Students that hate to discuss their mistakes


I have a chess student that gets extremely uncomfortable when it comes time to discuss a mistake he made. It's frustrating when this happens to a coach because at the moment the student needs to be most attentive, they become their most self-conscious and shut down. As a result he relives the same mistake over and over in future games. Any suggestions?


A few ideas:

1) Incentivize the opposite of the negative behavior he's exhibiting. In your example, perhaps award him points/tokens for classifying the type of mistake he may have made.  Or try a mix of negative + positive reinforcement , ask him to put a dollar into different "mistake jars" and he can cash out after playing 10 back-to-back games without making that mistake any more.  You can sweeten the deal by "matching" his dollar with one of your own.

He doesn't have to "own" up to it ... just being aware that they are measured in a tangible form (jar filled with money) is a first step to acknowledging that he is making them and cannot conveniently forget that they are "accumulating".

2) Another form of behavior training is to base a lesson plan entirely on the mistake like an eye exam under time-pressure.

Quiz Position #1 : Is Move A better or B better?

Quiz Position #2 : Is Move A better or B better?

where each position contains the specific kinds of mistake he would tend to make.

Maybe drop the difficulty level to where he's getting atleast 60% of them right, and ramp it upwards?

3) Re-directing the identity of the mistake maker : Use/Make up games with other people go about making the exact same mistakes that he does and see if he's more open / less self-conscious about  discussing the flaws of other people's moves.  His ego no longer becomes part of the equation ... besides, the more negatively you speak about the stupidity level of said mistake, the more likely he's going to remember it when he's "just about" to do the same thing.

You might even start off with Anand's famous Petroff game :)


How old is the student?


Most students are like this. It's almost normal.


Thanks for the input Shivsky!  I will definitely try at least a couple of those.  Pathfinder416, The student is 12 years old.

gbidari wrote:

Thanks for the input Shivsky!  I will definitely try at least a couple of those.  Pathfinder, The student is 12 years old.

 Well, it looks like he's being a child ;)


 Shivsky is a chess-trainer i think. Good pointers.

I wish to add something. Don't push the tension between trainer and trainee further then a workable level. Point out the good things in the game too. Actualy start with the good things.

One more: let him work out what went wrong in the game for him self. That forces him to think instead of dicussion. Avoid too much discussion.

Students are not all the same. Remember what works well with this type off student and use that. Its like playing chess. 


Seine, thank you. I think you're right, too much discussion, let him work out what went wrong. Good stuff guys.


Shivsky's #3 seems worth trying, and you could present yourself as the subject player. You could analyze your own over-and-over-again types of mistakes, emphasizing (a) what it cost you in losses, (b) the process you went through to identify the problem, and (c) how you trained yourself to avoid it. Perhaps your student's ego will soften if you offer yourself in this way?


Sounds good pathfinder416. I will use that as well. Thanks!


I had a teacher last year. My worst part was just getting my pieces out. So he would make the same kind of mistakes I was making and ask me to tell him he was doing wrong. Maybe it's easier in the opening for that to happen, but if you guys play games together, you could use the same idea, just switch it around and make the mistakes they made in there games.


This is more of a psychological issue than a chess one. He should work on his self-esteem. Some people act that way due to an inferiority, superiority or other complex. Of course, there are technical solutions of mitigating this (like the ones suggested above), but the core problem will have to be addressed at some point.


Excellent advice here. 


I think the basic advise is try to be a bit more relaxed, I think your making too much of it, if its to the point hes almost shutting himself down, and you have had to post this on this forum. 


I have a story I use with a lot of kids who get upset about losing.  It goes something like this.

"Do you know the name Babe Ruth?  Do you know who that was?  He was one of the best all time baseball batters.  He hit over 700 home runs in the major leagues.  Do you know what his batting average was?  It was just under .350.  That means that 35% of the time he went up to bat, he got on base.  The other 65% of the time, he didn't get on base.  He either struck out, or hit a fly ball and they caught it, or maybe he hit it to the shortstop who threw him out on first.  One way or another, they got him out about twice as often as he got on base.  But he was still the best, the bambino, the sultan of swat.  Making mistakes is part of life - everyone does it.  Nobody wins all the time.  Don't let the fear of losing hold you back.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes, make them and learn from them. "


Ask him why it makes him feel bad and work from there. As Natalia has already noted, this is not a chess problem.


Show him one of his own games, but tell him it is a game from somebody else. Have him pick it apart. Then tell him it was him.

LordNazgul wrote:

I hardly think that chess coaches can / should do the work of professional psychologists.

I would think that that would be simply the work of parents. Although if you ease some of the suggestions given here to directly stating his weaknesses at a pace he responds to he may end up learning a useful life skill.

LordNazgul wrote:

I hardly think that chess coaches can / should do the work of professional psychologists.

I agree.

The moms and dads should be doing it......

I think a story like Baldr used is a good way to make kids feel better about it. Now if no one does anything then we're just gonna have another mark on the "smug list..."

LordNazgul wrote:

I hardly think that chess coaches can / should do the work of professional psychologists.

I dunno about this guy LordNazgul... here's some rare footage of LordNazgul's horse with a chess student...