Disclaimer: In this article, I will always refer to him/he when talking about the Coach. This makes it easier to read. I am totally aware that there are also amazing female Coaches out there!
Even though there is so much material available on the internet, having a personal coach is still a great investment in order to accelerate your chess improvement.
But how do you find your perfect coach in an interconnected world with hundreds of coaches available?
In this article, I will take you through the necessary steps in order to find your perfect coach. Note that I will focus solely on private 1:1 coaching.
I am in the privileged position to have worked with World Class Coaches like former World #3 GM Artur Jussupow, a former second of Garry Kasparov GM Iossif Dorfman, and many more.
These Coaches have all helped me tremendously and I am grateful for their guidance.
Over all these years, I learned a lot about what a Coach-Student relationship needs in order to be really successful. Note that it is very easy to find an OK Coach for you.
Finding the perfect one is a lot harder. But I am convinced the following steps will help you find him.
1) What Do You Want?
The most important thing you have to understand is the following:
A Coach can only help you if you know what you want!
See it this way: A Coach is like a navigation system on a long car drive. He can only guide you if you tell him where the journey should go. “Be a better chess player” is not enough! Who would ever tell the navigation “find me a better place”. Have fun on that trip, I hope you like adventures…
You need to be able to give clear indications. If you don’t come up with an answer right away, use the following questions:
- Do you have a specific tournament you would love to win one day?
- Is there a rating, maybe even a title that would make you feel very special?
- What is more important for you: enjoyment or results?
- What is your time frame? 2 months? or 1 year? 10 years?
- Do you want over-the-board or Online lessons?
Do not go unless you at least have one plausible answer for each of those questions. Obviously, your answers can change over time.
Do not play your ambitions down just because you are afraid it might sound impossible to others.
Nothing is worse than having different expectations/goals than those you formulate for yourself and your Coach.
If I tell my Coach I want to reach 2650 but in reality, I am dreaming of entering the Top 10, I set everything up for disaster. You need to be absolutely honest to yourself and your Coach, no way around it.
2) How Much Is It Worth To You?
Before searching for a Coach you should know what you are ready to invest. And in investing I mean 2 things:
- Time + Energy
Note that having a Coach is in no way a guarantee for reaching your desired result. The journey to the goal should be worth the effort and money, even if you do not reach your goal.
I would either write the answer down for a weekly or monthly period. For example:
10 hours/week; 100 Dollars/week
This should be a rough estimation. Obviously, your available time or finances can change. Whenever this is the case, come back here and re-evaluate your situation. Two things are important here:
The amount of time has to include Coaching sessions with your Coach AND studying on your own
This opens up a lot of possibilities. Let’s take the 10 hours of weekly training from above.
These can either be all with the Coach or as few as one lessons with the Coach and 9 on your own. That gives you a lot of flexibility in order to find your perfect Coach.
2. Write down your budget, but not an hourly rate for your Coach.
Most of us compare Coaches by their hourly rate. But what is much more important is the output you get from a Coaching lesson!
It does not matter how many hours you afford to take, it matters much more what you learn in this time. More about this concept later on.
3) The Profile Of Your Coach
Now that you know what you want and how much you are ready to invest, you can start your search. This can seem a bit daunting in the beginning, as there are so many possibilities. To make it easier I help you to narrow down the search by applying different filters.
Proof Of Concept
The most important thing is the so-called proof of concept. This is a fancy way of saying:
Your future Coach achieved already what you want to achieve.
This is fairly obvious, as most people just take strong GMs as Coaches. But a strong player will not automatically be a good Coach! Achieving something for yourself and teaching it to somebody else are two completely different things!
Yes, it helps if your Coach went through the same thing, but much more important is the following proof of concept:
Your Coach demonstrated, by helping a student very similar to you, that he knows how to Coach you to your Goal!
What that means in a practical way is:
Let’s assume you are an adult improver, 30 years old, and want to go from 2000 to 2200. Search for a Coach that did exactly that with one of his students at more or less the same age. The more cases he can show, the better fit he will be for you.
This is the best way to make sure your Coach knows what he does!
It is very important that you and your Coach have some kind of chemistry. I really like the following rule of thumb:
If you would not go to take a coffee with a person, then do NOT do business with him.
Coaching is a very personal business, so this certainly applies here! As a matter of fact, I had to split up with one of my Coaches because of personal difficulties.
Considering only the pure Chess Coaching he was absolutely fantastic. But at some point, big personal differences always lead to bad results and unhappiness on both sides.
One good indicator is how your Coach talks about his other students. If you catch him talking bad about some of his students, it will not be long before he talks bad about you as well.
Trust your human intuition here.
Intention Of The Coach
There are 2 different kinds of Coaches out there.
Players That Give Lessons To Make A Living
This is very frequent, but definitely not the category you are looking for. It is hard to make a living from playing chess. Getting to the top is very hard. People get stuck in between and then look for a way out.
The easiest way to make a living in this situation is to offer some private lessons. There is nothing wrong with making money to pay your bills. But do not expect these Coaches to greatly care for you.
Mostly, they would still prefer playing chess themselves, but they took the easier way of giving lessons. The more lessons they can fit in, the more money they earn.
Instead of thinking “How can I help my students improve” they think “how can I get over with this lesson”.
You might think this is harsh, but I know many such “Coaches” personally. They are even bragging about how shitty lessons they can do and still have a lot of students.
Some just give exercises from a book, so they don’t need to prepare anything. Others even play video games during lessons. I will not name any Names, but be aware of these guys.
And this is also the reason I do not offer Coaching at the moment. I feel I would not be able to give 100% attention to the wishes and needs of my students. I am certain I would be much better than most of these “Coaches”, but still, there would be something missing.
Sadly, most people do not know what a good lesson is. So, they will just go to a Coach with a high Rating and a Title.
In case you missed it before: a good player is not automatically a good Coach!
Some hints that a Coach falls into this category are:
- This Coach accepts any student
- There is no personalized training
- He will give you his opening files and force you to play the same openings as he does (= less work)
- He has a very strict schedule and will start the lesson at the exact time and finish it after exactly 60 Minutes, with no overtime
- There will be no Home-Work or self-work-related help. He wants you to take as many lessons as possible. Anything that is not paid, they will not like to do.
Another Disclaimer: Fellow Players, I am aware this will upset a lot of you guys. This is nothing personal.
I am also not saying these Coaches are bad. I am just saying these are not GREAT. There are certainly some exceptions as well. If you are one of them, you certainly prove it with great Results for your students. No harm is intended here.
Coaches By Decision
This is the category of Coach you should be looking for. Your Coach was not forced into Coaching by financial means. He decided to be a Coach because he likes to help people.
These people might still play some chess, but their self-esteem is not depending on their own results. They take much greater joy from seeing their pupils perform well.
In general, these people are not searching to be the center of attention. They are asking lots of questions and feeling with their students.
A great example of this Category (sadly there are not that many!) is Indian Coach GM Ramesh RB.
It is impossible to miss his positive energy in a Coaching session. The results of his students speak for themselves.
Another one is GM Avetik Grigoryan. He is on a mission to take chess training to the Next Level (see what I did there…) and thus started ChessMood, a great online Chess learning platform.
Again: These Coaches were mostly active players themselves. But they decided on their own terms that they prefer Coaching to playing and have no ambitions anymore for their own Chess. This frees up mental space for their students!
Some traits that distinguish these people are:
- They will add value to you even in a short conversation (they simply can not stop themselves from helping you out!).
- They think about your needs and find personalized resources for your weaknesses and strength.
- If a lesson is interesting, it can easily go into overtime.
- Adding value is their Number 1 Priority. Expect them to give you homework or help you to study on your own.
- Such a Coach will also occasionally deny students. Either if he feels he is not the right fit, or if he does not enjoy the chemistry with the student.
Choose Value Over Cheap Hourly Price
By now, you should understand why you can not just compare the hourly wages of Coaches. Some Coaches will charge you one hour, but bring value to your home study as well.
Others will just give you 60 Minutes of puzzles that you could also solve yourself.
That is why you should compare the price per value and not the price per hour.
It is the same that happens in the free economy.
Let’s imagine you are the CEO of a big company. You are hiring a consultant to improve your process. You have two options:
- A very experienced, high-end consultant. He has helped similar Businesses before and knows exactly what he talks about. Expected time: 2 hours. Charge/hour: 2’500$. Expected value: 10’000$+ / year.
- A former CEO of a company that is now without a job. He does not really know what he is talking about, but hey he was once CEO of a big company.
Expected time: 10+ hours. Charge/hour: 100$. Expected value: unclear, maybe 2000$ / year if lucky.
Who would you choose? Obviously Consultant number 1.
Some people in the chess world would say “consultant number one charge way too much per hour, I’ll take number 2”. Please don’t make that same mistake.
Just one more precaution: some very strong players charge horrendous rates and bring very little value. I know of a Top player that charges up to 300$ per hour but could not care less about his students. He can not wait to get over the lesson.
Reading my articles will bring you more value for 0$.
4) Let The Search Begin
Now you are perfectly prepared to find your Coach. Instead of just trying out a Coach and then being unhappy, I recommend investing some time in the search for an optimal Coach.
The best way to find a great Coach is to get private recommendations from somebody with similar needs. As we are all different, this is still no guarantee, but a good start.
I recommend you make a short list of 3 Coaches and then contact them with a set of questions. I will provide you with these questions. And tell you which answers you are looking forward to getting.
If you are not getting to three names via personal recommendations, here are some resources to find Coaches:
- Twitter: Just poll similar-minded people and ask for their recommendations.
- Reddit: Same as Twitter, there are a lot of chess fans here. Ask people for their recommendations. Be clear about your goals and needs, so people can really help you find a fitting Coach.
- Lichess/Coach: Here you can find some Coaches with availability. Sort for your language and contact those that seem a good fit.
- Chess.com/Coaches: Same as on Lichess, just on Chess.com. Note that neither of those lists is approved by the respective online site.
I will not give any personal recommendations here. Why?
Because there is no one fits all solution.
Different people have different needs. But I am convinced that if you follow my instructions carefully, you should find a great Coach.
After getting your Top 3, you are ready to contact them.
5) Contact The Coach With This Script
It is very important that you are honest from the second one with your potential new Coach. As you know exactly what your needs and wishes are (I hope you did step 1, if not do it now!) it is no problem for you to get into details.
Here is my script. I made up this person so it is easy to read and that you have a real-life example.
Dear Coach (insert name of the Coach)
I am Hans Müller from Stuttgart, Germany. I am 28 years old and currently rated 1825. My big goal is to reach the FM title in 5 years. Obviously, this needs a lot of work, which I am ready to put in.
Currently, I am studying 15 hours/per week, which is an amount I am ready to invest for the next 5 years. As I work full-time as an Engineer, I have to plan my tournaments smartly. For the last 3 years,, I played around 50 classical games/per year, which still is realistic.
I want to ask you if you would be ready to guide me on my journey to the FM title? In order to make sure we are a perfect fit, I would like to ask you some questions. I appreciate you taking the time to answer them.
Do you have students with a similar goal? If yes it would be awesome if you could connect me with them!
What would be your plan to help me achieve my goal?
And what are your financial expectations for our work together?
Thanks again for your time, looking forward to your reply,
If It Works, Trust Your Coach 100%
With this mail, you show clear interest in a long-term partnership. So he should definitely be willing to put in some time and answer the questions seriously.
I like the first question because you can check immediately if he has proof of concept. Connecting to like-minded people is always great, and you can ask this person about the Coach.
The second one shows if he is just giving lessons to make money, or if he really thinks about improvement.
Any standard answer like “we will improve opening, middle game and endgame” shows that he has no clear idea, or simply is not interested in putting in the effort.
Then it remains to hope that your financial expectations fit. If you are reaching out to Top Coaches, please be aware that this will cost something.
Do not set yourself a budget of 20/week and ask some good Coaches these questions.
Keep in mind:
If you want a great Coach you have to be ready to pay well. But paying well is not guaranteeing a great Coach!
If you like his answers, ask to set up a call or a first training. Do not commit to anything long-term until you feel sure about the chemistry.
But when you take your choice, trust your Coach fully.
You invested so much time in the search, that you can now really follow his advice. Do not second guess what he says. After all, he knows what he is talking about (remember that you checked if he has proof of concept!).
And do not expect unreasonable results in a short time. Give the process at least 6, better 12-month time to unfold. And by then you should feel the difference in playing strength and result.
I hope this process helps you find a perfect Coach for you. If you have any recommendations (no self-promotion please!) for great Coaches, let me know in the comment section. We can and should all help each other find the perfect Coach.