By Laura Doman
How can you tell if a chess kid really understands the basics of chess? A series of well-played games is certainly one indicator. Another is to see if he or she can successfully teach those concepts and skills to someone else. And what does a watchful school team coach do about it? He puts the kid to work as a junior coach!
That is what’s happening now at Trinity School, a private elementary school in northwest Atlanta. Trinity has benefited from strong student players over the years, many of whom led the school team to championships in Georgia’s competitive scholastic chess tournaments. This is the first year, however, that Championship Chess owner and founder Steve Schneider and head Trinity coach, Tim Brookshear, are engaging their most experienced students as junior coaches.
Rachel Doman and Daniel Wood are 5th graders, each with a USCF rating over 1100, who have been active in Trinity’s after-school chess program since they were pre-K students. Both they and the school coaches are excited about the possibilities of boosting the learning curve of the other students, as well as bolstering the overall team spirit this school year.
Coach Steve Schneider is confident that his two new junior assistants will prove to be a valuable resource in the classroom. “With students at different levels of chess skills, maturity, and ability to focus, Rachel and Daniel can augment the teaching that Tim and his assistant coaches are able to provide to a large, diverse group of players.” Specifically, Steve plans for them to help beginners grasp and apply basic lessons by giving these students one-on-one instruction, either in a drill or game situation. He sees the junior coaches also offering small group instruction to mid-level players and running checkmate drills with more advanced players, with a focus on openings later in the year. Steve notes that Daniel and Rachel can tell the adult coaches when they see someone needing extra help and provide feedback on concerns or problems that students may not feel comfortable sharing directly with the adults. “In all, it’s a very positive experience for Daniel and Rachel to help their classmates while improving their own skills,” said Steve.
Coach Tim Brookshear agrees with tasking the team’s strongest players with these responsibilities. Tim says, “I see them running training tables, testing the other kids on basic chess moves, setting up puzzles for them to solve, and working with them on openings.” And Daniel and Rachel are quick to agree!
Daniel is excited to be working with the younger kids. “Everyone will improve and look up to me to help them get better. I like the idea of running checkmate drills and testing the kids one-on-one.”
Rachel concurs, “I like working with younger kids. I hope that other girls will be encouraged to come play chess, especially if they see an older, more experienced girl as a junior coach, a sort of role model. I also like doing checkmate drills, calling attendance, and having a nametag that says ‘Junior Coach Rachel!’”
Daniel’s mom Julie is on board with the program, too, saying, “Giving Daniel and Rachel the opportunity to participate in coaching the newer and younger chess students is a win-win situation for all the students in the Championship Chess program at Trinity. Coaching will reinforce and enrich Daniel and Rachel’s knowledge of the game. At the same time, having junior coaches will enhance the learning experience of the other students in the chess program by providing those students with the perspective of a seasoned chess student.”
She continued, “Daniel has always enjoyed learning about and playing chess. As a junior coach, he will now have the additional experience of being a teacher – an experience that will not only improve his chess game, but also his confidence and his overall communication skills. I think it is important for the younger chess students in Trinity’s chess program to have role models. The younger students are more likely to continue playing chess if they see older students enjoying their participation in the chess program and in tournament play.”
Engaging more experienced kids in the classroom as assistants is also an excellent way to keep them involved with the school team. Sometimes, if the team doesn’t have other players of similar playing strength, the skilled player will disengage from the team and focus more on individual accomplishment. This can be a loss for the kids who value their chess superstar and a missed opportunity for the skilled player to interact, mentor, and lead his or her teammates.
Most kids are eager to assume more responsibility and enjoy the recognition that comes with assuming a leadership role. The Trinity junior coach program is off to a strong and promising start. Does your school team have a similar program? Post a response to this article (in the Leave a Reply section after this article) and tell us how it has worked out for both your junior coaches/assistants and the other kids on your school team. We’d love to hear from you!