Monday, August 16, 2010

To Focus or To Concentrate?

All sports have an area of peak performance within the context of a period that many players call being "in the zone!" This 'zone' feels like a twilight state of anticipating, considering, reacting, and executing in the most professional manner, their best moves and plays. But while every player struggles to attain and maintain this state of perfect play and performance, the struggle itself takes away some of the appreciation for all of those times it arrives as magically as it is gone. The state has occurred for me as a runner, a football, softball, basketball, tennis, billiards and chess player. I'm also certain that many players have experienced this state without realizing it or appreciating it ...

Jeanette Lee, "The Black Widow" the professional billiards player, once signed her book for me with the addition of a single word, "Focus!" That idea, along with the competitive cousin, "Concentrate!" are believed to be the cornerstones to achieving an 'in the zone' state of performance. There is a certain prep to every sporting performance that a player goes through in order to attain the best possibilities of a peak performance. Runners stretch and athletes go through a variety of drills. Chess players however don't have an established method of preparing mentally for the oncoming struggle. Torn between the known elements of being certain to get enough sleep, problem solving, analyzing, or just perhaps playing slow or blitz practice games before the big game alternate in priority.

Whichever method you choose it often helps if it is 'your' method - something that within you establishes that comfort zone you will need to play at peak performance, in the zone, effortlessly. The more experience you can acquire, the better your feel for the game and the less volatility in your performances.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Free Beer Tomorrow!

This summer, which I had set upon with great enthusiasm for at least a couple of my students, has been two thirds of a bummer. The manner in which a student of any subject likes to cycle down when given a significant amount of downtime ... reflects on character. Discipline and planning have to be partly self-motivated, although most of the time it is taught by heavy handed parents and teachers.

"Tomorrow" is my least favorite word when planning to get down to work. It's a great word - and unfortunately it is used every single day. I believe it has to be second in popularity to ... "later".

Just last week - I ran into a young National Champion at the Marshall Chess Club playing in the "4 Rated Games" event. His claim that he's been working hard on his game all summer impressed me. Assuming he's studying properly, I'm willing to predict that he will surpass 2200, if not in rating then certainly in strength, just weeks into the school year. Kudos to him, and congratulations on a job well done as/if it happens. It isn't really hard to gain 200 points in three months unless you get either distracted or cocky and over confident. Most students don't know how to study for themselves and hack away at it, either by memorizing or just playing as many tournaments as they can.

About a month from now, 31 days give or take, students will all be back in school. Homework and new responsibilities will overwhelm many as they adjust to a higher grade and higher expectations. Two weeks of Chess Camp at the end of August are part of a jump start and a casting off of summer rust that is planned by many parents and perhaps the least anyone can do to get the minds back on the boards.

Of course, I don't mean to interrupt any particular mastery of procrastination by nudging about this now - you can always sign up later, maybe even tomorrow. But be careful - tomorrow never actually comes :-(