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Modern Parenthood

Parenting a chess player may be harder than playing the game

Soccer moms get all the attention. But what about the chess moms and dads who can't shrug off their outside voice outbursts when inside at a silent chess tournament? With an event that demands self-discipline, parenting a chess player is no easy task. 

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / April 4, 2013

Chess dad Grady Dunn of Norfolk, Va., attends sessions at the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) where he focuses on positive parent coaching tactics with his daughters Gianna, 8, facing the camera, and Pria,10.

Lisa Suhay

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This weekend at Super Nationals in Nashville, Tenn., the biggest event of the year for scholastic chess competitors, parents there will be offered something that’s never been discussed at the event before: how to be good sport parents and coaches. The free seminar will not only address the ins and outs of raising a good competitor, but also how to choose a coach that’s best for your child.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Super Nationals, a quadrennial event like the Olympics, will host more than 5,000 kids from 47 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, coming from a total of 1,541 schools, according to Robert McLellan, a spokesman for the US Chess Federation based in Nashville. Those children will attend with either an anxiety-ridden parent or professional chess coach by their side.

Even Alexandra Kosteniuk, the 12th Women’s World Chess Champion who herself began a chess career at age 5 admits that parenting her daughter Francesca, 6, through the process is very daunting.

“It’s a rollercoaster to see her play,” Ms. Kosteniuk said during a phone conversation from Nashville as she prepared her little girl to compete in what will be the child’s first Super Nationals. “It’s very hard for me to stop myself, not to intervene because at that age children don’t always play pieces correctly or remember all the rules.”

I now have this wonderful mental picture of the absolutely runway model-worthy Women’s World Champion pacing a few yards away from the tables, destroying her manicure, much in the way I do when one of my own sons compete at anything.

That makes me feel better as a sport parent because it tells me that becoming a parent levels the playing field between the famous and the average sport parent. Technically, chess is classified as a sport, covered by ESPN, and subject to the same kind of governance as other sporting bodies because it’s played in teams. Chess has coaches both good and atrocious, too.

The Chess in the Olympics Campaign says that there are at least 605 to 700 million people worldwide who play chess — that's more than the entire population of US, Russia, Mexico, and Japan combined, or 8.6 percent of all humans inhabiting the Earth. There are 8 million registered chess players representing over 160 countries. On the Internet, there are as many as 200 million people playing chess.

The thing that’s really important with chess is not the trophy but the win-win educationally for a child. 

“I run a school in Russian and I can say without hesitation that you take a child, any child, and teach them chess and I promise you one year later this is a completely different child in many ways,” Kosteniuk says. “You see a child learn critical thinking, better overall life judgments, and confidence. It is that prize we should want as parents for our children most of all.”

Speaking of what sports parents want, Chess parents are just as notorious for outbursts as those in soccer, Pee Wee football, and any other sports where the worst in us emerges as the parental protective mechanism kicks in and merges with the thrill of battle haze.

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