Secondary Matters

It seems to me that you might have three reasons for running a national chess project for children.

Firstly, you could run a ‘scholastic chess’ project, designed to use chess as an educational tool for young children, without any particular expectation that the children will go on to become strong players.

Secondly, you might want to look for ‘prodigies’, children who will be strong enough to play in top junior international competitions such as the World and European Youth Championships, some of whom will, you hope, reach IM or even GM standard.

Thirdly, you might want to produce serious adult standard competitive chess players, not just titled players but players of all levels.

You’ll probably agree that all three of these reasons are worthwhile in themselves. Observant readers might note that after-school chess clubs for younger children in more affluent areas of the country, and this has been the model here in the UK for the past generation, seem to have been only moderately successful at producing a generation of IMs and GMs, not at all successful at producing lots of serious adult competitive players, and, given the areas in which they tend to operate, have probably not made too many children ‘more intelligent’.

In this post I’m considering the third reason.

Here are just a few reasons (you can probably think of more) why you might want to produce more adult chess players.

  • The chess players in your country form a pyramid. Without a solid base the pyramid will collapse.
  • You need to produce players who will take part in tournaments at lower levels, to provide prize funds for elite players.
  • You need to produce chess enthusiasts who will become club secretaries, treasurers and match captains.
  • You need to produce chess enthusiasts who will become tournament organisers and arbiters, and run tournaments for elite players, as well as average players, to take part in.
  • You need to produce adults who will have an interest in chess and know enough to teach their children in a meaningful way.
  • You need educators who will be enthusiastic about chess and encourage it within their schools and colleges.
  • You need business people who will be keen to sponsor chess events because of their passion for the game.
  • I would contend that, if this is the aim of your chess project, you should target secondary schools rather primary schools. Here again are just a few reasons.

  • Most children only reach the point in their development where they can play ‘real’ chess at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of self-control to stop and think about their moves rather than playing the first thing that comes to mind at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of emotional maturity required to cope with the stress of competitive chess at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of emotional maturity to learn from their mistakes at secondary school age.
  • Most children are unable to study independently until they reach secondary school age.
  • Primary school children’s idea of a game is involving have low level fun with your friends, while secondary school children will see a game as something more serious at which you can learn to excel.
  • Primary school children’s interests are usually chosen by their parents, while secondary school age children choose their own interests.
  • When children move schools (at 11) and reach puberty they make new friends and develop new interests, usually giving up activities they associate with primary school.
  • If children associate an activity with school they are likely to give up when they leave, so they need to be encouraged to join adult chess clubs, which run too late and are too strong for most primary school children.
  • Older children can organise clubs themselves with minimal adult support as well as teach themselves if they’re interested, so there’s less need to find or pay for a professional chess coach.
  • Older children can travel to chess clubs and tournaments themselves without needing transport from their parents.
  • Our experience running, say, Under 14 teams at Richmond Junior Club was that the top boards would be children who’d been playing competitive chess half their lives and felt they were growing out of it, while the lower boards were often children who had started later, for whom chess competition was something new and exciting. It was often these players, rather than the top board stars, who continued playing into adulthood.

    Fortunately, things are starting to happen here in the UK as Neill Cooper is doing a great job promoting secondary schools chess on behalf of the English Chess Federation.

    All secondary schools need (apart from some sets and boards) is an enthusiastic member of staff who will ensure that children have the chance to play chess every day, setting aside a classroom for this purpose at morning and lunch breaks, who will organise internal competitions and matches against other schools for children who want to play competitive chess, and who will encourage those children to join outside clubs and take part in tournaments.

    The trick, of course, is to locate that enthusiastic member of staff, and, because, here in the UK, we’ve been getting junior chess wrong for the past 30 years, there are not very many younger adults around who are genuinely enthusiastic about chess.

    Richard James

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    About Richard James

    Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.