Check Mate

After my first thoughts on the Tiger Mom controversy, I haven’t had much to say. But today I chaperoned our chess club‘s first trip to a US Chess Federation tournament.  And all of my theoretical appreciation for any parenting style that puts pressure on kids to “win” went out the window.  In its place is a sense of superiority — which I know is wrong, but it may take a few days to get over it.

I drove up with Zach and Ezra, along with two other boys from the club and their families. While we waited for the tournament to begin, we talked about character, and hard work, and having fun, and showing people the love of Jesus regardless of how the games turned out.

Apparently, some of the other parents were not doing the same.

A member of our team sat down across from a boy who wouldn’t introduce himself. Instead, in a spirit of friendly competition no doubt, the boy said, “You’re going to lose. You have no skills.”

Before the first game began, the youth director had a long list of rules which I couldn’t believe were necessary for a group of parents. No talking of any kind.  No eye contact of any kind.  No hand signals of any kind.  No underwater secret decoder rings. Okay, he didn’t say that but he might as well have.

Unfortunately, the rules fell on deaf ears.  There were stressed out parents and stressed out kids.  There were hushed, tense conversations between games when the child won, and less hushed conversations when the child lost. And as best I could tell, there were lots of questionable body twitches.

After three rounds were completed, I went up to see who our kids were going to play for the final round.  Another mother, who I’ll call Tiger A, pointed to the top two positions and said, “Oh that’s interesting.  Those are my sons.”  And in case I didn’t get it, she pointed to their positions again.

Not to be outdone, I pointed to the bottom of the list.”Oh, this is interesting too. MY kids.”

And I was actually proud.  Not that we were losing so badly, but that we were losing so well.  No tears, or name calling, or blaming.  They shook hands with their opponents and told each other, “We’re gonna practice, and we’ll whoop them next year.”

The day ended in a cat fight.  Not between me and Tiger A. Instead, Tiger B accused Tiger A of helping her son, Cub A.  The problem was that Tiger B stepped out of the room for a minute.  After the game, Cub B told his mom that Tiger A had helped Cub A.  Tiger B dragged Cub B by the neck to scream at the director.  When the director said there was nothing he could do – USCF rules dictate that all protests be made before the game is concluded – Tiger B started yelling at Cub B.  “I thought you knew better than this.  How many times have I told you about saying something BEFORE the game is over?  And if you had been better prepared…”

As we were leaving, I heard Tiger A yelling at the director, calling Cub B names that were topped only by the names she called his mother.

Clearly our cubs, who took up three of the four bottom spots on the final roster, have some work to do.  Gratefully, it’s primarily got to do with chess.

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  • Quentin

    Interesting. I certainly believe in trying your hardest, doing your best (really deep down knowing you're giving it all you've got) — but not that "winning is everything" and that yelling is an appropriate way to interact with other humans.

  • Steve Song

    I wish I could be there and help my boys with their chess skillzzz! I am glad that Zach and Ezra picked up chess and that they are playing with much sportsmanship. I am sure their grandpa could also help out here.