Saturday, February 5, 2011


In my early years of involvement with chess, I have worked most of the time with junior students direct - being their mentor, guardian sometimes. It is of course good once in a while to meet their parents, as their support for their child is ultimate key to success. I used to remind myself that not every parent is like mine, intent to stopping their child's interest in chess , believing that they should be spending their time and energies on school books rather than chess books.

Today, the scene is quite the opposite - more non chess-playing parents are keen to see their children take up this fabulous (in their opinion) game. It makes the child concentrate, think about what they want to do before doing it, focus and it helps in their mathematical faculties too. A radical change of opinion in just about 25 years.Parents today are keen to be involved in their kids' activities and would want to show their care and concern.

So though I see parental support as a good thing, parental involvement is another. My chief grouse lies in that many parents get involved in chess not for the benefit of everyone, but for their children first of all.

We had an incident about rugby players and their parents getting caught in fist-fights after some provocation. Reports about students getting their parents involved in their disciplinary sanctions. Yes, this is the ugly side of over-protective parents wanting to ensure that their kids are, not in any way wronged or disadvantaged (on their own terms)  in any activity they enroll in.

I am aware that tapping on parents' for their support does have a down-side, i.e when objectivity goes out the window when their child is involved in the matter. A simple case: I had to explain to a parent whose child had a bye in round 1. Due to the peculiarity of his name, he was somehow floated down and in a tournament with odd number of players, the program set him up with a bye. Apparently this trend was repeated and the parent was obviously upset when it happened yet again. Can I change the pairing so that he can play? Why must he be the victim? Can't somebody take the bye instead?! 

Another common contentious issue is about age-group prizes: There was a complaint from a parent some years ago, who wondered why his son finished top of his age-group but was given the 5th overall prize and not the age-group prize? Why should this be, he asked? To this parent, 5th overall means 5th out of X contenders but winning the age-group means a 1st somehow. He's relegated in stature to receive his intended prize, can't the organisers see that?!...the list goes on. 

Hence, I think its best that we encourage the kids to come to our chess  club events, but parents perhaps allow their kids the freedom to play and leave the organisation of the chess activities to the hands of the experts. However, in the area of chess promotion and sponsorship, it will be useful to consult the parents' expertise and networking  to open doors and get the right people to listen to ideas on hosting good promotional events. That in my view will be the best way to get the parent's involvement , in seeing that the events are well-funded and properly organised not just for their kids, but for all.


  1. Hi John,

    You make a distinction between support and involvement, but I respectfully suggest that there is no clear distinction. Parents involvement can have some negatives as you have highlighted but I prefer to look at the positives which is that the mindset change among today's parents is a positive force. There will always be the over-anxious parents that will be over-protective but I cannot see this as a good enough reason not to involve parents with a clear direction of how their involvement will help the chess scene as a whole. There are already other instances of parent volunteers who help purely because of their self-interest such as the parent volunteers scheme for Primary 1 admission. Not surprisingly some of these parent volunteers stay on after their children get in because they actually enjoy interacting and helping the school and the teachers. That is why I say you have to give the opportunities and you never know what you will get in return, if you do not expect anything then you will not be disappointed but instead you may be pleasantly surprised that some of the chess parent volunteers actually will contribute for the long term. It is creating the initial pool that may prove daunting but once you have a few parents then hopefully by word of mouth or otherwise the pool will grow or at least remain stable with a core group of parents (just like in most parent-support groups in schools)

  2. It would be good to hear from other parents before I reply :-)

  3. Hi John,

    Expecting parents to be altruistic (versus driven by self-interest) is probably too idealistic.

    It’s probably fair to say that most parents sign their children up for chess lessons and competitions either because their children love the game, or because they understand the benefits that chess brings to their children, not because they desire to raise the profile of the sport, at least not in the beginning.

    However, self-interest does not have to equate to a ‘win-at-all-cost’ mentality. There is value in sports (and chess) not easily found in academic effort, e.g. love for the game, teamwork, social interaction, organization, personal well-being, etc.

    Like it or not, parents of this generation are better educated, more concerned, more vocal and more involved.

    However, the complexity of the thousand year-old game has remained largely unchanged, and still presents formidable entry barriers for many parents to surmount.

    Herein lies a dilemma that confronts many chess parents: ‘how’ - not ‘whether’ - to be involved?

    As a chess coach of the present day, your communication responsibility is definitely heavier.

    Creative ways have to be found to fulfill the education and information needs of chess parents, so as to enable us to play a meaningful role in the development of our children.

    This can be collaborative and enjoyable, not confrontational, if done well.

    For reasons of disclosure, may I add that I’m a new chess parent, dormant chess player and your chess junior from our school days. Here, I’m writing in my capacity as a chess parent.

  4. Tau Kwang,

    I agree with your first point - it is indeed naive if we are to expect parents of chess-playing kids to devote their time and energies into chess work if there are no vested interests. It is precisely this point that I would rather not involve parents in organising chess, but rather to support the scene by encouraging their kids to play.

    As to guiding new parents to chess, they are most welcome to attend the chess club activities with their kids to find out the necessary information pertaining to tournaments (eg behaviour, ethics, mechanics of tournament play) but honestly this is already covered in Dan Heisman's wonderful book " A Parent's Guide to Chess". I will introduce it in my next post.

    As to involving parents in terms of chess organisation, contribution in terms of manpower is always welcome when the number of participants get too big. But then again, sometimes, it is better to work with a small outfit who is well-communicated, focused and not distracted to carry out the tasks.

    We do have a tournament coming up in May, I do need volunteers in terms of setting up the hall and distributing score sheets, taking scores etc. More urgently the quest for sponsorship.

  5. Sure - I'll volunteer my help for the May tournament and its sponsorship... within my modest means. :-)

  6. Hi John

    I am regretfully veering off-topic but I think it is important.

    I would like some views as to how we can convince the MOE to view chess as a sport and not as a "clubs & societies" CCA. I believe that if chess is viewed as a sport in the primary schools it may encourage more children to join and more parents to give their support.

    I have been informed by the MOE that officially chess is a "clubs & societies" CCA and not a sport CCA. This runs contrary to the position of the SNOC that views chess as a sport and the SCF as one of 39 full voting members of the SNOC. The SNOC constitution clearly states that only federations involved in a sport can be full voting members. Similarly the Asian Games and SEA Games committees view chess as a medal-winning sport.

    So what can be done to convince the MOE to change its view and categorise chess as a sport CCA? All suggestions are welcome.

  7. Have you asked this question to the SCF? What is their reply?

  8. The MOE acknowlledges that the SCF has raised this issue with them and SCF has also confirmed doing so, yet despite the discussions MOE has maintained it's position to date that chess is not a sport CCA.

    I believe it would be a great boost to the game if MOE is prepared to recognize Chess as a sport. I have asked the MOE how can an event which can earn gold medals at the SEA Games (2003, 2005, 2011) and the Asian Games (2006, 2010) not be a sport. Apparently the IOC has in around 2005 or so officially recognized chess as a sport as well.

    So any ideas?

  9. Hope this helps:

  10. I have seen that article. I think it actually reinforces my personal view that the perception of the MOE is that chess is a board game and therefore does not qualify to be a sport which requires physical activity.

    That perception probably also influences the participation rate of primary school children in chess. My view is that if a child feels that he is taking part in chess as a sportsperson the feel good factor will boost the mumber of chess players and overall boost the interest in chess. This would tie in with John's idea of creating more interest in chess activities such as chess clubs. Perception is important in drumming up support for chess.

    I read an Australian newspaper article from 2007 that stated that chess was the fastest growing sport in Australia.(note the Australian paper described chess as a sport). We all know that Australia is a great sporting nation and even there the newspaper was prepared to describe chess as a sport.

    So John and other readers, any ideas?

  11. Well, I can't really blame the MOE when the main form of chess activity in school competitions is a 25 minute per side game. It used to be 1.5 hrs per side in my time.

    In my earlier postings, I have recommended that SCF relook the format of chess competitions in schools, if possible revamp the current format so that the CCA people will take the game seriously. Create a school league perhaps? No, that can't will eat into Junior squad training..