Wednesday, November 23, 2011

grade nationals

 Brian, Jack, Marcus, Kevin, Tristan

 Dennys with Mr. Galvin and Maya

 Kenneth, Chris, Jack


Kenneth and Jack enjoy a post-tournament lesson from Matan      

        We came 1st in 8th grade, 2nd in 7th grade, and 5th in 6th grade. I was overall very disappointed in the quality of the kids' play, but it showed me that I need to spend much more time teaching middlegame planning. There were some fine exceptions, like Isaac who scored 5/7 and placed 8th, and some games of the 6th graders, who had moments of hard work and thoughtfulness.
       I talked to my classes today about Quinton Smith, the 11th grader who fell/jumped to his death at the tournament. He had been an honors student, interested in law, theater, tennis, and was in the choir. He was one of 2 kids representing his school, and he went 0-4 and jumped off the roof. I assume his tournament performance had something to do with his death: that he was used to being smart and successful and just couldn't take the frustration and pain of so much losing.
       We (my classes and I) had talked a few weeks ago about decision making, and specifically about what a mistake it is to make decisons when you're upset. The conversation started when we were looking at Tristan's game from this blog post, where he blundered, horribly and uncharacteristically, in the end because he'd been upset at his earlier mistakes.  We talked then about how frustration can lead you to make decisions quickly and can blind you, and that it's important to try to recognize when that's happening.
      I told the kids I wanted to revisit this idea today, in light of this tragedy. We talked about how when you feel emotion very strongly, whether that emotion is self-hatred, or anger, or frustration, that you can feel it so intensely that you want to act on it, you want to do something.
       But that one of the big lessons of chess is that being emotional makes your decision-making worse. That chess is like a training ground for making decisions in life, and for looking at how you make decisions and when you make mistakes and what causes them. And that they have to try to apply what they learn from chess to bigger choices: that when you feel angry and you want to curse someone out, or break up with someone, or quit the baseball team, or hit someone, smash something, kill yourself, that you have to at least give yourself time to calm down.


Anonymous said...

The young man's name was Quinton Smith.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

thanks. corrected.

Tony Cortizas, Jr. said...

What a terrible, shocking story.

One thing anyone who is involved in very competitive activities must learn is how to deal with loss, real shaking-your-head-I-cant-believe-I-did-that blunders, disasters.

Kids have to learn that it happens to every competitor including world champions and you have got to shake it off and move on: you blunder a piece, a minute later it's your move again; blow a simple golf shot, another one coming up. It's about being resilient. Champions are especially great rebounders. If you only play for the winning, because you must win, you are not going to last long - the inevitable losses will destroy you. Ultimately you have to compete because you love to play, to compete.

Teaching the importance of endurance and perseverance is certainly once of most valuable lessons for kids involved in competitive activities.

Keep up the great work, Liz.

Anonymous said...

Does it bother you more to lose to Hunter in the 7th grade section?

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Look, I don't like Sunil and his behavior, or at least his behavior to me in the last few years-- I used to be friendly with him until he came up to me drunk at grade nationals 2 years ago and started attacking me (
-- but I have no problem with Hunter kids or their parents. I'm friendly with a couple parents, and I'm sure the kids are nice, and even if they aren't, they're kids.

No, I was upset at the way my 7th graders played: hanging pieces, making up openings, not notating their games, walking around, being done in 30 minutes. I have enough to be upset about; I don't worry about/demonize children I don't know.

Anonymous said...

1. Great post - when something goes wrong at work and life, often the very first thing to do is to do nothing right away but get your own emotions under control. Use your mind and not let the adrenaline or fear push you into something rash.
2. Suicides usually don't just happen. The bad 0-4 run probably didn't help but often there were other things in the background.
3. The frustrations you noted with the kids playing habits (especially playing too fast) isn't I suspect related to the score - but as you note how they played - they didn't take it seriously. They played as if it were a skittles game, didn't use their time, didn't keep score, didn't even do the elementary check to be sure that the candidate move didn't hang a piece. All of that is true, but there might be a silver lining. Chess may be popular enough at your school that a lot of kids might want to be part of it but for the social part and not because they really love or are even interested in the game. Don't be too dismissive of this notion. It is actually a good thing. It elevates Chess up to the level of many other school clubs and activities and not just a quirky nerdy thing. A lot of kids play sports, join the band or are part of the school paper for the same reason.

gurdonark said...

I feel badly for that young man,and his family, whatever the reasons or lack of reasons for his untimely death.

I agree with you that one of the "patience virtues" that chess teaches is to re-assess the position, without emotion, and to hunt the best move.

Leon Akpalu said...

Josh Waitzkin has a dramatic story in his book on how to train that emphasizes the reflexive nature of some of these poor reactions to a bad situation -- he was on his way to coach and a woman stepped off the curb at a dangerous intersection and was almost hit by a car coming around a blind curve. Instead of jumping back onto the curb where it was safe, she stood in the street yelling after the car and got creamed by another car coming around the same corner.

Luckily, most of us won't be in situations where we won't have to get a grip on ourselves quite so quickly or face quite as dire consequences.

Anonymous said...

lvQuenton Smith's death is such a tragedy. My heart goes out to his dear mother and family.
-It is very disturbing-
How did he get to the roof?
Most roofs in schools have lock on them even in apartment buildings especially where teen may play around.
Was the roof door locked? and if not why wasn't it?
-Also checking the fingerprints on the roof door may shed some light on this tragedy. All these things a concerned parent wonders..
How did he fall, did he fall or maybe a worse and more sinister scenario - I know you would not have the answers to these questions you arenot a forensic expert or a law police investigator.. but a concerned adult is scary and disturbing.

Brian Lafferty said...

Roofs these days at hotels are normally not locked, but they are alarmed. There is also usually video surveillance on roof areas since 9/11. IMO, given the delay in stating the cause, it appears more and more that this was a suicide. I doubt losing 4 games is the sole cause, but it could be the trigger. The medical examiner has to rule on cause of death at some point. That ruling is a matter of public record.