For Jason and Nishka Mangaroo, playing Scrabble or other board games like Monopoly has been a family tradition. They met in teachers' training college and have been playing games like Scrabble ever since. While they played for fun, the Mangaroos were always aware of the games’ cognitive building capabilities.
As educators, the Mangaroos use these games as learning tools for their students. This led to the formation of MindSports Trinidad and Tobago in 2017. With 23 years of teaching experience between them, the Mangaroos are now planning to host tournaments for the 12 and under (primary), 18 and under (secondary) and adult categories under the umbrella of MindSports Trinidad and Tobago.
"Mind sport" is defined as any of various competitive games that use intellectual capability, such as chess or bridge. MindSports Trinidad and Tobago is the local chapter of the International Mind Sports Association.
The international association was founded in 2005 “to gather different mind sports federations to pursue common aims and interests, to organise the World Mind Sports Games under the aegis of GAISF (then General Association of Sport Federations) and further realise the inclusion of mind sports in the Olympic movement.”
But the Mangaroos, a couple from Hermitage Village, San Fernando, see the introduction of mind sport to TT as a way of helping the country’s overall social and intellectual development. As the principal of St Michael’s Community College in San Fernando, Nishka introduced mind sport games to her school in an attempt to help her students learn better. Jason is a teacher at Tabaquite Secondary School.
“Two years now we started to do some games like Scrabble and chess, and a child came up to me one day and said ‘Miss, why can’t we have all under one umbrella?’ And when I thought about it I said there is nothing like that in TT. We have all the associations that have their separate competitions. But it would be so great to have all under one umbrella.
"I went to him and I said ‘It is a good idea’ and we should probably look into it. So we did and it started to get a lot of attention,” she said.
The success of this at the schools led the Mangaroos to develop the upcoming tournament.
“When I looked at the children in my form one class – because I also teach English – they were having problems with spelling, so I used Scrabble to help them with the spelling,” Nishka said.
The tournament, they added, is for anyone who wants to play, not for professionals. The development of mind sport has also been supported by national bodies such as the Scrabble Board, the Chess Federation and the Draughts Association.
MindSports Trinidad and Tobago hopes to follow in the footsteps of the international body and host big tournaments where these games fall under one umbrella.
One of the couple’s major goals is to spread Mind Sport to the Caribbean. They have been liaising with the International Mind Sports Association on this.
“We are hoping in the next three to five years to be Caribbean-based,” Jason said.
As an educator/teacher, Nishka knows there are children who are not always inclined to take part in cricket and football, and there are some who like physical sport, but are also interested in mind sports.
As teaching tools, Nishka said, mind sports like Scrabble saw her students learning words from the dictionary in order to compete and win. But there was additional value to this: it improved their language skills and in a matter of three terms she saw improvement in their grades. Monopoly, she said, was used to teach the students math
concepts such as cost price and selling price.
As for overall benefit, mind sport, the Mangaroos said, develops critical thinking, improves one’s planning ability and helps with pattern recognition, spatial awareness and hand-eye co-ordination, as well helping to teach students to strategise.
He added it also teaches them to socialise. Jason said while most people are competitive, mind sports help students to channel their competitiveness positively.
“It helps to build that camaraderie, that fair play...So you build a better society.”
The mind sport tournament starts on November 10 and runs until January 26. The first game takes place at Carapichaima East Secondary for the Port of Spain, Central and St George's environs. Then the preliminary game for San Fernando, Victoria and St Patrick will take place on November 17 at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium.
This, Nishka said, was the first nationwide tournament since tournaments were started internally in schools. Although it began in the school system with younger people, the Mangaroos have also had positive feedback from adults.
“Just yesterday a 60-year-old messaged me. We got a lot of adults. A lot of older people, this is what they grew up on. They responded well to us initially. We got a lot of calls, we got a lot of promises to register,” Jason said.
The games included in MindSports Trinidad and Tobago are chess, Scrabble, draughts, hearts, all fours, bridge, dominoes, Monopoly, crosswords and Sudoku.
Although technological advancement in computer science and digitisation has changed the way people play games, and the future of mind sport, Jason said, is also going to utilise e-sport and programming as two aspects, the use of board games has aided in the revitalisation of these traditional games. The Mangaroos also hope to develop the skills of coding, speed reading and e-games that use strategy in future tournaments.
As they see it, the benefits of mind sport are limitless: building a better TT, building better learners and building lifelong learners.
While they have had discussions with the Ministry of Education on expanding the role of mind sport throughout schools in TT, the ministry wanted it to be school-focused. While the Mangaroos are willing to do this, the ministry has not responded to them as yet.
Nishka said they have received “a really good response” from the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.
“The Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs has endorsed it. Not financially but they have allowed us to use their logo stuff. We believe this is a step in the right direction,” she said.
They hope to, one day, to see a Ministry of Mind Sport in TT.
Just as the international Mind Sport association pushes for a Mind Sport Olympics, the Mangaroos also hope the organisation becomes as large as the TT
Football Association or any other physical sporting body. Just as their family had taught them, the Mangaroos, who have a one-year-old son, hope to teach him the games of mind sport as he matures.