Fri | Dec 15, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Chess in schools?

Published:Thursday | October 12, 2017 | 12:12 AM
Playing chess on boys' day at Sts Peter and Paul Preparatory School.

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..