Last weekend I was a coach at the National Junior Squad Coaching Weekend in Knowsley. One of the sessions was not for the kids but for parents instead, and an interesting topic came up. Chess is now very popular at primary school level (up to age 11) but on moving to secondary school most of the kids give the game up.
One of the main problems is clear, in the UK there seems to be no structure in place for them to continue their chess at secondary school. This is very different to the situation when I was at secondary school, back in the 1970s. Chess was very popular in secondary schools then, with matches taking place at both a local and national level. I also got the chance to play for a thriving club which had a quite child friendly venue.
What has changed? A number of things really. First of all the child safety regulations have become much tougher making it far more complex to organize a match than just booking a mini bus or arranging sandwiches for visiting teams. There’s also a lot more homework for the kids plus marking this and other obligations for teachers. None of this encourages anyone to volunteer for after school chess match duty.
As far as clubs are concerned they face a major issue that they seem to be dying out. Most chess club members seem to be over 50 and there’s not much sign of any young players coming in to keep them going. A few clubs have junior sections in which they try to incorporate young players, but this all needs time and effort. As a chess parent I can attest to the difficulties I’ve had in finding a suitable adult club for my son. Most of them seem to be held in drinking establishments and they go on too late. In many countries it’s often different of course with chess being played at weekends rather than in the evenings.
Internet chess is doubtless partly responsible for diminishing numbers at clubs. It’s not that people prefer playing on the internet, it’s just easier for them to get their chess fix in that way when balancing various aspects of their lives. To some extent young players who want to continue playing after 11 can use internet games as practice. But it’s not the ‘real thing’, and doesn’t really provide the social aspects that many players enjoy.
So how should a young player, who has played at primary school, continue his interest? Basically you have to do what you can with the resources that are available and a very important step, in my view, is that he or she should make the transition to adult tournaments as early as possible. How can you make this leap from junior chess? Essentially in the same way that anyone improves, do lots of tactics, read some good books (possibly with an adult explaining things along the way) and try to play some good quality games. And if you can find a good one then get a coach.