Chess is a team sport
Many people think of chess as an individual sport, driven by the individual player’s ability, work ethic, and ambition to succeed. Certainly, individual effort and ability are important, but playing in team chess events introduces an entirely different dynamic.
Do not underestimate the power inherent in playing as a team or the reward felt by teammates who enjoy a very different level of achievement by participating together.
In the 2015 annual report by USCF President Ruth Haring, the observation is made that "kids like team tournaments." The team dynamic is an important part in retaining chess players.
I have seen team esprit de corps fuel individual success, and that is a winning combination. Playing in teams makes chess fun!
Team chess is my favorite aspect of coaching.
Most team awards in chess tournaments, including national tournaments, are derived from the top three or four individual scores from a section of players. Half the battle is having enough students show up in any given section to compete.
This is no small task -- today kids are pulled in many different directions, and it can be hard for chess to compete with other sports, other academic teams, music and arts events, etc.
When introducing competitive chess to kids, especially young ones, remember that it needs to be fun. Children are social and want to socialize with each other. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents relay that the reason their children want to play in chess tournaments that last all day long is to hang out with their friends. That makes me smile.
In our community, chess has become a cool thing to do. I see our elementary chess kids wearing their chess team shirts on Friday night at football games. I see kids bringing their chess sets with them to play at some of the most unlikely places: recess, sporting events, coffee shops, and the YMCA.
I don’t think this would have happened if we did not have strong chess teams competing and building team spirit.
Here are some suggestions on how you can build team spirit in your chess club.
How to build team spirit:
- Announce team results first in all school announcements and at meetings, before individual results. I also include the names of everyone who competed that day for the team, regardless of who won awards, in the school announcements.
- Have parties and celebrate success. Chess kids at our elementary school customarily hold a holiday party, end-of-year swim party, and even a back-to-school bash where parents contribute food and goodies. But don’t be surprised when the kids eventually want to get out chess sets and start playing with each other. Kids who play on a team need time to bond.
- Assign tournament buddies. When students play in their first tournament, it can be quite intimidating. I assign every new player an experienced player on our team to be atournament buddy, who will help go over games during a tournament, offer moral support, and participate in a special practice before the first tournament to help the new student get ready.
- Give a team spirit or sportsmanship award after each tournament. Celebrate those who think beyond themselves as individuals during a tournament. It can be awarded to someone who is being an exceptional mentor, someone who fights back after a tough loss to help his team, or someone who shows good sportsmanship despite a disappointing individual finish.