The Singapore Sports School Is Probably Not For Your Child, If You Can’t Address These Concerns

Is your child displaying an aptitude for a sport at an early age? Has he or she been talent spotted in primary school to join a school team? Could the Singapore Sports School be the right place for your child, instead of a mainstream secondary school?

If you are a true-blue Singaporean, you may also ask: Is it wise to prioritise sports over studies, especially in Singapore? If your child has played a sport competitively, you will already know that there are trade-offs that come with sports development, even at the early stages. For one, it’s usually a hefty financial and time investment, and understandably, Singaporean parents may struggle to be supportive.

“In sporting development for young talent, parents play a very big part. They must therefore see the value of having their children in sports,” said local politician Edwin Tong during his tenure as Minister for Culture, Community, and Youth.

“At the same time, we are also… practical people. If I’m a Singaporean parent, with our first-class education system, the opportunity cost of being a professional sportsman is possibly a university degree or higher learning which could give my child a baseline advantage in life.”

Tong made these comments as he was advocating for academic pathways that would help local student athletes to secure a degree without compromising on their training. One possibility he cited was tie-ups with US universities with quality sporting programmes. At present, the Singapore Sports School only offers diploma pathways, but they do recommend outstanding students to local universities, which may grant admission interviews.

Ultimately, no one can recommend the best route for your child — that decision will have to be made by your family. But for parents who are just starting to explore what the Singapore Sports School offers, we can share some perspectives from our KSP community, and point you to useful resources!

Concern: You are uncertain about the Singapore Sports School’s “track record.”

How far can a student athlete go, under the nurturing of the Singapore Sports School? For a start, here are some figures cited by one of the school’s former principals:

  • Singapore Sports School student-athletes won almost 40 percent of Singapore’s 84 gold medals at the 2015 SEA Games. Its students and alumni accounted for about 31 per cent of the 188 medals won two years later in Kuala Lumpur.
  • Of the 647 athletes at the 2019 SEA Games, 100 were from the Singapore Sports School.

In recent times, newsmaking athletes from the Singapore Sports School have included:

You can also visit the Singapore Sports School website for updates on its students’ sporting achievements.

Nevertheless, some parents may still echo the sentiments of a KSP member, who said: “Superstar sportsmen are [few and far between] and realistically Singapore has many… generations to go before we churn them out by the dozens. [The Singapore Sports School] is a bet with not so favourable odds. Studies that lead to a good job, with sports as a hobby, is a more realistic and sustainable option, rather than sports as a struggling career.”

However, as her son was quite determined to join the Singapore Sports School, she relented, and they struck a deal. Her son was allowed to give the school a shot, but he would switch back to a mainstream school if there was “no marked improvement” in his sports progress, or if his grades did not meet agreed-upon benchmarks.

Concern: You don’t want to sacrifice academics.

Pertaining to this concern, some KSP members have recommended national swimmer Pang Sheng Jun’s blog, where he talks about why studies can wait, but sports can’t.

“You can still study when you’re 30, but you have already passed your peak age of sporting performance when you choose to do sports after you’re done studying. At that point in time, it will be too late to turn back to sport,’” Pang cautions.

In a separate post on the importance of parental support in sports, he discusses sports “success” and concludes: “Even though I’m not an Olympic champion, but I know that I have lived my life doing what I love most, and with that, I have no regrets.”

With regards to academics, the Singapore Sports School has revealed that more than 90% of its student-athletes have achieved at least five GCE O-Level subject passes, and almost all its O-Level students have qualified for entry at junior colleges, the Millennia Institute, or polytechnics. In addition, all of its student-athletes who have taken their GCE N-Level exams have progressed to Secondary 5 or the Institute of Technical Education.

The fact is that some Singapore Sports School students will do very well academically, such as silat exponent Nujaid Hasif Zainal Abidin, who scored 44 out of a maximum 45 points when he took the International Baccalaureate diploma examinations. According to the school, many of its graduates have also secured scholarships from both local and overseas universities, as well as prestigious government scholarships. But should this be the expectation that you place on your child? This is a tough question that you will need to reflect on.

Concern: You don’t feel your child is ready for boarding school.

First, boarding is not compulsory at the Singapore Sports School. That said, those who are willing to board on weekdays can optimise their time for training, academic learning, and rest.

Of course, boarding school is not a concept that most Singaporeans are familiar with, so it is perfectly normal to have reservations about this. You can visit the Singapore Sports School’s FAQ page, where they outline the daily routine of a boarder, along with other aspects of boarding school life that you might have questions on, such as laundry, housekeeping, and meals.

It may help to sit down with your child to make a list of pros and cons about boarding school, and if you need ideas, you can consult this list. Some benefits of boarding school include fostering a sense of discipline and responsibility, as well as opportunities to forge close friendships with like-minded peers on a similar path. The downsides include homesickness, emotional health issues that parents may not be aware of, and a lack of separation between home and school.

Are you willing to overhaul your child’s life in the name of sports? This question will also require much soul searching.

Concern: You are worried about your child’s safety.

Abuse of trust can occur in any context, but the increased publicity surrounding abuse of authority in sports might lead you to question if you are placing your children in a vulnerable position, as they will be primarily supervised by other adults if they join the Singapore Sports School.

In Singapore, a media poll of athletes and coaches seemed to indicate that sexually inappropriate conduct is rare in the local sporting scene. Elsewhere, studies have shown that between 2% and 8% of minor-age athletes are victims of sexual abuse within the context of sport.

In terms of physical safety, the Singapore Sports School has CCTV surveillance all around the campus, including on every level of its boarding blocks. According to the school, these images are monitored by full-time security officers.

If you are worried about safety, don’t apologise for it — it is a justifiable concern. Do whatever you can to arm yourself with information, be it by talking to current and former students, or arranging a meeting with school personnel to discuss safety issues. If your child has sporting talent, and is keen to attend the Singapore Sports School, you would want to make an informed choice, rather than let a fear of the unknown shroud your decision making.

Want to chat with other parents about the Singapore Sports School? Join the conversation here!