Through chess, students are encouraged to develop and model all the characteristic traits that build success from respect to empathy to cooperation to perseverance.
Bringing Chess to Life
There is an important difference between scholastic chess and competitive chess.
In many chess clubs, chess is taught as a competitive skill. At some level, or course it is always hoped that skills in the game will translate into sorts of intelligence that are of practical value: formal logic, geometry, problem-solving, etc.
In scholastic chess clubs and programs, the goal of teaching chess is first and foremost to foster and develop skills and mindsets beyond chess, and these connections are conscientiously built into the curriculum and woven into every lesson.
Goals in chess must be ambitious, but must be brought about by specific, concrete moves. They must be built on the strengths inherent in the position as well as aiming at growth and new possibilities.
Expecting the unexpected
In the course of a chess game, it is impossible to predict everything that will happen. One must squarely face new, unexpected outcomes and make the best choice in the given situation. When presented and understood as a microcosm for life’s ups and downs, chess helps to foster a spirit of resilience.
One becomes stronger in chess only by finding strong opponents to play against. So too in life, we must make moves beyond our comfort zones, try new things we’re not sure we can do, and learn from the inevitable checks and setbacks we encounter when we try new things.
Taking reasonable risks and learning to get up and try again when one does not succeed is crucial to living a fulfilling and rewarding life.
Just as chess is a game where a diverse team of pieces that move in different ways must work harmoniously to achieve short- and long-term goals. Chess pieces are readily understood as having particular personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and strong play requires players to understand how to coordinate the abilities of various pieces. Our students learn from chess to value different abilities in themselves and others.
Similarly, one must understand that our chess opponents have their own goals and one must attempt to understand what they’re aiming at with their moves, and to understand how it may or may not affects our own plans.
What makes chess so suitable for the fostering of these skills and mindsets? There are several important characteristics: the minimal role of luck, the presentation of full information, the conscious choices made one move at a time, the complexity of the situation with many pieces and relationships interacting, etc. Unlike other mindfulness activities that require participants to learn to focus, chess fosters focus all on its own.
It is truly remarkable to see active, high-energy children sitting still and with full attention on the complex decisions they have to make.
An added benefit of gaining skills in chess is, along with verbal eloquence, mathematical ability, etc., its almost universal recognition as an indication of intelligence. For children especially, this affects not only the way others see them, but the way they see themselves.
Chess culture also shares with many physical martial arts much friendly and respectful protocol. Players shake hands before beginning, and at each move, they must allow their opponents to finish their thoughts and deliberations uninterrupted. Despite the emotional investment, players win and lose graciously, and even at top levels, fiercely contested bouts almost always conclude with shared analysis of the game.
Played throughout the world, chess is a kind of communication that, like music, can be shared in communities in almost any country, whether or not people speak the same language.