Chess in schools?

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

SPORT CAN gen­uinely help to de­velop a rounded per­son­al­ity. Prop­erly man­aged, it can en­cour­age creativ­ity and em­bel­lish team spirit while strength­en­ing the links be­tween ac­tions and con­se­quences and be­tween goals and re­wards. It’s no won­der that sport­ing ac­tiv­ity is em­bed­ded in our school sys­tem.

Think about it. The de­fender is head­ing to­wards his own goal with two op­po­nents on his heels. Should he daz­zle them with a spec­tac­u­lar piece of skill, or should he just shep­herd the ball out? The ta­ble ten­nis player con­tem­plates, in a split sec­ond whether to push short to the fore­head or to flip long to the op­po­site side. At the end of the over, the bats­man pon­ders the quick sin­gle to keep the strike or a bash for six runs. The bowler at the death thinks yorker or bouncer. The net­baller must choose be­tween a lob or a bounce pass.

In ev­ery case, crit­i­cal thought is re­quired to eval­u­ate each op­tion and to select the right re­sponse. Chess is a fine way to groove this abil­ity. In an era where tech­nol­ogy of­ten pro­vides in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, games like chess could force us to fo­cus on a longer view in sport and in the so­ci­ety as a whole.

Time after time, this abil­ity is the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning and los­ing at the pin­na­cle of sport and in busi­ness. Those who can weigh the rel­a­tive

con­se­quence of one ac­tion make bet­ter choices.

Equally, those who for­mu­late un­usual tac­tics can catch op­po­nents nap­ping.

This game prob­a­bly isn’t a sport as most view the def­i­ni­tion, but it doesn’t mat­ter. Learn­ing chess could be a real as­set to all those who plan to sur­vive in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment. The more you dwell on it, the more it be­comes clear that chess should be taught to all sports­men and women. In line with this inkling, the Kingston Col­lege Manning Cup team has in­cluded chess in its prepa­ra­tions. It could just be that KC is on to some­thing.

No­tably, ten­nis leg­end Boris Becker and re­tired Dutch mid­field star Edgar Davids played chess.

Some com­peti­tors have an in­stinc­tive un­der­stand­ing of strat­egy and tac­tics. These mas­ter­minds are like coaches on the field of play. Great teams of­ten have sev­eral ad­vanced thinkers on the field to­gether and those teams tend to stay a step or two ahead of their op­po­nents.

With only six mil­lion Ja­maicans world­wide, we have to max­imise our re­sources in ev­ery­thing we do. With the first Ja­maica In­ter­na­tional Chess Fes­ti­val start­ing to­mor­row in Kingston, the time might just be right to en­cour­age crit­i­cal think­ing in schools. It might just be time to teach chess to all first for­m­ers.

At present, high-school chess clubs teach the sport as an op­tional ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar

ac­tiv­ity. A step for­ward is re­quired if this sport is to pro­mote crit­i­cal think­ing. De­lay is doom.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures gra­ciously sup­plied by the Ja­maica Chess Fed­er­a­tion, 40 teams en­tered the most re­cent high school chess cham­pi­onships with some of the 26 schools in­volved hav­ing two or three teams. By com­par­i­son, the cur­rent school­boy foot­ball sea­son has 129 teams. That’s the gap to be bridged.

Even if our stu­dent chess play­ers never reach the heights of le­gends Bobby Fisher and Garry Kas­parov, an im­proved abil­ity to think crit­i­cally will help Ja­maica, on the field of play and off it. Hu­bert Lawrence has made notes at track­side since 1980..


Play­ing chess on Boys’ Day at the Sts Peter and Paul Prepara­tory School.

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