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Setting Up A Team At Your Child's School (Part 2)

posted July 30, 2014
Part 2: Taking Your Chess Team to the Next Level Written by guest author Robert N. Bernard for Wholesale Chess.

Hold a Practice Tournament

After a month of meeting or so, organize a practice tournament among members of the team. You should make this as close as possible to a real chess tournament; each game should have a chess clock, touch-move, notation, and superb sportsmanship. Watch the games carefully, and note any problems. Invariably, many games of the games in the practice tournament will end quickly, with more than 80% of the clock time remaining on each side. Emphasize that for most moves of the game, you should take at least 30 seconds to decide on a move. One exercise that worked for me is to tell the kids that I want them to sit in silence with their eyes closed, and guess how long a minute is; when they think a minute is up, they should raise their hand. Then I say ""Go!"" and start timing a minute. You should then acknowledge who is closest, and who guessed too short or too long. The key is to tell the kids that in (many) tournaments, they have 30 minutes to make all their moves, and that most games between kids last about 30 moves, so they should be spending about one minute per move. This is a revelation to those kids whose games typically finish in under ten minutes.

Interesting Chess Team Activities

Team meetings later in the year can have other interesting activities. Have a consultation game, where all the members of the team play against you. Have a guess-the-move meeting, where you take a famous game, and have the kids guess the best move for each side. Have kids play in two teams against each other in consultation, but rotate which child on each team is the ""final decider"" of the move made (this gives weaker players a full stake in the decision making process).

Chess Tournaments

Once you've had a couple months of meetings, you are ready for your first tournament. How should you choose tournaments in which to play? First, check with a national chess association (United States Chess Federation or Chess-N-Math in Canada) which will provide a list of tournaments in your area. In the USA, each state has its own chess organization, which can point you to tournaments on a local level, some of which are very large.

Also, Google "school chess tournaments" and your city, county, state, or province in order to get the names of other schools that already have chess teams. I have found that coaches of other schools are the best source of information for tournaments in the area. Note that many tournaments are for individuals only, and team tournaments are harder to find. I recommend to keep looking for your first tournament to be a team tournament, where the kids can root for each other.

Once you have found a tournament in which to play, you have to manage not only the kids (reading the pairing sheet, getting them to their boards), but also their parents. Parents (and coaches) of chess players are usually forbidden to watch their kids play (fears of signaling moves, unfortunately), which is different from every other sport there is, where the parents are watching intently all the action. The child is alone, and it can be frightening. Parents worry too, and will ask you all sorts of questions about Swiss system pairings, ratings, and your experience, as well as the ubiquitous question, ""If my kid loses a game, will he be eliminated and have to go home?""

After the Tournament

Once a game is over, whether it be a win, draw, or loss for the child, as their coach, you have to pick them up or calm them down and get ready for the next game. While many coaches want to go over a child's game in-between rounds, I do not; I encourage the kids to go outside and run around. Some kids will want to show their coach the game, which is fine, but I try to get them thinking about something besides chess for the few minutes they have in-between rounds.

After the first tournament is complete, publicize the results, even if the results were disappointing -- get the announcement in the school newsletter, try and get a picture taken, emphasize the positive. Good results should be submitted to the local newspaper (where a high-quality picture will greatly increase the chance of it being published). Any of these ideas will benefit recruitment for the team in the future.

Coaching a chess team is extremely rewarding, and if you take up the gauntlet, I wish you the best of luck.

Robert N. Bernard is the manager of the New Jersey Knockouts of the United States Chess League, where he started three years ago as the Knockouts' blogger. For the USCL, he also compiles an unofficial rating list and weekly power rankings. Frequently, he can be found on the Internet Chess Club, where he has a weird tendency to win a lot of their trivia contests. He is also a member of the United State Chess Federation's Ratings Committee and coaches his son's chess team. He has a very nice plaque from the 1982 US Amateur Team Championship, where he captained the team that won the Under 1400 prize.

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Setting Up A Team At Your Child's School (Part 1)

posted July 14, 2014
Part 1: Setting Up Your Chess Team Written by guest author Robert N. Bernard for Wholesale Chess.

Your daughter or son has an interest in chess and may already play in tournaments, but he or she wants to have other kids in their school play with them on the same team. There's no one to organize this so you, gulp, volunteer to be the chess coach. My experience was similar - my son had played in tournaments for a little over two years, and when he entered a new school for third grade, he wondered whether there would be other kids at the school who even played chess, and wanted to enter tournaments with him. I told him that if he wanted, I could coach a chess team for other kids that might want to play competitively. He jumped at the idea.

Chess Coach vs. Chess Teacher

Being a coach for your child's team may not necessarily mean that you are also giving chess lessons. At my son's school, there are after school chess lessons that are completely separate from the chess team. Not to step on anyone's toes, I contacted the chess teacher well in advance and told him what my plans were in order to get his understanding and support. Indeed, he ended up being a valuable ally at the end of the year.

Chess Equipment

Launching any new program at a school may meet resistance, and it may be difficult to procure any funds for a new endeavor. Therefore, you will likely have to purchase some of the equipment yourself, at least at first. Many schools do not have tournament quality chess sets, but it is imperative for morale (and for practicing with tournament equipment) to get something that looks official. Generally you will want to purchase two sets of plastic chess pieces and vinyl chess boards for every three kids on the chess team. While that may seem like overkill, chess pieces will get lost, misplaced, not put back properly, and having a few extra sets will save you in a chess emergency. You will also want to buy several chess clocks, one for every three kids or so. Finally, buy one demonstration chess board (with pieces) for team activities done as a group.

Recruiting for Your Team

Recruiting for the chess team is no different from recruiting for any other activity - flyers, talking with the teachers, posters, etc. The biggest recruiting tool, however, will be word-of-mouth. Once one child gets talking, he or she will bring other kids along naturally.

Planning Your Meetings

Picking a time and frequency for the team practices is also important. Older kids may view chess in the same vein as other sports, and want to meet four times per week. For elementary school kids, once a week is probably a good thing to start with, and then you may want to change to less frequent as the kids get comfortable and in a rhythm.

The key is to build up some momentum at the beginning, and less than once per week may cause kids to lose interest. As for time of day, after school seems natural, but we opted for an hour before school, as my work schedule wouldn't allow after school. Before school worked out excellently, as the kids who came showed their commitment and dedication (as did their parents) by waking up an hour earlier to get their kids to school.

The First Few Meetings

The first few meetings for the chess team are the key to success. Have a specific plan of what you want to accomplish each meeting. For example, I covered the following topics in this order:(1) sportsmanship (shaking hands, not slamming or grinding pieces, winning and losing graciously), (2) the clock and how it counts down to zero, (3) tournament atmosphere and directors (scoring system, touch move rules, raising your hand for a director if there's a problem), (4) chess notation, saying ""check"" in not necessary, and illegal moves.

After the first or second meeting, you need to get a message to the childrens' parents explaining the purpose of the chess team. I emphasized that this was a team, not instruction, and that tournament chess can be a brutal experience for a child that is not ready for it. Yet, I emphasized that for most kids, the benefits of playing in tournaments (self-reliance, patience, planning, and hopefully fun) outweigh the anxiety that accompany playing in them.

This is Part One of Starting a Chess Team at You Child's School. Part 2: Taking Your Chess Team to the Next Level will be published later.

Robert N. Bernard is the manager of the New Jersey Knockouts of the United States Chess League, where he started three years ago as the Knockouts' blogger. For the USCL, he also compiles an unofficial rating list and weekly power rankings. Frequently, he can be found on the Internet Chess Club, where he has a weird tendency to win a lot of their trivia contests. He is also a member of the United State Chess Federation's Ratings Committee and coaches his son's chess team. He has a very nice plaque from the 1982 US Amateur Team Championship, where he captained the team that won the Under 1400 prize."

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