Scholastic Chess Coaching Tips
This was first published in my column a while back at ChessCafe
There are thousands of children competing in a National Scholastic Events each year. Since I started attending a few years ago, this is the first time I am here as a chess mom and coach, because my son Tommy is playing his first ever national scholastic event in the K-1 division. I see things in a different light and there are routines my son and I have to follow.
The most important thing is that my son has to enjoy playing chess, studying the game and competing in tournaments. I have seen too many incidents of parents and coaches screaming at their children because of a lost game. Some of these kids were frightened to tears and that is so unfortunate.
Winning and losing is just a part of the game. There are valuable lessons that all children can learn with either result. Therefore, it is up to the parents and coaches to motivate them to learn and do the right things.
1. Control yourself
I realize that parents and coaches are disappointed when their youngsters do not win. But that is when they need you the most. Screaming, yelling, and hitting will not help and it can backfire. The children can get intimidated and may not be able to play at their full strength. In addition, they may start to hate chess or hate competing.
2. Stay strong, give support and encouragement
When your youngsters win, that’s great. Congratulate them. However, when they lose, give them even more support and encouragement. That’s when they need you the most. That is when their psyche is most vulnerable and when they need reassurance that you still love and support them.
3. Make it fun and motivating
Young children usually have difficulty focusing and concentrating for a long period of time. Therefore, you should take one game at a time and avoid discussing future games or opponents. Teach them to focus and concentrate on each move and each game, and when that game is over then focus and concentrate on the next game.
4. Rating does not matter
Too many parents and coaches are preoccupied with ratings. It’s just a number. Ratings are unimportant at such a young age and they tend to be skewed depending on where the youngsters live. Additionally, many children play chess on the Internet and can improve in between tournaments, so their over the board rating may not reflect this. Teach the youngsters to play the positions and not the opponents. Do not let your youngsters overestimate or underestimate their opponents.
5. Follow the principles of chess
Teach your children to follow the basic principles of chess:
1. Control the Center! – The center consists of the squares e4, d4, e5 and d5. So when you start the game place your pawns in the center to occupy and control it as much as you can.
2. Develop Your Pieces as Soon as Possible! – Get your knights and bishops out. This should be done before you try to checkmate your opponent.
3. Castle as Soon as Possible! – Castle at the very first chance you have in order to keep your king safe. Remember, you can’t win if your king isn’t safe and you get checkmated first. So don’t forget to castle! Then after you castle, connect your rooks by developing your queen.
4. Keep Your Pieces Protected! – Don’t leave your pieces unprotected. Each and every piece you have is very valuable, so don’t lose them.
5. Have Fun! Win with Grace and Lose with Dignity! – First and foremost, chess should be fun. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, it’s all part of the game. When you win, be a good sport and don’t trash talk or make fun of your opponent. When you lose, be an even better sport and not a sore loser. Shake hands and congratulate your opponent. This will go a long way toward making good friends.
6. Do not dwell on the past
Every youngster will have bad games here and there. If you want to go over the game quickly to learn from the mistakes, that is fine. But do not be so preoccupied with the loss. The players need to move on and focus on the next game. Help your youngsters relax and concentrate in subsequent rounds. It will not help getting angry and upset over a bad loss. Otherwise, it can affect the next few games.
7. Don’t play too quickly
Teach your children to use their time properly in all phases of the game. Too many children move at the speed of their opponents. Don’t! Play at your own pace. Even when they have a winning position, they should still take their time and be very careful of traps and counter-attacks. As the saying goes, it isn’t over until it’s over. Therefore, every move in every position is important.
8. Conserve energy
I understand that this is tough to do. However, try to help your children conserve their energy. Many children want to run around and play actively. That is OK but not 15-30 minutes before the round. They should take a walk, get some fresh air, concentrate, and get their minds ready for the next battle.