CalChess Journal, President Tom Langland addresses the cultural phenomenon of helicopter parents at chess tournaments. Indeed, any experienced coach or director can share their unique laundry list of nightmares involving overly affectionate parents. Oxford Dictionaries define a helicopter parent as one "who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child." These parents frustrate coaches, drive directors nuts, and do no favor to the kids they adore!
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"I see it all time, especially in chess tournaments. Parents who have extreme anxiety about separating from their child before their game starts are the chess equivalent of what is known as helicopter parents. Before a round starts, their child has to have all their pencils sharpened for them, tissues ready, their notation sheet filled out, drink bottle filled, snacks close at hand and that last minute hug (or two or three) before the round starts. Unfortunately, this causes trouble for the tournament directors who want to start the round on time. The TDs are stuck between upsetting parents who want to continue to cosset their child, and those parents, players and coaches who expect the tournament rounds to begin on time.
"I really do appreciate the problem a parent has with separating from their child and wanting to be comparable to a helicopter watching over them. Many times, I have been criticized that I don't know what it is like! Anyone who knows me understands I really do. In fact, that's how I ended up being most prolific National Tournament Director and International Arbiter in the US. When my sons started playing in like the second grade I remember being exactly like a helicopter. I would watch every move from afar, cringing every time they would hang their queen or miss a checkmate in one move. Finally at the State Grade Level Championship, I was driving my wife crazy and she suggested I volunteer to help direct to keep my mind busy. That's what got me here, and yes, I know exactly just how it feels to be a helicopter parent! It's tough!
"I've even seen helicopter parents vie against each other, like it’s a competition for who is the better parent. Two moms of opposing players aspire to be the last to leave their child. Which will get the final hug and a kiss in? All the while you can see the child hoping their parent would stop the fuss, go away and let them begin their game. Then we have the parents who have to peek in whenever the opportunity arises, holding the door open indefinitely to get that last glance in, hoping to get a glimpse of their child's position. I wish parents could see how distracting this is to all the participants. Every child has to look up to see if it is their parent peering at them, instead focusing on their game. I've even had a parent somehow observe their child forgetting to press their clock and insisted that I go over and remind the player to press their clock!
"Parents, the tournament staff do understand your desire to fuss over your child and to make them happy at the tournament. But please, remember the staff also wants to make the tournament a complete success and that includes starting the rounds on time and keeping distractions out of the room. Please be mindful of their requests and assist their efforts. Thank you!"
Thank YOU Tom! I could not have said it any better.