I'm relatively new to the game myself but I've been trying to introduce friends to the game so that more people will be able to play with me. This usually involves me briefly explaining the rules then playing games with them on a 13x13 board to start and eventually a 19x19 board. Here are some of the problems I have had trying to teach and play the game with complete beginners:
1) They don't know when the game has ended (they keep playing stones which do not further the game)
I see this as well with my students. I often have to ask them why they would consider playing such moves. I try to head this off by explaining liberties for different groups of stones, 1-stone groups, 2-stone groups, 3-stone groups, et al.
With time and experience this habit disappears, though.
2) They dislike playing handicap games (or flat-out refuse to play them!)
If your students feel brave enough for a sound beating, let'em have it! This is a good time to teach them about opening theory and its importance in the game.
Otherwise, you can tell them that if they cannot win on easy mode, how can they expect to win on top-level mode?
3) Some have claimed they feel overwhelmed (by so many things going on at once)
See No. 2. I will add that learning Go is like learning how to talk. When you are a baby and your mother tells you a bedtime story, all you hear is noise. After a while of the same, though, you understand more and eventually you begin to talk. In Go, you will see a game played between two experienced players. You will not know squat of what's happening as they play, but with constant observation and practice through replay and review of games, and solving Go puzzles in different skill categories, eventually you will understand what goes on in a game and will be able to play with confidence and in a way that makes sense.
I have tried to solve 1 by explaining that when territory is safe, playing stones that cannot live inside someone elses territory is futile, and that when a group is dead, playing stones to try to help it is futile, but I'm not sure what the best way to illustrate/explain this is. (I've gone over ladders/nets/and how having two eyes can make a group immune to capture.)
A thorough explanation of the rule of liberties & capture will clear the air. The importance of liberties carries over into life & death. L&D is simply determining whether a group of stones can be captured or not and what to do from there. If there is no legal way to capture a group of stones, it is considered alive as it will remain on the board till the end of the game. The points on the board occupied by such groups are what count as points for the side to which the same belong. Otherwise, the group is considered dead since it will be subject to capture throughout the game. For example, groups with two solid
eyes are considered alive because there is no legal way to capture them. This means playing 2 of your stones on the same turn and this is against the rules.
You can also show how the shape of the empty space surrounded by a group of stones, as well as the number of empty points therein, determines whether it lives or dies.
One friend said playing a handicap game was like, “putting the game on easy mode” and I tried to explain that it is more like, “putting the game on more even-footing” but he didn't buy it. Another friend felt as if the extra stones he started with didn't matter because he, “didn't even know how to use them”.
This is one reason why I often recommend replaying pro game records from beginning to end, even if many say that such advice is garbage and that annotated games are better. I personally find annotated games to be easier to follow after a period of replaying non-annotated games. As well - and this is probably the most important benefit of replaying pro games - one gets to observe
how one is supposed to play a game of Go on a 19 x 19 board. I find that, in conjunction with Go puzzles, this helps to improve reading ability because replaying pro games accustoms the brain to visualizing long lines of play. Which translates into sharper reading during actual games.
If nothing else is available, a collection of Shusaku's games are good examples to replay, especially for beginners that often take Black since Shusaku almost always held Black (often out of modesty since he would not take White when playing against his instructors or senior players).
Replaying pro kifu are the closest many amateurs ever get to lessons from a pro. Fukui Masaaki 9p never had instruction from a pro, only a collection of Hon'inbo Dosaku's games to learn from. He simply replayed the collection over and over again till he memorized each one of the games.
Ultimately one plays as they feel like playing, but, as the Dalai Lama says, one follows the rules to know the right way to break them! A novice should observe what good playing habits look like and, after a long period of familiarization with said playing habits, he/she can improvise to his/her heart's content and discover new ways of playing.
When someone feels overwhelmed, I have asked them to try to focus on a corner/local area/fight and not think too much about the rest, to ask if it is important for them to play there or if they can play somewhere else instead. And if they determine they can play away, to look at other areas, one at a time as small "chunks" and determine where they should play that way instead of trying to take in the entire board at once. They, however, still feel like too much is going on at once. (Maybe a 9x9 board is in order for this case?)
A 9 x 9 board is more manageable for the more timid beginner. It is great for developing L&D and tesuji skills, which are bread & butter for all Go players. One reason why handicap is often given to weaker players is because the weaker player usually cannot visualize the complete board yet. So handicap stones help to compensate for the deficiency in fuseki skills and encourage the student player to use his/her fighting skills, which means intense application of L&D and tesuji skills.
I have a 7x7 board that I use to teach capture Go to my novices. I show them that even a simple position has various possibilities. I even intentionally make mistakes, not to be dishonest, but to see if my novice opponent is paying attention (which sometimes they aren't) I try to stimulate their thinking without overwhelming them. Maybe capture Go will work in your case. Just remember to remind your learners that in capture Go the objective is not to capture the other guy's stones, but to make it hard for him to capture yours! Eventually, after some time of playing capture Go on the 9x9 board your learners will be able to protect their stones from capture, thus allowing them to change over to regular Go with some experience already under their belts.
I am worried that my friends feel as though I am completely sandbagging them and in the process I might be discouraging them from playing by beating them so mercilessly... but my intent is merely to teach them the game!
Go is not an easy game to master. Neither are the plethora of video games out there, but the system of reward employed therein makes such games worth playing, even the ones that make one feel like Sisyphus pushing a heavy boulder up a hillside. Go is a game in which the rewards come only to those who persist. And Go is an equal opportunity destroyer of egos!
Which is why in some Go meets free food is offered.
You should be able to review every game with your students and point out their weaknesses. This way they know what to work on and are less likely to make the same mistakes next time. If you cannot replay a game from memory, you should record the game either on a sheet of paper with a diagram of an empty 19x19 board or by jotting down grid coordinates in algebraic form, such as D4 for the 4-4 point, Q16 for the 16-16 point, and so on. If you have a smartphone, your device should be able to accommodate apps for recording Go games.
I know that everyone is different, maybe someone who dislikes handicap games will learn or enjoy the game just as well without playing them as someone who enjoys them would. (I would like to feel like I'm improving at the same time though, and not lax in my moves or shape because I think I can get away with it! Maybe my main motivation for wanting to give them stones is selfishness.) And I know not everyone is necessarily interested in the game (especially as much as I am), but I'm afraid in my excitement to play I am not being as careful and mindful as I could be in how I am trying to introduce them to/teach them the game. Any advice on the matter would be much appreciated, thanks.
A systematic way of teaching Go that allows the novice to grasp the most basic concepts is essential. Explain the rules, explain liberties & capture by showing different stone formations and how relative positioning on the board determines the number of available liberties. Then play a few games of capture Go to try out the newfound knowledge. Wager for first one to capture 1 stone, then 2 stones, then 3, and so on.