I’ve been a chess coach for the last 20 odd years but it was only in the last few that I had a conversation with a student who seemed to excel at everything he pursued. I had to know why.
Every coach wants to effectively train students to become champion and masters but I came to learn that focusing on immediate results is so detrimental to the student it often backfires horrifically.
I asked my student how it was possible that he achieved such high success rates over their peers at such a consistent and high level. He explained that often he would enter competitions ranging from chess, piano, martial arts and eventually tennis – outperforming his peers despite putting considerably less time and training prior to his performances. How could this be?
He explained that it came down to a few key elements and priorities insisted upon him by his very thoughtful parents.
- Stressing attitude and effort over immediate results. My student explained that the biggest corrections and scoldings from his parents came when he would decide to give up internally during a competition, often due to self discouragement, at having the beginning of a bad performance. His parents never placed emphasis on immediate results. It was perfectly acceptable to lose or not perform well if he maintained a determined attitude and pushed himself to put forth maximum effort. I found this astonishing because for so long I had focused on my students winning rates, their chess ratings and putting big expectations on their shoulders. The result? Chess students who develop performance anxiety and some students that quit the game altogether rather than face the possibility of losing or a “subpar performance” in their mind.
- His parents provided him unique opportunities to learn, grow, practice and push himself. He explained that due to a loophole his parents were able to get him a year off between junior and senior year of high school so he could live in Spain, train under some of the best tennis coaches in the world, and compete at the top levels for his age groups. I still have fond memories of my mother funding and/or traveling with me to chess tournaments around the country – having the opportunity to be exposed and face off against some some of the best and brightest players, receive coaching and advice from some amazing individuals and even travel to Australia on a chess exchange trip.
- Participating in competitions from a very young age regardless of the arena.
This ultimately resulted in the most awesome super power ever cultivated for a champion. He didn’t get NERVOUS regardless of whether he was competing at the highest levels.
I cannot stress this hard enough – cultivating a student that insists of maintaining a positive attitude, putting forth maximum effort and not feeling the stress of competition no matter the opposition, the medium, the stakes, etc – this is the most menacing opponent you can ever hope to face.
For this reason I often stress and positively reinforce my students for their efforts and attitudes. I actively tell them that their immediate wins and losses don’t concern me and that I’m much more interested in what strategies, techniques, emotions, attitudes that they made a goal to achieve during their live games and I heap HEAVY AMOUNTS OF PRAISE upon the students willing to try at all. I insist to them that practicing these things is master training and to be incredibly graceful and forgiving with themselves.
I compare this to a person who can juggle countless balls ignited by fire – that they will certainly drop the balls many times on the way to achieving this and not to expect to perfect or even reasonably demonstrate these skills during a live chess game but instead to keep trying, keep taking these master steps, be proud of themselves and don’t stop.