Teaching Tennis and Chess: Is There a Link?
The French Open is in full swing. The action is heating up on the clay courts of Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal looks poised to win another trophy there as history shows him to be a dominant clay player. After seven losses in a row he has beaten Djokovic on clay twice this year. Djokovic, himself, is struggling against the Italian Andreas Seppi (as I’m writing these lines) who won the first two sets of their Sunday match.
So it seems appropriate to look at chess and tennis and how they may go hand in hand. This is a story about Jim Egerton, instructor of tennis and chess who combines his two loves to teach the games from a different perspective…
Game, set, checkmate
Jim Egerton has seen chess reach out and grab students of all ages. The game is their chance to control something, he believes. He also knows mastering chess can help in the world of business.
“Chess is about making critical decisions. There are no surprises,” he said. “It’s all there before you, and if you don’t see it and your opponent does, then your opponent is better than you.”
Now Egerton is trying to apply the benefits of chess to the sport of tennis — and make a business of it. He owns Chess-Now Ltd. in Glen Ellyn, with plans to teach tennis coaches and players nationwide how to use chess to better their games.
He and John Bremner, tennis director at the Wheaton Sports Center, will present a program called “Checkmate — Teach Your Players to Build Strategies Like a Chess Game,” at the Professional Tennis Registry symposium this month at Hilton Head, S.C. The Professional Tennis Registry is the largest tennis teachers organization in the world.
Egerton long has been a teacher of chess at parks, schools and libraries. Betty Roth, a program manager for the Naperville Park District, describes Egerton as “sharp and intuitive, a top-notch teacher” whose programs are well attended. She said beginner students frequently return for the advanced session.
Roth was so intrigued by Egerton’s plans to connect chess and tennis that she introduced him to the Park District’s tennis coordinator, Susan Kursar. With Egerton’s help, the Naperville Park District is planning a summer tennis program that incorporates chess.
“We are trying to develop a class, ‘From the Chess Board to the Tennis Court,'” Kursar said. “I think it’s a win-win for the tennis and chess players. A lot of chess moves are similar to tennis strategies. We’re thinking we will spend 45 minutes in the classroom on chess, and 45 minutes on the tennis court. I’m excited about it.”
Egerton was playing chess in third grade and became so captivated with the game that in 1971 he started the chess club at West Leyden High School in Northlake. That year he won the Illinois High School chess championship. It was the year before Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship and the country’s interest in chess exploded.
Now 55, Egerton competes in three national tournaments a year and has a master’s rating in postal chess. But his career path led him from teaching math to the corporate world, earning master’s degrees in finance and human resources along the way.
In 2004, after 20 years in global banking and business information technology, he told his wife, Nancy, “It’s time to start the chess now.” That’s where the company started, and that’s how he got back into teaching.
He teaches 20 to 25 groups a month in various chess enrichment programs. Some are drop-in sessions where children and adults seek advice and a chance at a new opponent. Others are beginner or advanced lessons. He also gives private lessons to students who are trying to up their game for competition.
He believes children are fascinated with the game because in chess they get to make their own decisions. Away from the board, they are told what to do: Get dressed. Do your homework. Eat your supper.
“In the game of chess, children get to say, ‘You go there, and that’s my final answer,'” Egerton said. “They are suddenly the boss, but they also discover that when they make a decision, they have to stick by it. There is no taking it back in chess. A bad decision can send your hard work up the chimney, just as it can in life.”
Egerton and Bremner met when Egerton taught Bremner’s son in a chess club, and then again when Egerton became certified as a tennis teacher. Egerton has conducted some chess-tennis programs at the sports center, and Bremner is a believer in the crossover.
A big challenge with students of tennis and chess is that they do not know how to close the match, the men said. That is just one point where their lessons come in handy.
“A lot of my students don’t plan their point. They react. You have to think two or three shots ahead to be better prepared,” Bremner said. “There are a lot of decisions to make in tennis. And patience, learning patience is key. Students oftentimes lose patience in a match, tennis or chess.”
Egerton hears tennis commentators often say, “We’ve got a real chess match going on here today.” He hopes to capitalize on what he sees as the obvious connection.
Original article by Joan Cary was published in the Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2010
– Jim Egerton, Chess – A practice court for the mind (from Tennis Pro – The International Magazine for PTR Tennis Teachers and Coaches, Vol XIX, No. 6)