Assistants and Assistance

by admin on December 26, 2017

I guess, in retrospect, it was silly to think that anybody would come to chess club on the day after Christmas. Even though I told several parents last week that we would be open for business, I think that everyone is just too much in the holiday spirit to think of leaving home and coming to the library. Or maybe they just didn’t believe that the library would be open. I think that in many years it has been closed on the day after Christmas.

Anyway, the upshot was that Shan, my assistant, and I showed up and set up six boards and twelve chairs, but nobody came to occupy them. I’ve been running the Aptos Library chess club for twenty years and this was the first time that no kids came through the doors.

I know that it’s nothing we did wrong, because the kids’ reading room in the library was also completely deserted. I have never seen it that way before. I’m usually there on Tuesday afternoons right after schools let out, and it is a beehive of activity. It’s the busiest place in the library.

Shan and I did have one visitor, though. The mother of one of our former regulars happened to come by the library because she wanted to use the Internet. (They don’t have Internet at their house.) Her boy, Xarius, wasn’t with her because he was playing at the skate park, but she talked with Shan and me for a good fifteen minutes. That helped the time go by. Finally at about 4:10 (forty minutes into a scheduled one-hour chess club) we admitted that nobody else was coming and started packing the sets away.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Shan before, and this is a good place to give him credit. His full name is Shan Crockett. He is a retired psychologist and an enthusiastic player on GameKnot. I don’t know his rating, but I guess around 1400 to 1600. He’s been assisting me for probably ten years now, which is amazing. He’s so dependable that it’s easy to forget just how long he’s been doing this. On the days when the room is full to bursting with kids, which have been more and more frequent in recent years, there’s no way that I could keep some semblance of order without him. And even when crowd control isn’t an issue, it’s nice to have someone to talk with before and after, while we’re setting up or putting away sets and chairs. As a former psychologist, he sometimes has insights into kids that I don’t.

Before Shan, my assistant for a year or two was Ronee Curry. Although she didn’t work with me for very long, I’m grateful to her because she was the one who motivated me to start giving lessons. Until then I had seen the club just as a place for kids to play — but I think it’s possible that some of the ones who wanted to get better were frustrated because they didn’t know how to get better. Ronee thought it was nuts that I was a master-strength player running a chess club for kids but I didn’t seem interested in sharing my understanding with them. She’s right! It was nuts. So we started a system where the kids play for half an hour, then I give a lesson for 15 minutes, then they play for another 15 minutes. I noticed that pretty soon after I started doing this, the whole atmosphere of chess club changed. The kids started taking the club more seriously; for many of them, I think that my lessons were the first clues that it is in fact possible to take chess seriously. Discipline problems decreased, and attendance grew. All thanks to Ronee, for having the sense to tell me what was obvious.

I’ve had three other assistants who started as kids who came to chess club, eventually got to high school age and instead of disappearing (as most kids do) they started helping me either in a formal or informal way. Their names were Aidan Elliott-McCrae, Cole Ryan, and Linnea Nelson. One of the enduring mysteries of the chess club to me has been why kids stop coming when they get to about 12 or 13 years of age. And the few who don’t stop become assistants! Maybe I should institute some more formal path for them to graduate from being players to helpers. What do you think? Would this motivate more of them to keep playing chess during their high school years?

Next week we’ll try to have the chess club again, this time the day after New Year’s Day. Will anyone come this time? My guess is that we’ll have a lower than usual turnout but it won’t be an absolute zero.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob December 27, 2017 at 8:37 am

Lots of kids get into achievement Dana.
Perhaps for those who might be interested – creating a latter of learning
with some kind of recognition would serve. A list of those following some
steps that you determine and you place stars or some sort of symbol next to
their name. Maybe do a little chess newsletter once a month for the ones
who are really into the game.
Obviously chess is a competitive activity with much understanding of how to
play as a key factor in gaining an edge. Of course, the challenge is to keep it fun
while learning.
Just a thought.

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Rob December 27, 2017 at 8:38 am

Whoops…meant “ladder”.

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Mary Kuhner December 29, 2017 at 7:49 am

I teach aikido to kids, and we see the same thing; most of them stop around middle school or when they start high school. In talking to both chess and aikido students and their parents, I think that there are just a lot of competing demands on their time. There’s also a tendency for activities you do with your schoolmates to be prioritized over ones you do with a random group of non-schoolmates.

In WA we have had success keeping more kids by having school clubs and inter-school tournaments. Now we lose more of them at the high school-college transition, probably for similar reasons. (I quit playing competitively my second year of graduate school because I was overwhelmed….)

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