It's been over a decade since I've been teaching chess to children....I cannot believe it! Over the years I have had the ability to interact with students of all ages and backgrounds. One common concern that often arises from both parents and students is related to development/growth.
Development from the parent's perspective
Parents invest a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice into the activities that their children do. Naturally, they want to see growth. When parents do not see improvement, they have questions.
Development from the student's perspective
Students are competitive in almost every area of their lives, whether it's test scores, sports, or chess. Students often feel immense pressure to perform well, since that is the standard most parents have for them. Because students are highly competitive, and oftentimes feel pressure to do well, they also tend to be concerned with growth.
Development from the coaches perspective
For coaches, student growth is of high priority. No coach wants to see their students stagnate. To coaches, student growth is also very important as it is in many ways a reflection of their ability to connect with students.
OK, so everyone is concerned with growth, what now?
Managing expectations is important in any pursuit. I hope that the information I provide below, both statistical analysis and hypotheses developed through years of coaching, provide some relief to concerns and questions related to student development.
Statistics Related to Rating Gains
While I am not a huge fan of using rating as a sole determinant of skill, parents and students oftentimes do not have anything else to go by! While rating is not everything, it does tend to be a good measure of average student performance, especially if they are actively playing rated games.
On Wednesdays we conduct the Elite Chess Team, which invites players who have been rated 1600+ for free group instruction. Upon deciding to write this blog entry, I thought of conducting a statistical analysis from a sample of 10 students from the Elite Team. While a sample of 10 is not overwhelmingly large, all of these students had the following things in common:
Started rated chess in elementary school
All reached 1600+ US Chess (regular rating)
I compiled data which features:
Student grade at the time of their first rated event
Initial US Chess "regular" rating
Number of classical rated games played to reach certain classic rating thresholds
Number of months to reach certain classical rating thresholds
Unfortunately, US Chess does not break down this information so it all had to be done manually. In the future, we may continue to increase the sample of the data, though I think the findings are consistent.
Note: if someone has time and would like to help me increase the sample by assisting with the manual work, please contact me!
Number of Months to Reach Certain Rating Levels
Number of Rated Classical Cames to Reach Certain Rating Levels
Only US Chess "Regular" Rated Games Used
Analysis of Data:
The average child in the sample got to the rating level of 1000 in 20 months, 1300 in 27 months, and 1600 in 44 months.
The average child in the sample got to the rating level of 1000 after playing 110 rated games, rating of 1300 after 180 rated games, and rating of 1600 after 328 rated games.
PJ Liotino was an outlier as he started late in late elementary school. We can also see that his growth in terms of number of games was much faster than the other students, but not necessarily faster in time.
The fastest any of the children got to 1600 was 3 years.
This data does not measure other factors such as:
Whether a student received regular coaching
How much a student studies/practices at home
While this very basic analysis does not necessarily provide all the ingredients to their growth, it does give us some perspective on how long development may take. I hope that parents and students use this information to assist with the development of their expectations. Chess is hard, it takes time. In fact, as the students get stronger it becomes increasingly harder to improve.
For perspective, here is the rating curve for regular US Chess ratings:
Players who are rated 1000 lie in the 35th percentile of all US Chess rated players.
Players who are rated 1300 lie in the 24th percentile of all US Chess rated players.
Players who are rated 1600 lie in the 15th percentile of all US Chess rated players.
Advice to Parents
Chess is difficult. Students need time to learn and absorb the information. As you can see from the stats above, it may take students more or less time to achieve their rating goals, but in the end they will get there. Allow the children to enjoy the game and improve at the pace they are able to. Enjoyment first, then growth will come.
Advice to Students
Practice makes perfect, play as many rated games as you can. Aside from lessons with a coach, solve puzzles, play practice games online, and watch instructive videos. Losses in chess are inevitable, just don't forget why you lost. Analyze every rated game (win, loss, or draw) with a coach, and accept the critique they provide of what you could have done better.
Advice to All
Rating based goals can only cause unnecessary pain and agony when they aren't fulfilled in the time span you believed they would be. Good coaches, and responsible parents, know that goals should be process oriented, not outcome based. For example:
The more a parent or student puts an emphasis on rating, the worse off the psychological state. Just like anything else in life, put in the work and the results will follow. Chess is hard enough, students do not need to endure additional stress from parents or coaches to perform in a certain amount of time. Development varies from student to student.
I hope to expand upon the analysis included here in the future!
Until next time,
FIDE Master (FM)
International Arbiter (IA)