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This article originally published March 7, 2019.
If you were to tell someone how to succeed in life you’d probably tell them things like: think creatively, always have a long-range strategy when solving problems, be patient, remain calm under pressure, and be a good sport about setbacks. In saying all that, you would be listing many of the skills it takes to be good at chess!
And how well do you think people who play a lot of chess do with those life skills? We’re going to find out, but first, imagine a world where every child started early, honing those skills in the super fun, very comfortable framework of simply playing a game?
In a large conference center lined tables, players sit down across from their opponents. They look each other in the eyes and are met, not by jeering or laughter, but with a reflection of themselves. Another girl, just as serious about competing and as confident in her abilities as she is. The timer begins, and down the lines of the tables, dozens of pairs of girls test their problem-solving, pattern recognition, and abstract reasoning skills.
Chess hasn’t always been seen as a sport for women. But a full conference room at the All-Girls National Championships in Chicago, Illinois crushes that notion.
They are here for opponents who are challenged by skill levels, not by the social pressure to “beat the girl.”
This is girls in chess. This is what’s possible when you give people the spaces to grow in comfort and be seen for their abilities, not their appearance.
Chess, the Great Equalizer
We’ve all heard about equality. It’s all over the media and peoples lips; has been for decades now. But it’s also a chess term:
When neither player has an advantage.
When players equalize, they are both in a place of winning. The advantage that the first player had by making the beginning move has been neutralized by their opponent.
And while there’s really no “winning” in life, the benefits of all players having the same chances of success only create more possibility in our communities. When we see each other by our skill sets and abilities and not our outward appearances, we’re all given the gift of progress. A diversity of brains that will be out there solving our most pressing problems and creating a world that works for everyone.
This competition is a perfect example.
Hear about why competition like this is so important from these brilliant young chess players themselves in this video from Jenny Schweitzer Bell!
If you happen to live in or near the Chicago area, this particular chess competition is in April and free for all Chicago public school students! Learn more about the All-Girls Nationals on their website. (If you don’t live in Chicago, a quick search of “girls in chess” on Google picked up millions of results. See if there’s a way to get involved in your area! If not, maybe it’s your chance to start something.)
Jenny also wrote a wonderful addition to her article for the New Yorker. Check it out here.
Creating spaces where people are comfortable to grow.
Don’t you feel more comfortable when you’re around people who have gone through similar experiences? There’s a feeling of ease when you can see pieces of your story in someone else. It’s the reason that groups that support individuals who have gone through trauma and addiction are made up of individuals who have gone through trauma and addiction. They get it. It’s not an awkward talking point or social obstacle to jump around anymore so you can really focus on your growth.
And that’s a part of what this all-girls chess competition offers. They’re able to put their attention on the game and honing their skills rather than the social stigmas they face every day.
One day, these gender-specific groups won’t be necessary when the knowledge of equity is passed down more frequently. But more and more, we’re seeing organizations that support the growth of skillsets for women in historically male-dominated fields popping up—and that’s exciting! Because we need people from all experiences in this world to be supported if we want how great the human race can really be.
Just take a look at these amazing organizations we’ve featured that have empowered underrepresented people to succeed in fields that have taken them as far as the stars!
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How many great ideas and innovations haven’t made it to us because people weren’t given the space and opportunities to really let their skills be polished?
And what do we need to do to make it happen?
Stay open to new possibilities!
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein
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