How's your mental game of chess? I have had the
pleasure of being the mental game coach to a number of young competitors
in chess. These young people compete at the local, state, regional,
national and international level. I've coached kids who have been
ranked as high as top ten in the United States. They all have one
thing in common. They want to succeed. They also are very bright.
But sometimes all that brain power either gets in the way of performing,
or is not sufficient to help them know what to do in competition.
This is why the mental game of chess is so important.
The depth and length of concentration demands in chess is monumental.
Add in the long tournament days, the pressure from parents and coaches,
and you have a highly demanding game from a mental perspective.
One major problem I have seen in chess competitors is that they
allow the stress of an event to build up. They don't know how to
break up their high-strung intensity during a long day of chess.
They stay on edge and highly intense, and ultimately all that pent
up energy starts to break down their ability to analyze and focus
to make the correct moves. This sustained intensity causes lapses
of concentration, muscle tension and irritability.
Here are some ways to improve your mental game of chess so you can
better manage the pressure of a competitive chess event.
- Play At Your Normal Effort Levels To Last Longer And To
Be Sharper Mentally: A chess player who puts forth good effort
in training and practice may believe, erroneously, that this daily,
normal level of effort will be insufficient for an actual competition,
so they get to the competition and attempt to "increase their
effort level" 10-50% higher. They don't know that this extra effort
also results in tight muscles, and a tight muscle means they also
will have a tight mind. This muscle tension makes it harder to
maintain "relaxed concentration" during a chess match, and also
between matches. Our mind can remain on an intense "alert level"
for so long. After that, fatigue sets in and performance begins
to dive. The solution is to relax and compete at your normal effort
levels. It's what you know and what you can handle. This is called
"playing within yourself". It's trusting that your usual level
of effort and focus will work. It's about trusting your training.
- Manage Your Parents: On competition day, your parents
will probably try to tell you all sorts of things. Some things
they say will be helpful, and some things will not be very helpful.
They may tell you how to "get up for the day", or how to "get
your game face on". They may tell you to be more serious if they
see you talking to your friends. They may tell you how to prepare
for each game. They may be nervous about the event, and transfer
their anxiety to you. This last one can be a problem. They may
ask you if you are nervous or worried. They may tell you the opponent
you will play is a tough one, and that they think you may lose.
Do your best to not allow your parent's anxiety to transfer to
you. Otherwise, you'll become nervous and play poorly. You can
tell your parents, "Mom, Dad, I need to focus on what I want to
do, not on what I want to avoid. I can't control whom I'm playing,
or how good they are. All I can do is control myself, and what
I can do. I can't even guarantee winning, because I have an opponent
who has the same goal. All I can do is try my hardest to do well,
be a good sport, and then, no matter what happens, I can hold
my head high and look at myself in the mirror, because I will
have known that I did everything I could to do well."
- Stay Out Of The Past Or Future After You Make An Error:
My offices are located in the heart of Silicon Valley, California,
just south of San Francisco, and anyone living here who works
in high tech has very smart kids, and many of these kids play
chess. So I coach many highly intelligent chess competitors, and
one of the biggest problems they have with their mind is they
attempt to figure out the reasons for their mistakes in the actual
chess match. This ruins their focus and causes stress. If you
beat yourself up mentally over making a mistake, this keeps your
mind stuck in the past. You then worry about making the same mistake,
or others, and this makes your mind zoom into the future. Chess
is played in the present, with forays into future calculations
for smart moves. Good chess players stay out of the past. The
past is only valuable once the game is over. Then you can review
what you did, for good and bad, with your coach, friend or parent.
If you do this when the chess game is in progress, your mind is
wandering, and you'll lose focus. When you do this, you are busy
thinking and you'll miss the next play, and the next. My advice
is to stop thinking about your mistakes. Stop analyzing what went
wrong and just keep playing. Don't be a scientist and mentally
pause to look at the reasons for your poor play. Just dig in,
compete strongly and shrug off any errors as being a normal part
of the game. Making a big deal of mistakes is a sure-fire performance
Now you have some new mental insights into the
mental game of chess. And now you know more about how to handle
your mind, and how to manage your stress and energy and focus. Take
these out to your next tournament and put them to good use. Good
For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an
assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths
and weaknesses. Here is a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport
psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot.
This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and
weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating
your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program
you undertake with mental coach
Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment
would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture
about your mental game.
Copyright © 2014 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance,
mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William
B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals
achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing
the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching
worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles,
and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time
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