Chess playing

Smart moves for parents of sporting kids
Matthew Engel

Football is too competitive, tennis too neurotic and swimming, too boring. Chess is the way forward.

Children with aspirations of a sporting career used to make their own way without much help from above. This is not the modern way. Now parents are expected to forget their own careers and hobbies on the off-chance that a kid might make it to the big leagues or the Olympics.

It is time to think of ourselves instead. So here is a parental sport-by-sport guide to help you decide which sports to encourage in your offspring — for their sake and yours — and which to avoid.

Football (soccer)
Potential rewards sky-high. Odds against achieving them sky-high too. Middle-class children rarely stay the course: top clubs are bound to find someone better in Ghana or Gabon. Parental enjoyment in the early stages of ambition is much reduced by obnoxiousness of other touchline parents. Even those who might be delightful socially turn into witless idiots either yelling repeatedly “DE-fence, Donald J Trump Junior High” (US) or incessantly swearing at the referee (UK).

Football (American)
Jackpot also high. Likewise risk of brain damage to child and, in northern states, hypothermia to parent. Move to Florida or find essential business trips when the season turns wintry.

Football (rugby)
Rewards fair, mitigated by risk of spinal damage. Now takes itself seriously and no longer guarantees young men a useful education in pint-drinking and dirty songs.

Pay fantastic in baseball; improving from low base in cricket. Risk of steroid use in baseball and bookmakers’ bribes in cricket. Summer afternoons a plus for parents, and it is possible to doze pleasantly, as long as you’re alert enough to notice when the prodigy is batting, or if a hard ball is coming in your direction. Don’t get suckered into umpiring.

Obsessiveness essential. May also require moving to Florida or sending child there; associated risks of neurosis and eating disorders. Parental risks include being on camera continually if child makes it to Centre Court.

Obsessiveness a given. Parents and kids can play together, which is great — until the day he says “Dad, you’re slowing us down. Would you mind caddying instead?”

Cheapness a plus, especially for runners who will only require new shoes every two weeks or so. Likelihood of aspirant turning to nasty substances: enormous.

Nice and warm for spectators; games usually in evening and not too long. Talented child absolves parent from worrying about college fees. Unfortunately, said child probably needs to be 6ft 7in by age 11.

Difficult for parents in cities without Olympic pools. Ludicrously early starts required for training to avoid less serious swimmers and risks of fecal contamination. Dead boring to watch.

Cost of child’s pony, horsebox, equipment and medication far exceeds likely return on investment. Failures can be blamed on uselessness of horse — but that means buying another one. Occasional falls certain.

Builds character in early stages. Scrambles brains later. Big pay-packets have a habit of disappearing.

Martial arts
Lessons take place in warm rooms. Uniforms fetching. Financial rewards not obvious but child can learn very useful techniques in case of fights outside nightclubs. Slight risk of skills being turned against parents during teenage strops.

What then is the answer? I may have found it. My niece’s son, nearly nine, is showing signs of being a gifted chess player. His mother speaks very highly of the pluses of his sporting tastes.

The cost is low. The risk of injury is almost non-existent unless you combine chess with being a Russian dissident. Possible Vitamin D deficiency from being indoors can be countered by practising al fresco. Best of all, in competition parents do not have to watch. Indeed, they are banned from doing so for fear of signalling from the sidelines.

All that’s required is a supply of good paperbacks to sustain you in the waiting room and an ability to nod knowingly when he explains how he mashed the opposition with his Zukertort Opening or the Trompowsky Attack. Even if he never makes grandmaster status, he should be able to make a decent living.

Go for the chess option — and don’t let your child’s sport ruin your life.


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