© A.J. Goldsby, 2015.
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page, (created Sept, 2002); with tips for parents of chess-players.
to support your chess-playing child."
child has picked up the game of chess and seems to have an interest for it.
Regardless of what category you fall into, here are some general rules to help support your chess-playing child:
1 - Be There
Kids are like the rest of us, they seek affection and attention. As an old pastor of mine, Dr. Dale Huff, used to say, "Kids spell love: T - I - M - E." If your child decides to play in tournaments, be there. He or she may spend most of the time away from you (as kids do), but your presence makes a huge difference. The fact you showed up says to your child, "My mom/dad cares about me." Chess, like any other activity, is an opportunity to become closer with your child. Examples that I'll give in rule #2 will show what a difference your presence can make.
2 - Be Supportive without being overly critical (Positive support & advice)
I used to coach youth soccer in addition to coaching chess. When I coached a team in the 6-8 year-old category, I remember one child in particular who did very well when his dad wasn't at practice or a game (the father was in the military); and poorly when his father was present at a practice or a game. Wait a second, doesn't this contradict #1? No, not when you looked at how the father behaved. When dad was around and his child was in the game, the father was constantly screaming at him. Even when he did something right. It was bad enough in one particular game that we as coaches had to go over to the father and tell him to leave his kid alone or he'd be asked to leave. Badgering a kid when they aren't doing well isn't productive. It's one thing to go over a game your child has just played, try to find any errors, and seek to correct them. It's another thing to scream at a child at every turn.
An example of this type of parent comes from my experience coaching soccer, in the 'four-to-six year-old' age group. Another child we had was the smallest player on the team. It was his first year playing. Needless to say, his skills weren't very developed. Anyone who expects a 4 year-old to be Pele needs to think again. But this kid would try. And whether he would succeed or fail, his mom and dad cheered him on from the sidelines. When it was his turn to take a seat (each child played 2 quarters and sat 2 quarters), his parents would remind him of what he did right and encourage him to keep trying. This child had more failures than successes, especially at the start of the season. But as he gained more game experience and spent more time in practice, he blossomed into our most tenacious player. He would give everything on the field and his effort often compensated for his lack of skill. Also, at the end of the game he was always our happiest kid. His parents' encouragement and support made the difference.
3 - Learn the rules
This applies more to categories (1) and (2). A child is going to want to show you their successes. If you understand how the pieces move and the basics of the game, not only will you appreciate the good work your son or daughter has done, but your child will notice that you understand. This means a lot. Your child isn't going to expect you to be a chess genius. But when your kid wants to show you the mate in 3 that won round 4, you'll have an appreciation for what your child has done.
My wife has had to undergo the baptism of fire that comes with being a new soccer mom. She's had to learn some of the rules, and she's had to learn some of the jargon that goes along with playing soccer. My oldest (4) loves to talk soccer with daddy. After all, daddy used to play soccer. My son and I have gotten closer because of the game. But I noticed that my son also wanted to talk with his mommy about how he did. At first it was difficult. She didn't know some of the rules and some of the words he was talking about. So she would ask me. And I would explain. As her knowledge of soccer grew, their talks grew more and more frequent. My son wanted to share the joy and enthusiasm he was getting from the game with his Mom. And he sought her joy and her approval. Now she faces the same prospect as both my boys want to learn to play chess!
4 - Let them choose their level of involvement
Chess has been described as a science. Others call it an art. However, for the child it's a game. Some children will enjoy playing a lot and want to compete in every tournament you can afford to get them to. Other children will just want to play for fun in a local chess club or after school. It is important for kids to just have fun playing chess. (!!!) If we're dragging 'em off to tournaments they don't want to go to, they aren't going to have any fun. Now this isn't to say you should let your child completely off the hook, either. If your child wants to play in a tournament, starts out, has a disastrous first round, and then wants to go home, then in most cases the best thing to do is to encourage your child to stick it out. Obviously this type of decision is made based on the makeup of each individual child and a general rule can't be applied. As a parent, you should know your child best.
My two boys have very different levels of involvement with respect to chess. My oldest wants to learn. He'll sit there for hours and soak up knowledge if I'm teaching him. My youngest has a threshold which when reached, is it. You hit his full marker and he lets you know he wants to shut it down. To continue on doesn't do any good. He realizes chess is a game and when he's done having fun with it, he won't budge. He's not like this on stuff he knows is important, but with chess and soccer and things that are supposed to be fun to him, he is. As a father I want both my boys to be chess masters by the age of 7. What father doesn't? But reality says this is nonsense. Sure, it's possible, but is it what's best for each child? No, it's not. Both my boys have a lot of interests and they are still very young. Part of my role as a father is to encourage them to explore these interests in healthy and safe ways, not to restrict them to just one or two. At this point in their development, broader is better. Now, when it comes time for college, that's a whole different story.
5 - Give them the tools they need to succeed
USCF has inexpensive plastic chess sets with vinyl boards. These are durable and are more than sufficient for adults as well as children. They are also tournament OK. The couple of extra dollars you spend on one of these sets will be worth it, as they will outlast most all of the less expensive sets on the market. If, however, your budget is limited, there's nothing wrong with going down to the local toy store and getting a set you can afford or looking for one at a garage sale or flea market. The key is to get a chessboard into your child's hands.
Another good set of "tools" are puzzle books and books on chess tactics. Bruce Pandolfini has written a whole host of these. It's generally been said that until one reaches expert level, tactics are the number one area to be worked on. Chess puzzle books tend to be very portable which means they can be used when there isn't space or time to break out the chess set. Also, if the books are kept in good condition, they can be used over and over again. Most of these types of books are paperbacks, which means if you look for 'em, you can find used ones which are significantly cheaper than full retail. If buying books is outside of your budget, the Internet has a plethora of chess tactics & puzzles. These can be printed off and used in the same manner. Also check at your local library. Some libraries are better than others, but most have at least a handful of chess books. - K. Brian Kelley.
To such an excellent piece, I have very little to add. I personally would recommend that the interested parent become involved as much as possible ... but with the idea of learning as much as you can - so that you can teach your child. As a manager of several leagues in the past, I can personally tell you that children seem to respond best when the parent is very involved, but keeps a good attitude about their own results. If it becomes a matter of your own ego, your child will quickly recognize this - and it will probably destroy any enthusiasm they have for the game. So ... keep it fun and REMEMBER! You are there only because you want to support your child!!
- LIFE-Master A.J. Goldsby I.
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