by Kate Taylor, 2005
A few years ago, while attending a local chess tournament, I watched two young players as they gazed longingly at the awards table. The first place trophies were big and shiny and caused ‘ohhhs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ as they made their way down the line. I couldn’t help but smile as I eavesdropped on their delight.
As they reached the end of the table, they stopped at the smallest trophy. One of the players looked at his friend and said, “Sportsmanship. That’s just a consolation prize.” His friend nodded knowingly as they moved on to the medals.
When it came time to hold our first tournament, I remembered that conversation and made sure that the Sportsmanship trophy was the biggest, brightest trophy out there. It was placed prominently at the very top of the awards table for everyone to see.
When I made the morning announcements, I mentioned that the Sportsmanship award would be given to the best player in attendance. It could even be the 1st place finisher. Then I listed the qualifications: “You must treat all of your opponents with respect. Give a good, solid handshake at the beginning and end of each game. When the game is over I’ll be watching to see if you are kind to one another and offer to review the game or go outside to play together. You can’t argue or be disruptive during your games. And, above all, be honest if you made a mistake and really did touch your piece. And then… I’m going to see who goes above and beyond in Sportsmanship today. That will be the person to go home with the biggest trophy.”
You know, I expected some of the kids to take my words to heart. But, at the time, I had no idea what was about to happen. You see, as luck would have it, I had the best behaved, most kind and considerate chess players on the planet in attendance that day. Choosing just one was extremely difficult! I finally narrowed it down to one player who, when he checkmated his opponent and realized she was about to cry, said “That was the hardest game I’ve ever had to play. I thought for sure you had me when your queen put me in check. You’re a very good player!” The young man’s opponent smiled through her blurry eyes and said, “I know!” Then, these newfound friends headed out to the playground together.
From that very first tournament, I was hooked! We’ve awarded sportsmanship to the first and the last players in a section and everyone in between. You just never know who might go home with this treasured award. At the end of the day, I always save it for last and tell the story of the winner.
Over the years, I’ve added other sportsmanship-like awards as well. For things that I value. Like best notation, best handshake, best attitude, excellence in chess, etc.
I encourage all TD’s to think about the behaviors they’d like to reward and add these to their trophy repertoire. You’ll be glad you did!