Study and practice are both important, but…
One side of the equation will likely have a bigger impact on your overall chess progress.
Many people are experiential. They learn best “by doing.” Such chess players are able to learn from their mistakes, and don’t repeat their errors so much. When coaching, I can recognize such players very quickly.
Other players, like me, are more thick-headed. We can make the same types of mistakes — maybe the same exact mistakes — more than once. Perhaps several times … before hopefully learning from them.
“Ok, everyone learns at a different pace, understood. But they do learn! So the improver should simply play a lot, then?”
Not so fast, parents and coaches…
Some players love competing, others only like winning … and plenty more are borderline nauseated by the whole tournament experience!
We need to be honest about this. It’s common to say “wins and losses don’t matter,” or similar things about “the process” of improving.
But results do matter. Not in the sense of “Ha ha, I beat you!,” but rather in dealing with losses.
Losing is much tougher on some players than others. I’m definitely part of this crowd.
Not everyone has the same competitive psychology. I advise you to not force your child or student to have the same psychology you have, or that you think they should have.
Some players are quiet, timid, or lack confidence. They can achieve success in chess, but not if you try to “toughen them up” from the get-go. That’s how you get a kid to quit.
As a parent or coach, your first responsibility is the well-being of the child. And please: don’t judge a player for “being too sensitive.” Kids can feel annoyance and condescension. Support them, genuinely care about them, and build them up gradually.
So how do you “build them up?”
A “Four-Letter Word” in Chess: PREPARATION!
Many players and fans groan when discussing chess study or home preparation. They almost seem to view it as some kind of low-key cheating.
“Just wing it and see what happens!”
“Let the best player win!”
Fans often accuse top players of “hiding behind their prep.”
I believe this is jealousy: lots of people want to increase their rating fast, but don’t want to put in the hard work for it. They would rather bash the player who gives all to “get good.”
The best way to build confidence in a player who lacks it? Great coaching and prep work!
If a nervous player knows they have been putting in a lot of work on openings and endgames, working properly on tactics, improving their grasp of strategy…they will feel a lot more optimistic about their chances in tournaments.
This work will lead to more victories, bigger trophies, a higher rating…
And then they’re on their way!
One last thing: over-preparing is not an issue in chess. Don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy. Just don’t leave your prep to the night before an event, to the point where it stops you from getting proper rest.