Caveman Chess


Selecting a Chess Coach

How should you select a chess coach for your child, or for your school group?  There are a number of considerations, but let's start by considering a chess coach you might want to avoid:


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Permission Requested from Saturday Night Live, Season 10, Episode 5, Originally aired: November 10, 1984 - skit "Profiles In Sports"

Types of Chess Coaches

Before selecting a chess coach, it is important to understand what a chess coach is, and what you are looking for in your selection of a coach.

Chess coaches can be many things. They can be somone ...

...who is... ...or who is....
  • ... good at running a scholastic chess club
  • ....not a strong club organizer
  • ... focused on your child enjoying scholastic events
  • ... primarily focused on results
  • ... an excellent teacher of strong players
  • excellent teacher of novices
  • ... focused on scholastic chess
  • ... focused on adult chess
  • ... demanding of results
  • .... focused only on fun
  • ....demonstrative
  • ... patient or reserved
  • ... very formal
  • ... very casual
  • ....professional
  • ....amateurish

When searching for a chess coach, you will see that players of all strengths are able to hang out a chess coach "shingle".  There are coaches who have no title, rating, or any other meaningful credential.  There are coaches who have a title but have no demonstrable teaching ability.  And there are coaches who have some combination of credentials to show that they both have knowledge and teaching ability.

How do you sort through these things to select a chess coach?

The Good Chess Coach

A good chess coach is someone who will assist you in diagnosing areas of your chess play and provide you tools to improve in those areas.

Beyond that, they should also teach you how to develop your own diagnostic abilities and to gather together your own resources.

They should also be someone who can help you face some of your own "psychological challenges" at the chessboard.

A good chess coach will have standards and will focus on making you accountable for your chess commitments.  But HOW they do that will vary from coach to coach.

Generally, a good chess coach will have both good teaching credentials and credentials to show that they are a knowledgeable instructor.

Good Fit - the Key to Selecting a Chess Coach

Not all coaches are good fits for all students.  Demeanor and temperment are factors to consider.  Some coaches are flexible in their demeanor - and even have different kinds of lessons for different kinds of students.

A good plan is to narrow the selection to a few coaches, and then to try a lesson with each.  Many coaches have an initial evaluation lesson to ensure a good fit, so there might not even be a cost for trying this.

This initial lesson gives you a chance to test the fit on a personal level.  If you are looking for a coach for your child, attend the lesson, but in the background, off to the side.  Make sure that your child is interacting directly with the instructor, not through you to the instructor.  A good trick is to tell your child that you have something you have to do or read and then go off to the side, and act focused on that.


A good coach is always open to providing references that you can check, and is primarily interested in your improvement, so that if you feel you need to try another coach, they aren't going to be overly hurt or insulted.  Don't be afraid to have open and direct discussions about what you think you need, and what the coach thinks you need.  Find someone that will hold you accountable for your work so that your time and effort spent is more likely to lead to actual realized improvement.  Remember, FIT with the coach - finding the right combination of demeanor, knowledge, and teaching ability, is more important than price or pure instructor stength.


























Tips for Selecting a Coach

To find a good chess coach there are several things to keep in mind.  This list may help you in determining if a coach is the right fit for you.

  • Determine your goal - This will impact your need.

For example, if your goal is to get from 800 to 1200 and that's all, then don't overpay for a Titled coach.  Find a solid A player who can tell you how to work on your tactics, basic openings and endings and that's all you need!  But if you want to lay a better foundation for even more improvement, then you need someone with a deeper understanding of the game.  An example is that many players below master don't adequately understand the importance of the center.

  • Need Help With a Goal? - Talk to a highly experienced, strong instructor. 

A good instructor doesn't want ALL POSSIBLE business.  They will typically be willing to volunteer a half hour to help you determine your goal.

  • What age student are you? - Look for an instructor with experience in your age group.
  • How experienced are you? - Often, experienced players have more to UNLEARN.  Find an instructor experienced with this.
  • Are you fine with individual lessons or do you prefer a group? - Be honest with yourself.  Group lessons can be much less expensive, but you get what you pay for! 

Especially to start individual lessons may be the way to go.  Be honest with the instructor if cost is a factor - they'll tell you when to switch to group lessons.  Don't just expect to double/triple/etc. up and be as effective.

  • Are you looking for a robust foundation, or to address very specific issues? - Some coaches excel at developing a player's foundation.  Others can teach you the latest opening variation.  Check what your coach does.
  • Ask your potential coach what students he/she prefers.  Did they describe your student?
  • Ask the coach what goals they generally have for their students. - One of a coach's goals should be to move the student along!

Eventually the student should either be out on their own, with another instructor for additional perspectives, or with an  instructor who targets higher level players.  You shouldn't anticipate having one "coach for life".

  • Don't underestimate the need for a stronger coach. - Just because the student is low rated doesn't mean that the coach can be less strong.

Lower rated students may feel they can  settle for a coach who is less strong and perhaps less experienced.  The problem with this is that the coach may not fully understand key fundamental concepts and so may underemphasize, or perhaps even mis-teach, key ideas.   Always check a teacher's credentials and work with prior students to ensure the quality of work.

  • Ask for references from prior students. - It's always good to get references from other students. 

We hope these tips help you find a coach that is a good fit for you!