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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Parents and Players....

Chess players and their parents are elements of chess community that cannot be separated. Based on my observation, the degree of involvement towards their child's chess growth is dependent on how good and talented their child is. So in most cases I have seen, the more talented the kid is, the more intense parents involvement become. And the intensity may double or triple for parents who are more influential but of course, this does not happen ALL the time.

In most normal situation, the younger the child is the more protective the parents are but of course, we can't blame the parents for this. The child maybe too young (or the parents feel that they are still young) and parents are just doing what they instinctively know and feel best - which is to protect the child as much as they can. Of course, the protective element usually wane as the child grows older but, as the child gets better (and have the potential), the parents involvement can become more intense. However this time, not because the child needs protection but the child needs as much potential and opportunities offered to them in order to grow further. The protectiveness now moves towards the child's development to be the best they can be.

Usually, the protective boundary will end anyway - usually when the child (now a teenager) hits the college or university age, and even more, when the child (now a grown adult) hits the working age. Somewhere along the SPM-University-Working line, the intensity, the protective barrier, the involvement can disappear, and in some instances, can go off almost instantly like a candle light - a simple breeze and poof!!!!.... And the child nor the parent is never to be heard again within the chess community. There are a few current and past examples that can be quoted!

Of course, if you are looking at a family of 10 children, once the last child enters the college years, then the intensity (or insanity) will diminish with the last child. So, in the meantime, the chess community especially the organizers/officials, will have to deal with the first 10 children where the intensity was at the max.

As a parent myself (fortunately, none of my kids play chess... yet!), I can understand how most parents can get overly emotional when others are talking about or evaluating their kids - be it about the good things, and more if it were on the wrong things. Most parents are protective of their off spring and want to ensure that their kids receive the best of the best (of treatment) or at least, fairly treated. But then again, "fair" is very subjective and each parents may have their own interpretation of what fair is - "if my child don't get it, then it is not fair!"

The joke is that, if chess organizers, players or officials can't stand the sight of or dealing with a chess parent, just wait until the child finishes school and once that happen, the parents will simply vanishes into the sunset. It may take some time but eventually, they will go off and the chess officials will remain - and probably dealing with another similar parents and the cycle restarts.

Most parents are good people but the natural protection instinct that they have towards their child sometimes turned them into something that we find difficult to comprehend. Like the saying goes "No matter how beautiful someone's child is, none is more beautiful than my own." In my opinion, it is not wrong for parents to behave as such but parents need also to understand and realize that there are due processes to many things. There are also elements of the child such as friendship, aspiration, emotion and competitiveness that need to be understood. There are also other demanding parents that need the same attention to be given to their child and there are other talented children whose parents may not be as intense but nonetheless, the child is very talented. So, who will "fight" for these children when their parents may not have the same passion, or is reluctant to fight for them?

Some parents may say that their child is talented but does the child want to continue with chess as the direction for the future? Can a parent accept the fact when a trainer tells them in their faces that their child does not have the "umph" or the "interest" to further his/her passion in chess? Does the trainer themselves have the guts to tell that to a parent? If the child says "no, I do not want to play chess", would the parent comply? Perhaps the child is only interested to become a "normal" chess player rather than a "competitive" or "serious" chess player. And when the child has the opportunity to grow and play at the higher level, can a parent allow the child to travel alone with a coach to play in international events overseas? And when money becomes an issue, can a parent dig deep enough in their pocket to keep the child's dream (or is it the parent's dream) to become the best chess player in the country? Can the parent afford the coaching and training sessions, buying the books and software, going to events and tournaments, and doing the traveling? And if there are 10 children, which children will get a chance and which do not? Do the children draw lots?

With more and more parents becoming more well off, the desire to ensure that their child is "well equipped" for his/her life journey becomes a priority. Aside from chess, the kid will have to attend swimming classes, karate exams and piano grading sessions. And in some cases, language classes (like Mandarin or English) and religious classes also become additional requirements for the kids to acquire. This does not include the kids own desire to play internet online games, football, tennis or badminton. And somewhere between all these crazy schedules, the kids will need to attend tuition sessions to improve their math, science and geography. Whilst we may say "parents know best" but do the parents really know best?

And after all the arguments, the debates, the "accusations", miscommunications and intense competition not mentioning all the money, traveling, coaching, sleepless night endured by the parents from when the kid started picking up chess pieces until he/she reaches 17 or 18 years old, then suddenly..... off he/she goes into oblivion? And after all the schedule juggling, weaving across town to send the child to Yamaha piano class and rushing from office to the ABC Swimming Club for swimming lessons, and after all that, the kid just forgo chess? That does not seem to make sense, does it?

But don't get me wrong. Learning chess is not an issue but when all (or most of) the energy and resources are/were used to develop and promote a child to be a good/better player, why stop the effort midway? Why do some parents go through all the trouble only to "stop" a few years down the line?

It would be a waste of talent and whilst I agree that Chess - at its current situation (but there has been some improvement), may not be able to provide a good living for a player, who says that it won't in the future? Imagine if a child becomes the first Malaysian GM. Just because no one has been there before, that does not mean a player can't make a living out of chess. And event if you can't make it in Malaysia, who stops a Malaysian GM from making a living in Europe? or US? or Philippines?

So, how can we continue the chess population to make sure that good players do not "retire" and parents do not become overly "engrossed"? Do we instill a believe in our children that if you do not have a degree then your life is totally wasted? Does having a degree or going to college the only ultimatum? Why don't parents continue to show the same support and passion for their child chess growth as the child moves into college and working years and realize the dream that the parents themselves had coined to the child many years earlier during the child's development years - when the child first pick up the chess set. Otherwise, why invest and pour so much effort and time without gaining any return for the investments that have been put in?

Does this make sense?


  1. Chess provides an opportunity for both the player and the parent to grow. It is difficult for the parent to see their child lose. But that is a part of life and of growing up. It provides the parent an opportunity to help the player grow by improving and overcoming challenges if the parent can overcome their own feelings of protectiveness. Another level of growth occurs when the parent realises that the child can only grow in a strong environment and that helping their childs opponent to grow is also a way of helping their child grow ie Healthy competition.

  2. Najib,

    What you described is a more or less accurate picture of what is going on but I think you have missed out a crucial deterrent in the Malaysian chess scene. It is not because our young guns were coerced into other career paths by their parents, but it is the environment that turned them and their parents away from chess.

    I have personally witnessed the rise and disappearance of the many talents as you described above. It is true that these people go on to other fields and are successful at what they do as well. However, I think one of the reasons that you overlooked is the prolonged "resistance" by some of the powers that be that have hampered the growth of our juniors. Achievements not rewarded. Vested interests of some officials. All in all, a "corrupt" system well guarded by the "elite".

    Those who are on the good side of the system will be supported, while those who are not shall perish. Maybe this is an exaggeration of events that have happened over the last 20 years or so, but I am sure you understand what I mean. I have seen demoralized juniors and parents alike. People who invest a substantial portion of their savings on their children without much results not because the children were not talented or did not try hard.

    Chess does not have to be lucrative to support a GM. We can see GMs not only in rich countries, but also in poorer countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. We often complain that Singaporeans are rich, so they can afford coaching etc. But we have conveniently chosen to ignore the success stories from Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. What did they do right? Rather, what didn't they do wrong?

  3. Hi Chess Ninja

    Totally agree with your comments that one of the reasons parents/players moved away from chess is because of our "hostile" environment. Whilst you have cited chess officials as one, the general chess community also has to take the blame for "scaring" our talented players from continuing to play chess.

    I had one parents who visited DATCC chess blog and immediately after, SMS me on how shocked she was when reading the comments in the shout box. She continued mentioning that she never thought that the chess community is "so scary". And although she ended her SMS on a good note - that she would still support the development of her child in chess, I can't help but felt that her "expectation", "impression" and "perception" about chess has been tarnished.

    I can't agree more as most of our shout boxes today contained mostly destructive comments and blame games. There is always someone out there who wants to see another someone fail, blaming anyone for failure. To the Malaysian Chess Community, everything is wrong even when it is right.

    Although most of the "old guards" have slowly left the chess scene, the system is still "plagued" by their ways. But it takes time to heal and the chess community should accept the fact that some changes are happening, some things are improving but some are still the same. It takes time to put wrong to right.

    Open forums and discussion are some of the good ways to open channels and provide opportunities for improvement but then again, there are people who are so eager to make the changes that they are putting conditions for the changes - "its either my way or the highway".

    Let us start with what we can and let others do what they can but, spare the destruction.... its the construction (and development) that we need and whilst everyone should contribute, do not despair if someone else has better ideas