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An Encouraging Purr The mother of the 2011 National High School champion discusses raising a champion. By Andrea Rosen

where she describes what she proudly calls her “extreme parenting” style: obses- sive, hypercritical, and intolerant of anything less than perfection. Her under- lying belief is that “children on their own never want to work,” and that only shame and unrelenting criticism will eventually produce kids who excel. Like many other parents, I disagreed


with her, but I also found myself harbor- ing doubts. Have I been too indulgent? Did I give my children too much leeway in deciding where to devote their own time? Will failing to insist that they achieve perfection at everything they do lead them to fail to persevere at crucial moments and give up when the going gets tough? I think my son Eric’s clear first-place

win at this year’s National High School Championship, held April 29-May 1, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee, offers some vin- dication to me and all other parents who believe that children, when encouraged to connect with passions of their own choos- ing, are inclined to work hard and can achieve success at the highest levels through their own intrinsic motivation. As an added bonus, whether or not they win a national championship, chances are their therapy bills as adults will be less. Eric fell in love with chess at the age of

seven, and as a family we’ve devoted more time and money to allow him to pursue it than many would view as sane. Still, my husband Brad and I never remind him of

arlier this year, I read Amy Chua’s controversial book on parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,

that or insist it translate into some tan- gible result. While we encouraged both our children to work hard at school and get good grades, straight A’s were never a goal—a passion for learning was. As for chess, there were times Eric’s teach- ers felt that he wasn’t achieving his potential and that he should be studying longer and harder. But growing up he was first an avid soccer player, and later an avid tennis player. It was clear he needed that balance in his life, and more importantly, that in the end, winning was not all that mattered. To me, competing in anything is less about the results and more about what you learn on route. Nine years after he began to play, he’s learned plenty, and how to end a game with checkmate might be the least of it. He’s empathetic, he learns from his mis- takes, he helps others learn from theirs, he loses with grace, and he handles him- self like a pro in high-pressure, high- stakes situations. His win at nationals didn’t completely

surprise me—I knew he had the potential. But he entered the tournament as seventh seed, and many thought that as a kid from the Midwest, he didn’t have a chance over the more experienced and higher- rated East coast players. In the CLO article immediately following the tourna- ment, the authors said, “Running the NYC gauntlet on the final day en route to a perfect score has to rank as one of the outstanding individual achievements in this tournament’s history.” In a conversation with him after the tournament, he shared his thoughts about

what it takes to get in that winning zone. First, he says, it’s easier to play well if

you don’t think you’re going to win. “I’ve developed a small superstition that’s proven to be true,” he said. “Before a tournament, if I feel like I’m going to do well, I always do badly. But whenever I’m pessimistic and think I’m going to do badly, then I do well. This also holds true during the game. If I’m too confident in my position, I’m more likely to make mis- takes. When I remind myself that it’s possible that I can lose, it’s easier to just think about playing good chess.” He came into this year’s national cham-

pionship with the strong memory of a devastatingly poor tournament in the same event the previous year, losing or struggling to get draws against lower- rated players and finishing with just four points out of seven. This year, he says, he had especially low expectations. “I just wanted to enjoy myself, play well, and improve over last year’s score. I think having that mindset actually gave me better results.” Second, he says, study the games of

great players. While he knew who his main competition in Nashville would be, he did- n’t spend time before the tournament looking at their games or preparing against specific opponents. Instead, he focused on the U.S. Championship that was tak- ing place during the 10 days prior to the high school championship in Nashville. “Every day I looked online at those games, and that really helped. I could see how good players played, and get inspiration. I also went over my own openings, because really

Chess Life — August 2011 49


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