Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coaching and Me

This links to two upcoming workshops on Chess in Education. They are calling for papers in advance. I have something to say but I doubt that this would be the kind of thing they have in mind.

You see, I do part time chess coaching for a local company. This company provides after-school chess clubs for local elementary schools. You’d think that I’d be happy doing what I love and getting paid to do it. Mostly it’s good but there are some real problems. I wonder how the rest of the scholastic chess community escapes them.

First, not every chessplayer can take time off work to go coach a school chess club. That limits the population of potential chess coaches right there.

Second, not every chessplayer is good at handling kids, let alone having an education degree.

Third, not every chessplayer is independently rich. The job pays $20 per hour for 2 ½ hours. Include the gas in the IRS rate of $.48 per mile for total wear-and-tear on your car, factor in drive times of half an hour or more going and coming, and the effective compensation for this job goes way down. Basically, I figure that chess clubs shoot down the entire afternoon.

So . . .

The company has to scrounge for chess coaches. What they get are people with chess backgrounds (like me) but little education background and people with vice-versa. Understandably, the company prefers the latter kind of people than the former. People can learn chess principles for the job easier than chessplayers can learn education and people skills. At least, that’s what the company thinks.

So, you end up with employees who fall into two groups. Chessplayers and educators. The company staffs chess clubs with teams of coaches. They try to match chessplayers with educators.

(The company does do a lot of things right.)

I see that there is more of a problem with some of the educators than with the chessplayers among the coaches. Both groups understand the importance of knowing about kids and having good people skills with them. As for chess, some (not all) of the educators view it as having to know just the minimum about it as necessary.

From my memories as a student, a number of teachers viewed subjects that way. For educators who just want to slide by, chess can be viewed as even lower than academic subjects like history or math. To cover for their inadequacies, they just KNOW that:

  • Kids aren’t interested in famous chessplayers. When I mention that kids are interested in ballplayers, they retort that those players do physical sports, not mental like chess.
  • Kids aren’t interested in outside chess clubs. When I mention that the company operates a chess club on Thursday nights and it’s free, they just KNOW that only home-schoolers go to that.
  • Kids aren’t interested in participating in USCF tournaments – or any other outside scholastic tournament for that matter. Even the ones that the company sponsors itself.
  • Finally, kids should stick to the basic instructional materials and not wander off experimenting on their own. To these coaches, company-approved openings like the Colle are allowed; Alekhine’s Defense is not.
There’s a false dichotomy that these folks promote and (sadly) the company has bought into, that a chess coach can be either about being competitive or having fun. Why is one the enemy of the other? Why can’t kids have both?

I agree that we ought not push kids who don’t want to be pushed; BUT we ought to inform kids about upcoming events and allow them to decide for themselves if they wish to go further or not.

The basic problem with too many of these chess coaches is that since they don’t care about chess and don’t want to know more about it, they assume the kids don’t, either.

It irks me that these types of coaches are promoted to team leaders and even managers. They do seem to have good people skills – at self-promotion, at least. And the company does seem to prosper with this kind of people in charge. So, I don’t know. It just seems wrong.

It also reminds me of why I had difficulties with some teachers when I was young.