Here is my candid view, and I will use various examples from different sports as well.
Every chess coach, especially a grandmaster, has excellent knowledge of the game. Every chess coach has a wide variety of tools such as books, database, computer software, etc. However, each coach applies his / her knowledge and resources differently. In my opinion, the KEYS are “Objective Assessment” and “Adaptability”.
Yes, I am sure you have heard me use these terms before and I strongly believe in them. I am not an Alpha Male, so maybe that is why I can analyze and act very differently than male coaches.
Please allow me to give some wide range of examples based on my personal knowledge. Let’s start out with the NBA (National Basketball Association) [I hope my friend Daryl Morey will excuse my limited knowledge or ignorance of his world].
To be a successful coach, one must know the strengths and weaknesses of his players year to year (as the rosters change), in addition to objective assessment of the opposing teams. For example, if you have a small, extremely fast, good ball handling and great outside shooting team, and the opposing team is big team with powerful inside defenders, it is very difficult to beat them in the paint. It does not take a genius to figure out the game plan in this case.
On the other hand, if you have a big team, especially in the middle, but slow, you have to adjust and reduce the tempo, especially against a fast team like the Golden State Warriors who can run the court and shoot from everywhere. I understand that I am simplifying it but I am just trying to give an example and not lobbying for an NBA coaching job 🙂
Let’s examine Phil Jackson, one of the greatest NBA coaches in history. He won 2 NBA championships with the NY Knicks. As a coach, he won 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls (6) and Los Angeles Lakers (5). He is most known for the Triangle Offense. Why does he not have the same success with the Triangle Offense in NY as he did in Chicago and LA (even though he’s not the coach of the Knicks, he still has plenty of input)?
Simple. Because he does not have the right players to fit this system (at least not until this year even though there are still plenty of question marks). In the NBA, he has more time to get the players he needs via the draft (providing one does not trade all their picks away like the Knicks have done for many years) or free agency. But in College Sports, including chess, it is harder as the tenure of a player with one team is way shorter (1-4 years).
Let’s examine an example of another sport, tennis. On one side, you have John Isner, 6’10”, a player with powerful serves, decent ground strokes, but little mobility. On the other side, you have David Ferrer, 5’9”, a much smaller player with incredibly consistent ground strokes and can run the court all day long. How can Ferrer beat Isner? Obviously, there is no way he can do it with power. So his only chance is to try to keep the points longer, move Isner from side to side, and to challenge his lack of mobility, to create unforced errors.
On the other hand, how can Isner beat Ferrer? By keeping the points shorter with his powerful serves, then try to put the points away quickly while his opponent is still off balance from returning 130-150 mph serves (his fastest serve was clocked at 157.2 mph). Isner will not beat Ferrer by trading ground strokes and long rallies. While he may succeed on some small battles (points), he will lose the war (the match).
My last example will be American football (NFL). Let’s say you are a coach who favors the West Coast Offense. But your QB is average at best, and your top wide receivers are injured. However, you have Adrian Peterson as your RB. Should the coach continue to be stubborn and call for passing plays? Of course not.
The same is with chess. As I said earlier, many coaches, especially grandmasters, know a lot. They all have deep chess knowledge. But the key to top level success is to be able to tailor this knowledge for each student. I have seen many coaches over the years, even when I was a young player, who will use the same notebook of “chess wisdom” for every single student. Will it help? Of course. Will it give optimal results? No.
Even in my role as the Head Coach of the #1 ranked Division I Collegiate Chess Team, I still have to heavily rely on the observation and feedback from my coach, as well as my students. I cannot be stubborn headed and say my way or the highway.
And as some of you have correctly pointed out, being fully committed to my students is a big advantage. When coaches still play actively while coaching, the students will likely not tell the coaches everything, especially their weaknesses. Why? Because the coach can and most likely WILL use this knowledge against them without mercy in head to head games in tournaments.
This is why when I decided to retire (after returning to the #1 ranking in the world when my baby sister took time a short time off to start a family) to coach full time, even though I have had incredibly lucrative offers to come out of retirement to compete in various marquis events, and to make a lot more money than I can via coaching, I turned them down. I want my students to be able to fully trust me knowing that I will never use anything they tell me privately, especially their weaknesses, against them.
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