From years of coaching young chess players, I’ve learned that honesty wins out over getting one’s hopes up. One of the phrases I’ve often said to my chess teams when faced with an opposition team that’s much stronger is “man up boys, things are going to get worse.” Reading this, you might think this an awful thing to say to a group of young players faced with tough opponents. You might think I didn’t care about my players. You’re wrong. I love those guys and gals as if they were my own children. However, there’s one golden rule I have, don’t get your players hopes up. Here’s why.
Contrary to popular belief, disappointment can really embed itself in the young mind. While kids tend to quickly forget about little things that once made them cry, when they work really hard at something and then fail, it can be crushing. Teenagers are like angst ridden philosophers in that one crushing blow sends them into the downward spiral of existentialist depression. Treating a child or teenager like a “special snowflake” only makes matters worse. Life is going to tough for all of them as they enter adulthood. Being honest with them now prepares them for life in the real world. Therefore, I tell them the truth about any given situation. I have to be honest with them. Of course, I have an ulterior motive.
If you say to your players,“you guys and gals are a strong team so you should have no problems winning,” there’s a chance your players aren’t going to work as hard. Sure they’ll respond, move-wise, the way they’ve been trained. However, they’ll only find the good moves not the great moves. To find the best moves you not only have to develop your chess skills, you have to be hungry and a little frightened. By frightened, I mean you have to think that your opponent is going to give you a tough game. You need to be in a frame of mind that makes you work harder than you ever have before.
Often my teams are faced with better players on the opposing team. I tell my players the truth regarding their opponent’s. I don’t give the old football coach speech, “you have to win this and you will win this because everyone remembers the losing team because they’re the losers.” I tell them the truth.
By telling them the truth, they work harder if for no other reason then to prove me wrong (I give bonuses for proving me wrong). They become hungry! Do they overcome the stronger team? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t However, their playing improves when facing off against stronger players and if they lose, they know they gave it there best effort and won’t make the same mistakes (after our postmortem).
We seem to live in a day and age in which parents are over protective of their children. Of course, the world is more dangerous now than it was when I was young. However, it’s that “everyone gets a trophy because everyone’s special and everyone’s a winner” attitude that creates problems. Competition drives civilization. Yes, your children are the most important person in the world to you, but sheltering them from reality will blindside them when they go out into the real world. One thing I like about chess tournaments is the idea that you have to compete for a trophy because there’s a finite number of trophies to be won. It’s a simple equation. Those who work hardest win tournaments. When a child enters their first tournament, unless they’re unbelievably gifted, their going to rank very low in the results. There’s nothing wrong with this because it’s a learning experience. Sadly many parents make up excuses why their son or daughter lost, such as “the other kids were much older than you” or “you just had a bad day.” Be honest. Tell them going in that this is their first tournament and their goal should be to play the best chess they can and not to worry about winning or losing.
Surprisingly, the girl’s teams I coach loves the phrase “man up boys, it’s going to get worse.” It’s become their motto. I’ve had parents tell me it’s a sexist comment but they-re the same parents that force their children to eat raw Kale for a snack, something I consider border line child abuse (just kidding, sort of). While I try to explain to them it’s a phrase from an old movie and the kids like it, the parents still look at me as if I’m some sort of knuckle dragging caveman. Still, the girls all say it in unison, standing in a classic football huddle, just before the tournament starts. Parents put up with me and my often politically incorrect slogans because their kids aren’t crying at the end of the tournament because they didn’t get a trophy. They’re not crying because they knew what they were getting into thanks to a bit of honesty. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Time for me to crawl back into my cave!