Image: two kids playing chess in a public park. On the left, a girl staring at the board, playing white. On the right, a boy holding an ice cream cone and making his move, playing black.

This Mentor Inspires Kids to Make Better Moves in Life Through Chess

This article by Daphne Kasriel Alexander originally appeared on Goodnet.

Chess can be so much more than just a game!

Via: CBS Evening News 1

For Damen Fletcher, chess is much more than a game. This inspiring California man uses chess to help young people from some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Southern California and beyond to develop self-confidence, and find purpose in their lives.

And he’s a grandmaster of positivity and encouragement. Just look at the tagline on his organization’s website:“Train of Thought: Bring out the KING in you”. This changemaker even signs off emails with CHECK you later!

So why does Fletcher chose chess to help kids and teens make the right moves in life? And why does he feel so passionately about the value of the classic game that he founded Train of Thought to coach kids and youth aged five to seventeen and older to further this aim?

As CBS News details, the answer lies in his own life story. Fletcher, who learned to play this game of strategic skill aged 13, grew up in Compton, California. After heading farther afield to college, he returned home to find his friends struggling. As he explains:

“Some of them had fallen into prison. Gang life and drugs … and I just wondered, ‘Why did I have such a different outcome?’ And it was chess.”

So he set about building his own organization to help inner city kids find their own king or queen and life goals by learning problem solving, teamwork, and forward planning skills at an early age through chess, while enjoying themselves.

“Every game of chess is 75 to 100 moves, and every single move that your opponent makes presents a new problem for you to solve,” he said. “And so kids are just having fun. They don’t realize that they’re solving problems” he shares.

Fletcher also highlights in an earlier interview with Fox News that chess is a game in which the weak can turn out stronger, which is the motivating message he strives to instill in the kids he cares about through his chess education program. He is determined to teach leadership through the game of chess.

As Myron Smith, a 7th grader and already a keen chess player thanks to Fletcher’s enthusiasm, tells the channel, “When we’re born, we’re like a little pawn. We have to battle everyone that tries to mess us up to just keep going our way.” Another chess fan, 7th grader, Paige Stevenson, shares that “He has also taught me to not give up because you can move and like, find a way out instead of losing.”

And Fletcher doesn’t shy away from using strategies of his own to make the game gripping for the youngest participants. Take 5-year-olds, for instance. The “cool story” prop he uses to help very young kids set up a chess game for the first time, talks about the king and queen getting married by bishops. They then ride on horseback to their castle to have eight kids.

His organization has partnered with more than 100 schools to date. It is active in schools in California and Louisiana, with plans to expand in the US and even abroad to schools in Uganda.

Train of Thought sees chess as a powerful tool for accelerating cognitive and character development. And it trains chess coaches to offer captivating lessons, fun activities, challenging exercises, problems and puzzles, all tailored to fit the needs of the youth they work with.

It is an old adage that children learn from play, and this is something that Fletcher is keen to stress. Train of Thought has already “taught more than 50,000 students the game of Kings”. And as his website also explains: : “If you think chess is just a game, you’re not playing it right.”

  • Goodnet

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  1. CBS Evening News. “Man Teaches Kids Life Lessons through Chess.” YouTube, 15 Sept. 2021, Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.
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