Coach Jay Stallings is a familiar name to many in the chess World, both for his upbeat social media presence, coaching success, and recent Kickstarter initiative. We asked for some insight into Jay’s teaching methods as school programs kick into high gear.
US Chess: With the school year back in swing and chess programs starting up again, what do you think are some of the most under-rated coaching and learning tools?
Coach Jay: At the schools where I teach, we use EVERY tool we can! We use the tried and true method of “stations” where the children go from Instruction with a coach, to working on their Puzzle/Lesson Books (try not to call them WORK books when talking to the students!), to Free Play, and even to iPads and Android tablets loaded with chess games and apps. As far as technology tools, the app Play Magnus is a fun way to track progress. After the student beats Magnus Age 5, then she can challenge herself with Magnus Age 5½.
As a coach, I find that the kids love fresh news about the ancient game, so I follow games on Chess24, watch commentary on Chess.com and, when on the air, the team at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. I try to check out the game of the day at ChessGames.com. I haven’t used LiChess enough yet, but everything I’ve seen about it makes me want to explore it more…
US Chess: From your work on building your chess academy, what tips do you have for parents or young people looking to introduce chess to a kid who just hasn’t yet taken to it?
Coach Jay: Your passion for the game has to be seen by the kids around you! Many children are introduced to the game because one of their parents plays online and the child is curious and wants to be like Mom or Dad. Sometimes kids see chess as a “game for grownups” and what kid doesn’t want to do “adult” things?
Those first few exposures to chess will often shape the child’s perception of chess – Is it fun? Challenging? Too much work? I find that presenting chess as a fun challenge with a lot of “wow moments” is an effective approach.
Once in our official club, we track their progress in their lesson books and find the time to help those who are struggling. This not only helps the kids gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities, but also keeps the club stronger by maintaining high retention rates and a positive vibe.
US Chess: You wrote an excellent piece for US Chess about Timur Gareyev’s record breaking blindfold simul. Do you use blindfold chess at all with your students? If so, at what level do you incorporate it?
Coach Jay: Yes, I use blindfold chess from time to time. I think it’s important to mix up your classroom activities, and blindfold is an excellent way to do that. I’ll allow my students to have a chess board (no pieces) in front of them and record their moves (for later review). If any student wants to really challenge him or herself, I will play a double-blindfold game with them.
US Chess: I know you use social media a lot, including Facebook, to build your brand and express your opinions. What tips do you have on communicating effectively via social media?
Coach Jay: Stay active and participate online. If you have chess friends, connect with them on social media. Like every legitimate chess-themed Facebook page that invites you, in order to help you connect and support others in our community. Like the posts about positive chess events to help encourage those who put those on. Coach Jay’s Chess Academy has experimented with Facebook Ads and, as a result, we are seeing some old friends coming back to chess, and welcoming some new ones as well.
US Chess: Greg Shahade wrote a controversial post on why coaches shouldn’t take too much credit for their students’ successes. Where do you fall on that conversation!?
Coach Jay: All coaches realize that without a hard-working and dedicated student, the best coaching in the world would be ineffective, so in the end, it’s the student who deserves the lion’s share of the credit, BUT, most often, the student would not have accomplished too much without solid/great coaching.
I had a K-6 team tie for 2nd at a Nationals once. Afterwards, I remember talking to a local newspaper about all the hours we worked to prepare, and only later remembered that one of the players had help from a private coach in a previous year. I guess I should have mentioned him, but my main focus was on the kids’ efforts anyway, so I think it was okay.
I do have a lot of students who have gone on to be very successful. Do I think that I deserve credit for a student starting a great company, starring in a hit TV show, pitching in the World Series or working to send rovers to Mars? No—but I love to tell people that the game of chess probably contributed in some small way to their success! I don’t care who gets credit; I just want as many parents as possible realize how chess can benefit their kids no matter what direction their lives go.
US Chess: What are your plans for the upcoming K-12 Nationals? What is special about them?
Coach Jay: I really enjoy the K-12 Nationals (aka “The Grades”). Because there are no rating divisions, no one with an outdated rating will “unjustly” win a section. This keeps the focus on the 64 squares, which is where it should be.
One of my favorite aspects of the event is the chance to interact with so many other coaches and players in one location. I always look forward to events that bring us all together.
In four days my Kickstarter campaign for Coach Jay’s Chess Academy will have concluded, which means I’ll be hand delivering copies to a number of coaches! So many coaches have encouraged me to take my curriculum and create something that they can use in their classrooms or parents can use at home, so being able to give them something that makes their jobs easier is especially fulfilling for me. Of course, I have a couple of exciting projects that I hope I can announce in December as well. I get excited just talking about it, so The Grades can’t come soon enough for me!
Find out more about Jay on his twitter, a recent Perpetual Chess Podcast interview (Episode 39) and check out his kickstarter campaign here.