Wednesday 18 November 2015

Singapore Sports School Review 2015: Changes, to reach next level

Young athletes to get more help to excel
Ideas, like National Youth Sports Institute, a 'broader commitment' to provide support
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2015

The elite youth sports system in Singapore is set to be approached and built with greater focus and precision, following the recommendations of a review committee that examined the Singapore Sports School's (SSP) role in the youth sports excellence landscape.

A slew of new initiatives will be rolled out to give high-performing student-athletes here a boost. They include, notably, the creation of a National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI), which will serve both the SSP and mainstream schools.

Existing programmes within the SSP will also be fine-tuned while new ones are introduced.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu unveiled the recommendations yesterday at the The New Paper School Sports Star Award, optimistic that the new measures will help raise the level of youth sporting excellence here.

She said: "These measures signify a broader commitment to provide continued support for youth sports. Our goal does not stop at nurturing champions; we aim to develop the youth athletes of today into sporting heroes of tomorrow."

Co-chaired by MCCY permanent secretary Yeoh Chee Yan and Sport Singapore chairman Richard Seow, the committee spent a year consulting about 200 stakeholders both within and outside the SSP's Woodlands campus.

They included athletes, parents and national sports associations.

The review was a result of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's challenge to the SSP at its 10th anniversary celebrations last year to "become a national sports academy of excellence" in its next decade.

The SSP's answer to this call, said its principal Tan Teck Hock, was to be knowledge-sharers and collaborators, working in partnership with the NYSI.

Headed by Tan Wearn Haw, a former national sailor and chief executive officer of Singapore Sailing, the NYSI will form a bridge between the high-performing student-athletes and the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI).

While the NYSI will largely mirror SSI in providing resources like sports science and medicine, it differs in that it specialises in and tailors its services to the unique needs of athletes around the ages of 12-18.

It will initially be staffed by about 26 people, mainly SSP's sports scientists, psychologists, physiotherapists and athlete life management officers before scaling up to a strength of about 50 over the next few years.

Added Ms Fu: "Over the last 10 years, (the SSP) has accumulated valuable experience and expertise.

"It is now in a good position to share its expertise more widely to support the sporting aspirations of student-athletes in mainstream schools and make a greater impact in youth sport."

The review has allowed the SSP to realise that the school has an important role to play in helping to develop youth sporting excellence here, said SSP principal Tan.

In an interview with The Straits Times, he said that the hope is as much to take SSP to another level as it is to contribute to the development of those who do not attend the school.

He said: "Is this a review just of the SSP, or of how it plugs into the youth athlete development system in Singapore? There's still a segment of people out there who see the SSP as a rival. This us versus them thing is not very healthy.

"We ought to have a more expansive mindset. We only have this much talent in Singapore and I think we should do everything possible to nurture them."

Among the NYSI's responsibilities are talent identification and setting up a youth coaching division.

There are also plans to develop a youth carding system from 2017, which will give the athletes access to NYSI resources based on the level at which they are registered.

The institute will seek to fill the gaps in the system in tending to the youth, said NYSI director Tan.

"You want to see quality and quantity of athletes when we feed them into the SSI system further down the pipeline," he said.

"The NYSI is here to help level up the whole playing field.

"At the end of the day, Singapore has to benefit and it will."

Students from the mainstream schools welcomed yesterday's announcement.

"It's a pretty good move to extend help to the base, because right now there's a lot of assistance given to Sports School and national team, but other than that, it's mainly us footing our own costs for equipment and training," said Kevin Ong, 17.

"This will be quite a good way of extending outreach to athletes that really need the development," added the swimmer from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

Additional reporting by Serena Yeh

Sports School stretches wings
Moves include tweaks to student admission and more learning options for career growth
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2015

In a bid to continue cultivating an environment that allows for sporting excellence without diminishing the importance of academics, the Singapore Sports School (SSP) will introduce new measures from next year while looking to enhance what it has already done well so far.

They include tweaking its admission process, introducing modules that are more closely related to sports to the curriculum, and adding academic options that can run longer - if student-athletes choose to take them up.

The extended International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, in particular, is expected to give the SSP's academic programme added appeal. It will allow students - nine are registered - to complete the programme in up to four years, instead of the original two.

The Woodlands school is just one of 12 institutions around the world that offer this option, and the only one in Singapore.

A special sports class will also be started in partnership with Institute of Technical Education College Central, allowing those who choose a more vocational track to also benefit from an academic programme built around sporting demands.

In order to equip student-athletes with relevant knowledge and skills for their long-term development, lessons in areas like sports science, mental preparation and injury prevention will also find their way into classrooms.

For those who base their training out of the Singapore Sports Hub in Kallang, a satellite centre will be started there.

Badminton players have already tried out distance learning with lectures beamed live.

Said SSP principal Tan Teck Hock: "We've always taken a holistic perspective and an integrated environment for students is key."

Perhaps the greatest difference in the make-up of the SSP population will come from the fact that it will now accept budding athletes from all sports.

It will make allowances for more to join its ranks midstream.

Tan expects more, in particular, to take advantage of the SSP's post-secondary programmes. The SSP, which currently admits about 90 per cent of its students at the Secondary 1 level, will gradually reduce its intake at that age over time.

"We do know that admitting students early basically means that there is always a risk that the person may not develop, even if you determine potential at Sec 1," said Tan, who noted that athletes in sports like track and field mature later.

"Not just because of the physical spurt of growth, but that's when they make the commitment. While in the past we've taken most of our students in at Sec 1, this isn't something we can tighten immediately."

The initiatives, including the SSP's deep involvement in pioneering the National Youth Sports Institute, requires the SSP to share more with the wider student-athlete population while doing more for its own too.

But Tan expects great benefits. He said: "It enhances our game, because when you're prepared to share, you do better. It's going to be a win-win for everyone."

Flexible study scheme allows balanced focus
By Serena Yeh and Vanessa Kang, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2015

After the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on competing at the SEA Games on home soil this year, Singapore Sports School (SSP) student Ong Yong Qing has set his sights on the next one in 2017.

There is just one issue: It will very likely clash with examinations for the 16-year-old shooter, who is on the SSP's International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Now, with the ability to extend his studies for up to four years instead of completing it within two, he is more certain of being able to focus on preparing for the Games.

The SSP is one of just 12 institutions internationally to provide this option.

"In two years' time, there is the SEA Games and if I were to take the two-year programme, it would clash with the final exams, so I don't think I would prepare well for the SEA Games," said Yong Qing, who welcomed the ability to balance training and school work.

"My final goal is the Olympic Games, so if I can't even go for the SEA Games, I think it'd be very difficult to go for the Olympics.

"The four-year programme can help me manage my time better so I can cope with both studies and sports."

Yong Qing is one of several student-athletes who have chosen to take up the extended option.

Fencer Tatiana Wong, 16, has chosen to extend her programme to three years. She said: "I just want to focus on the SEA Games, and from there, I'll take it slow, so three years is just the right time frame for me to achieve my goal.

"Education can wait but sports less so, because once you reach a certain age, you can't peak any more, so it's more important to prioritise sports."

For those who require a more vocational approach, the SSP is working with ITE College Central to pioneer a class made up of student-athletes.

Compared to previous classes, the new sports class will allow for greater flexibility in wrapping classes around training.

It is a luxury that bowler Muhammad Jaris Goh wished he had. He graduated from the ITE course in 2013 as valedictorian and is currently enrolled in the Republic Polytechnic-SSP Diploma in Sports and Leisure Management programme.

Said the 20-year-old: "It was tough when I was at ITE (but) I had a few good friends who helped me to take notes and record lectures whenever I missed classes. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to catch up."

Footballer Gerald Ting, 16, will benefit from the new initiative when he begins pursuing the Nitec in Fitness Training next year.

He said: "Being in a sports class means it would be easier to fit training in. It'll be nice to be in a setting that is similar to the SSP and be surrounded by like-minded classmates."

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