Advice to chess parents from the "Chess Educator of the Year"

Posted by Roline Pretorius on

With the 2019 South African Junior Closed Chess Championship just a few days away, we'd like to wish all the players the best of luck. Parents: if you're wondering how you can support your child during the championship, here are five smart tips from a pro.


Public school chess teacher, Elizabeth Spiegel, was awarded "Chess Educator of the Year" by the University of Texas. During a talk at the university, she shared some useful advice for parents that she gained in her 20 years of teaching chess. Here are some of the key points.

1. Don't only emphasise winning and losing

Frame questions and conversation the right way, and do not only emphasise winning and losing. Ask questions like: "Tell me about your game." "Are you feeling thoughtful, calm, focus and creative?" "What opening are you expecting?"

Introduce the idea of evaluating results on something other than their score; set alternative goals like:
  • avoiding time trouble
  • sitting at the board and working hard
  • predicting opponents' moves so as not to be surprised
  • coming up with a logical plan that fits the position
  • playing creative or beautiful ideas
  • accurately calculating a long line
  • avoiding simple (1-2 move) calculation mistakes.

2. Ask them to explain the game

Ask your child to show you the game and explain it to you - even if you don't play chess. Ask questions about their thinking process like: "Tell me about that move." "Why did you go there?" "What surprised you?" "What did you think was the best move here?" "What was your plan?".


3. Sit in during lessons every now and again

Listen as the coach goes over his or her game. You'll get a view into how your child makes decisions and gain insight into their thinking process. Coaches also tend to do a better job when other people are listening.

4. Choose the right coach

Look for a coach who gives homework, has many students whose ratings have increased, asks for games in advance, and reviews previously taught material.

Avoid coaches who teach the same opening to all students, predominantly plays against your child during the lesson, and talks most of the time instead of engaging with the child, asking questions and listening.


5. What to say and do when your child has a terrible tournament

Make sure the game, at some point, gets analysed, to learn from mistakes. Normalise failure — don't send a message that your child is too fragile to handle this.

"The great thing about chess is that children will lose, and they will have terrible spells where they lose every game, and they are devastated, and they think 'I'm stupid. I'm a failure' and you get, as a parent, to help them through it. It's so great that it's happening when they're in elementary school or junior high school and not when they're off at college and you can't help them," says Spiegel.

Chess can teach your child to handle adversity and keep trying. Developing that habit when you're young is extremely useful throughout life.

Talk about how to harness negative energy of failure, shame or disappointment. A child can learn how to take that same energy and use it to study and improve. Use that to fuel your work.

If you'd like to watch her full hour-long talk, click here. She shares some useful tips for coaches too.


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