Chess, besides being an immensely captivating game, brings benefits beyond entertainment as a powerful brain trainer. With each new published study, the advantages of playing chess become increasingly plentiful with proven associations between the game and a range of attributes such as concentration, memory, logic, critical thinking, problem solving and more. While these skills are paramount in all walks of life, they are exceptionally critical for a child’s development. In fact, as stated in the previous blog post “A Brief History of Chess”, many historians believe that chess was invented for an Indian ruler’s children to become strategic thinkers and capable future generals. While not all of our children may proceed to commanding armies in the future, many of these attributes are essential for a positive and healthy mind. In this three part series, I will highlight some of the benefits I can appreciate in hindsight from playing chess in my younger years.
Hard Work Pays Off
Chess provides children with a direct channel to learn one of life’s golden rules: practice makes perfect. After you teach your child chess, they may find the first few games quite tricky or complicated, but after continuing to play, the rules begin to come naturally. It may be a while before you find yourself threatened by your young opponent, however with enough practice, your child will become a worthy adversary. It is quite common for young chess players to have an older figure in their lives that they are unable to defeat for many years. For me it was my father. Countless attempts left me with nothing but defeat as my father would win game after game, but eventually the balance began to tip in my favour. Chess is vastly a game of recognition and memory, and the more games you play, the more comfortable and agile your brain will be in recognizing positions and strategies. The day I beat my father in chess for the first time was a huge milestone; the final reward for countless years of swallowing my pride through endless defeat. That day I was able to look back and appreciate my past struggles on the chessboard as positive learning experiences that enabled me to finally achieve an important step in my chess career. Among all the benefits that chess brings, this may be one of the most important. The progression of learning in chess teaches children that hard work truly pays off. The more time and effort you put into playing chess, the better and more successful at the game you will be. This direct positive feedback is incredibly important for a child to experience, as they will be more likely to develop positive learning habits and possess the ability to apply a diligent mindset to other areas of their life both in the present and future.
The struggle to defeat my father in chess taught me another immensely valuable lesson: patience. At times during my earlier chess experiences, the frustration and failure of constantly losing would make me feel like quitting. Why continue playing if I was just going to lose over and over again? In the end, patience with my chess abilities allowed them to gradually improve until I was finally able to experience greater success. Like many other activities, it takes a significant amount of time to gain proficiency in chess. Chess allows children to train their ability to be patient with the reward of greater skills in the future. Chess also teaches patience in the game itself as many strategies and play styles require a great deal of patience for a successful result. As a child it may seem exciting to rush into battle to capture that deliciously undefended piece, but being patient and fully thinking through the existing options may lead to the discovery of a game changing fork or pin, or perhaps even a checkmate. This training of patience will allow a child to apply the skill in other situations, whether it be studying or learning a new ability in their favourite sport.
While a picturesque childhood may be characterized by freedom and the lack of responsibility, the life of a child is in reality quite busy. With a whole world to explore and learn from, countless activities to take part in and the beautiful distraction of curiosity, it can be quite challenging for a child to concentrate on a specific task for long periods of time. Chess is a powerful training tool for concentration as it forces children to focus on deliberating an array of possibilities with each passing turn. The direct objective and reward of capturing the king is a powerful motivator for children to block out the countless other distractions that may otherwise be shrouding their ability to play. Success in chess is strongly connected to a child’s level of attention in a game, and as the objective of victory becomes more enticing, concentration will improve.
The ability to concentration in chess improves in tandem with one’s memory. While I may have never arrived to the level of proficiency in chess to be able to store vast amounts of previous games in the vaults of my mind to later unleash upon my opponents, it is undoubtable that the more games I played, the more I could recognize certain positions and scenarios. As a child increases their concentration in chess, they will be able to remember their successful moves and their mistakes more clearly. When the level of play becomes more advanced, the necessity of memorizing openings and strategies will increase; another aspect of chess that will train a child’s memory.
The appreciation of hard work and patience as well as an enhanced concentration and memory are paramount attributes for children. Playing chess directly trains these aspects and will allow a child to become both more successful in the game and able to apply these developments to other areas of their life, such as sports or school.
Continue reading the next two parts of this series to learn more about the benefits of chess for children! The next part focuses on consequences, responsibility, planning and handling defeat. Stay tuned for part 3!