I have a weakness for board games. There I admit it. One of the best games ever created is the simple game of moving red and black round pieces of wood across a board. It is a game that has survived for over 4000 years and thank you to the Egyptians for inventing it. People of such notoriety as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Plato and Homer were fond of spending their time in what many might think as such a trivial matter.
For me, I grew up in the age before video games, cable television and mp3 players. When the weather got a little rough on vacation, my family dug out the board games my mom always remembered to pack. Whether it was camping in the mountains of California, the woods of Wisconsin or visiting the grand parents, board games were always available and never collected dust for too long.
That tradition has carried on to my own family. Those same board games I played as a kid have survived the decades and now help entertain my kids when the boredom starts to set in at grandma and grandpa’s house. But just as my parents taught me, these games go beyond the boredom. They go beyond just something to do when it is raining or too hot to go outside. They are life lessons made out of wood, plastic and pressed cardboard on in a nice compact box.
"If the penalty of being civilized is that we must connive and contrive to kill the most precious thing we have - time - what surer and gentler instrument can we find than the game of checkers?" William T. Call, New York 1905
No matter if your kids live with you or your time with them is dictated by a court order, every moment you have with them is precious. I try to take every chance I can to mold my two into the man and woman that I know is inside them. My daughter, who turns 18 in just a few months, is already well on her way to showing the world what kind of adult she is going to be. My time with her seems to be slipping away faster than I can grab it, making these simple games more and more important.
On one afternoon in Omaha visiting my parents recently, I made no effort to hide the lessons I was trying to teach my kids. Here are five simple lessons that the game of checkers will teach your kids about facing life and the challenges that come with it.
1) Play Smart, Play Hard, Nobody is going to let you win. Here’s a shock to those who know me – I don’t ever let my kids win. Even when they were little – yeah sounds heartless I know. Though I don’t have to as often now that my kids are older and more experienced, I may make suggestions to question whether the move they are about to make is the best, but I will not LET my kids win. They have to earn it. Simple concept, if you want to win – beat me. You want to beat me – you play, learn, use your head and play some more. People that are the best at what they do have learned from their mistakes, learned from people better than them and their mistakes, and never have given up.
"Draughts (checkers) is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions". Frank Dunn, 1911 Draughts - A Practical Guide to Play Scientific
2) To get ahead often takes sacrifice – In checkers, getting your piece jumped by your opponent can feel a bit like a lose. But what I try to teach my kids is that sometimes you have to sacrifice one of your pieces to gain the upper hand. Sometimes it opens the opponent to a double jump or moves one of their pieces that may be blocking your route to be kinged. Always look at your options and never rule out some sacrifice to get ahead.
3) It can good (and bad) to be king – You know the rules, once you have a king, you can start moving all over the board. That king has a little bit of power the regular pieces don’t have. It’s a great lesson and reward in perseverance to obtain the desired goal – getting to the other side of the board without getting taken out. But you can’t get too cocky because the rules still apply to those kings. They can get jumped just like the regular pieces. Just because you get ahead in life. You still have to follow the rules like everyone else, and if you don’t keep your eye on the game, your opponent just might jump you and get ahead.
4) Think ahead - Checkers is a game of consequences. Each piece you move will not only affect your opponent’s moves but your next moves as well. You have to think how you are going to get across the board and get that king. You have to think how you take that king and corner your opponent. If you have a piece cornered, what can you do to resolve that conflict? If you want to win in checkers or at life, you have to think ahead and plan your moves.
"Moves that disturb your position the least disturb your opponent the most. In checkers, many times waiting moves are indicated, to avoid disturbing your position. Then your opponent has to show his hand. Many times, by waiting you cause your opponent's position to crumble right before your eyes.” Thomas Wiswell - Checkers expert (1951-1976)
5) Play with honor! Don’t give up! This is one of the biggest lessons I could ever teach my kids. I teach my kids not to concede when they think the game is lost. More than once they have wanted to give up and I refuse to let quit. I push them. I tell them to take their time and look at the entire board. Don’t give up. In their effort, they have made valiant moves and have even on occasion, taken the game. The game is not lost until the last piece is conquered. If you loose and even the best of us will loose at times, then go out fighting. Win or loose, honor comes from holding your head up knowing you didn’t give up.