How to be a Great Chess Coach

Since 2012 I have dedicated my life to bringing chess to thousands of children across Colorado and the world. I’ve had time to reflect on what it means to be a great coach and I’ve made many improvements to my own technique.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Be a fun/entertaining coach. Students learn best when they’re having fun. You could be the most knowledgeable person in your field and yet find that you’re an ineffective coach that can’t keep students. Why? The most likely answer is that your students aren’t smiling or laughing during the lessons. I make it point to make my students smile regularly. I make the learning fun for them. Being a chess coach has its advantages because we already play a game. We have a head start! However, many strong chess players haven’t spent time developing the necessary social skills and awareness to observe their clients aren’t having a great time. Many coaches are focused on the quality and effort that went into their lessons. They are pounding their students with knowledge in a dogmatic boring way. This is not the way to retain students or to be an effective coach.

  2. Have structure – everyone thrives better in an environment that is predictable. When conducting lessons with my students they know we’re going to start off with tactics, followed by endgame training, move on to some important drills and finish off with finding the right plan just as a WARMUP before we play chess and review afterwards. We very well might spend a day just going over their lastest tournament games or driving home a really important concept, but for the most part I stick to this structure. It provides security/predictablity for the student which in turns provides a safe environment. From this safety the student feels the self comfort needed to grow.
  3. Keep it simple – Many coaches I meet wonder why their students aren’t growing, understanding and retaining the information being taught. I’d like everyone to try your best and remember back to K-12 or college. We’ve ALL had a teacher that was absolutely brilliant but also spoke and tried to convey new complex ideas in a way that was extremely hard to follow. This is the teacher who unfortunately makes the mistake of teaching others the way they understand it themselves. We must put ourselves in the shoes of the novice. There are so many patterns, basic skills and foundation that are inherently lacking. We can’t teach Mate in 1 if our student is having trouble remember how the pieces move. When we do teach advanced concepts we need to break it down into basic language, relating to other real life examples, that drive home these points.