camps by their parents/grandparents. This provides wonderful opportunities for parents/grandparents to further bond with their youngsters. And just think how great it could be if family nightly fun activities would include a few games of chess or puzzle solving. It is so much better than everyone in their corners/rooms on their cell phones doing their own things. Children do grow up so fast and you can never regain lost times. So spend time doing fun and educational things with your kids.
This is where things start to fall apart. As I have written many times in the past, it is critically important for parents to instill “PASSION” to their children early on in whatever they do, including chess. When they love something, they do it with pleasure and not fear. This is so crucial to their long-term development. I stayed in chess for 45+ years so far because of my passion for the game I love. I reached the pinnacle of chess because my passion helped me become stronger and tougher each time I faced failures along the way. So please, make chess fun for your children and not make it a torture. Do not make your children resent you.
HOW TO HANDLE FAILURES
Chess is competitive enough on its own. The margin of winning and losing is so small. So please DO NOT make it more difficult for your children. You can be more strict when it comes to training. This is the part you can control as parents. So let’s say if you set 1 hour aside per day for chess training, it should be a fully focused and productive 1 hour without interruption such as talking on the phone, texting, or other distractions (such as music, TV, etc.). It is up to you and your children to decide how much time to devote to chess improvement daily. This should be based on the goals you set together. But it should be a daily routine, even for 15 minutes.
However, when it comes to tournaments, your children need FULL AND COMPLETE support. It is counter productive to yell, scream, or physically punish them after each loss. This will make them play worse and not better. Your children need to work things out on their own to overcome failures. No one likes to lose. This is a part of problem solving.
I have seen MANY of my colleagues over years quit chess and walked away from the game completely when they were old enough because of the constant physical, verbal, and mental abuse from their parents over the years. Some no longer speak to their parents because of the consistent abuse year after year. Some even had mental breakdowns or did something worse to themselves. Chess should bond families, and not break them apart.
So my plea to chess parents is to please re-assess your chess parenting techniques. If it is working and your methods bring you and your children closer, happier, and with better results then great! But if you see that your children are miserable and always nervous, then please change course. Problem solving is a part of good parenting as well.
I taught my two boys chess at a very young age. Both loved the game but not at the same level. My elder one could not get enough of chess. Solving 50-100 puzzles or more a day was his reward. He became the #1 ranked chess player in his age group, and won numerous national championships. But toward the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, he wanted to play tennis and do other things. So I supported his interests.
But in his senior year in high school, he wanted to come back to chess. He made master and now he is on the Webster University Chess and Tennis Team. But it was his choice. My younger one developed passion for building things at a young age. It still has not changed. So I encouraged him to follow his passion. Today, he wants to pursue engineering in college and I am doing all I can to support him.
Parenting is about bringing the best out of our children, allowing them to explore, allowing them to grow, and supporting them the best we can with love. As I said, screaming, yelling, and physical punishment after each failure would only make things worse long term. So my advice is to be more strict with training, provide them the opportunity to succeed, but be extra supportive and loving during competition, especially after each loss. Being parents is not easy and I wish you all the best! Thank you for reading this!