ECF Academy – Study Weekend April 2018

David Howell teaching at the Academy
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Chess Academy Weekends

The Chess Academy’s second training weekend of 2018 took place in Nottingham on 14/15 April. Children attended as part of their first and second Academy years as well as those in their final third year.

The weekend was packed with activity and there was a large turnout, including the highest ever attendance of girls (20%). There was also a good number of new children enjoying a ‘taster’ weekend. The popular Blitz Tournament on Saturday evening saw over 70 children and parents playing together, as well as social meetings for the teenage 14+ club and the Under 13 girls club.

For the first time, the Academy coaches were joined by GM David Howell, who has held the British Chess Champion title and was also at 16 the youngest ever UK Grand Master. The weekend’s study topics followed the Academy’s FIDE syllabus and included — opening into the endgame, assessing a position, opposite coloured bishops and (very popular) the best games of Anatoly Karpov. The ECF Chess Academy’s prospectus gives details of the FIDE syllabus.

Parents of children attending the Academy for the first time were interviewed about the weekend and their responses were highly positive. They appreciated the defined training structure and said their children very much liked training alongside others of similar ability. Chatting and socialising in the breaks between sessions was also enjoyed, and a number of those on a ‘taster’ said they wanted to return and enrol formally in the Academy.

As for parents whose children were already in the Academy, they said they saw clear evidence of steady chess progress between the weekend sessions. Many children moved up to higher ability groups and there was a noted improvement in their confidence to speak up. They found this to be reaffirming and parents also reported that their children liked working together in small groups and how the training provided a solid foundation of chess skills, enabling them to concentrate on specific topics each study weekend.

One parent said the Academy gave their child a unique opportunity because there was no professional chess training available where they lived. Others praised how children were learning to prepare for big tournaments and compete with the best juniors. This boosted their confidence. One of the best things about the Academy weekends was how children could make friends and chat with like-minded players whom they often saw at large tournaments but did not have the opportunity to socialise with there. Parents thought that the weekends helped their children build relationships and kept them motivated to continue playing chess. This is especially true for girls, fewer of whom typically play at national level. One parent said they thought the Academy contributed to strengthening national chess training for children and provided a greater number of those eligible to play internationally.

Parents also observed how the weekend was a fun time for their children, swimming in the hotel pool and socialising with their new friends at the Blitz.

Lastly, these weekends are also for the parents, who had the opportunity to attend a series of talks by invited speakers and the Director of the Academy. Parents of both existing and new members praised in particular the talk about supporting their children. This gave good tips about managing disputes during tournaments, suggestions for selecting and attending the most appropriate international tournaments and also how FIDE ratings worked. The session with a chess arbiter provided a useful opportunity for parents to ask about illegal moves and understanding pairings. All too often, there is little time to explore these difficult issues at the busy tournaments themselves.

It was an excellent weekend for both children and parents. The sessions were greatly appreciated, as also was the socialising. Two nights in the hotel also let parents catch up with each other the evenings in the bar for yet more chess talk !

— Mimi Khan & David Gray

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