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Children and Bridge

an article by David Lusk

Contract bridge is a game which is enjoyed by players all over the world from the age of eight or less up to one hundred or more. Amongst competitive games, only chess can rival this game as one which appeals to such a broad spectrum.

In recent years, bridge administrators have put more effort into attracting young players into the game. Younger bridge players is not a new concept: the vast majority of Australia's most accomplished bridge players took their initial interest in the game as teenagers. Junior Bridge Championships have been part of the Australian bridge scene for over thirty years with players as young as 13 representing their states and players as young as 15 or 16 competing successfully in national youth events.

The Australian Bridge Federation and its affiliated State Associations have the same commitment to perpetuating the game as do administrators of chess, athletics, gymnastics and the physical team sports. In order to be committed to such a promotion, we have spent much effort in establishing that contract bridge as a leisure activity is as beneficial as any of the physical sports.

Why Schools?

In the 1970s, it was widely believed that the future would yield up more leisure time for individuals than had been the case in the past. In reality, the 1990s have revealed that the reverse is more likely the case. It was common twenty years ago for schools to develop enrichment programmes to offer students a wide choice of activities to provide a host of options for the years ahead. In some states, bridge has been virtually exclusive to private schools. There are strong indications that this is about to change. These days, the school curriculum appears to be too crowded to allow such luxuries but many schools are reverting to finding spaces in their timetables in recognition of the fact that leisure activities are even more important in the modern, high stress working environment. We agree.

Should Bridge Be Regarded as an Idle Indulgence?

There are many views about which leisure activities are suitable for young people. Most judgements are based upon concepts of productivity within the framework of Christian work ethics. Physical sports are automatically accepted because we all understand the value of remaining physically fit and physically active. Needless to say, playing cards appears to be idle and unproductive. On the other hand, the medical profession is only now coming to realise that, as people are tending to live longer, remaining mentally fit may be as important as maintaining levels of physical fitness. More and more often chess, bridge, backgammon and crossword puzzles are being cited as excellent activities for keeping the brain exercised and stalling the onset of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

Is Bridge a Game for Old People?

Bridge has never been the exclusive province of older groups. The bridge playing population is skewed towards the older age group for the simple reason that many players adopt the game as they head towards retirement and, once retired, they have more time to play. Younger bridge players have crowded schedules and much competition for their attention. Nevertheless, over the last thirty years or so, thousands of teenagers have pursued bridge as an interest which many of them have carried happily into middle-age.
The 1999 European Youth Championship attracted 372 participants, all of them under the age of 26.

Do Young Bridge Players Become Addicted?

The notion that teaching young people to play bridge will spawn a generation of "bridge bums" is about as absurd as the notion that teaching youngsters to play tennis will create a glut of professional tennis players on the world circuit. Addiction to any stimulating activity is always possible and it is no different with bridge. Our experiences suggest that any young person who has a firm focus on succeeding with studies and a career will work bridge into their schedules in the same way as any other sport or hobby. The fact is that most of our young players who are or have been students succeed in their studies and in their careers. Many players who started as teenagers have qualified as doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and other professions and have gone on to forge successful and lucrative careers whilst remaining active bridge players.

Are There Other Tangible Benefits?

One of Australia's top junior players recently stated that she has no trouble concentrating on 3 and-a-half-hour exams because she has become accustomed to sustaining those levels of focus over a standard bridge session of identical duration. Some studies suggest that bridge players develop better problem-solving skills and have lateral thinking skills beyond the ordinary.

Bridge is a social game. Unlike the physical sports and chess, where participants need not interact at a social level with opponents, bridge players are forced into social intercourse with partners and opponents alike during the course of the game. Most young players participate against an older age-group and gain benefits by developing effective and articulate communication skills. Learning to participate and succeed in the company of mature adults is beneficial in developing self-confidence and social skills.

As with other sports, top players have the opportunity to represent Australia on the international scene and do so with pride. Bridge is now recognised by the IOC and is expected to be included in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Many schools are now recognising the social and intellectual value of introducing bridge to their students. In some cases, this is done as a co-curricular activity, as part of leisure/enrichment programme or as a Mathematics Extension, often, but not necessarily, for gifted students.

In recent years, schools have been taking advantage of programmes, established by local clubs and State Associations which provide the opportunity to run short introductory courses on contract bridge, often at no cost to the participants or the school.

In 1999, an Anglican Grammar School for girls in suburban Adelaide negotiated with the South Australian Bridge Association to introduce every year 12 student to contract bridge. Each of the eighty-odd students undertook three hours of instruction with a qualified teacher. The whole programme cost the school nothing more than the expenses associated with getting busloads of students the short distance from the school to the Association premises.

What are Your School's Options?

If your school has students who are interested in learning to play bridge or merit is seen in introducing the game into the school's curriculum, then consultation with your local coordinator should be beneficial.

If you have teachers with the opportunity and expertise to conduct such courses within your school, then your State Association's Junior Coordinator will be able to provide support advice and teaching materials to assist. If there is no-one on your staff who is able to conduct such a course, then your local association or club may be willing to provide an instructor.

National Junior Coordinator, Australian Bridge Federation Inc.

6 Vincent Crt
SA 5074


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