How chess can teach us that failure is not fatal

Malcolm Pein
World Champion Plays At The London Chess Classic Competition
Source: Getty

It was Winston Churchill who said: “success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” That quote encapsulates an attribute that educational psychologists recognise we need to instil in our children. This is sometimes referred to as “grit” – the ability to cope with adversity.

Grit is required to succeed in life, and particularly in business.

In order to succeed in an increasingly competitive modern commercial world, employees need a wide range of skill sets.

The abilities to think ahead, consider risk, and employ a patient approach to certain situations are just a handful of the skills and traits needed to thrive.

At the Chess in Schools and Communities charity (CSC), we use the game of chess to develop these skills, as well as helping children from inner city schools to learn how to concentrate in an age of continual distraction.

There is a growing body of research showing that, when learnt from a young age, the game can foster all manner of intellectual skills and personal qualities.

The research is backed up by the feedback we get from teachers and schools heads across the country.

By teaching chess to young children, we can also help them to develop problem solving skills and encourage them to deal with the consequences of their actions.

The game promotes the courage to try new things, and reassures pupils that failure is not fatal.

Chess puts children on an equal footing, teaching them to interact with their peers, no matter what their background is.

Relate this to the importance of networking, even negotiating, in a professional capacity, and it quickly becomes clear how chess can boost young people’s opportunities later in life.

There are numerous examples of entrepreneurs who have an interest in the game – including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Peter Thiel, all of whom have enjoyed a game against world champion Magnus Carlsen. (Although perhaps Gates didn’t enjoy that particular chess game too much; he lost in under a minute.)

Giving children the tools to help them grow into rounded and employable individuals means they can thrive in the business world.

Since our launch in 2009, CSC has grown to work with 800 schools across England and Wales, and aims to reach 1,000 by 2019. And while very much a nationwide initiative, the programme is especially active in London.

Introducing children to the game, with a focus on state schools in disadvantaged areas, the charity teaches chess during curriculum time lessons, rather than as an optional club.

Lessons progress from explaining the rules of the game to teaching foundational tactics and strategy, over a 30-week course.

CSC aims to improve children’s educational outcomes and social development, whether by conducting weekly chess lessons around the country, training school staff so that they can deliver lessons themselves, or providing free chess sets to encourage pupils to learn.

We passionately believe that exposure to chess can allow children to realise their full potential – in business, and in other walks of life.