A Different Kind of Smart

Aspiring professional footballer thinks quickly on his feet

Rohin (left) scoring a goal in a football game four years ago and at a friendly match against Sembawang Secondary School last year (right). Although he is also gifted in running, he likes the unpredictability of football as it complements his ability
Mr Ramachandra, a corporate lawyer who is chairman of S-League football club Tampines Rovers, sees football as an avenue through which Rohin can learn the importance of transferable life skills and knowledge.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Mr Ramachandra, a corporate lawyer who is chairman of S-League football club Tampines Rovers, sees football as an avenue through which Rohin can learn the importance of transferable life skills and knowledge.
Rohin (above) scoring a goal in a football game four years ago and at a friendly match against Sembawang Secondary School last year. Although he is also gifted in running, he likes the unpredictability of football as it complements his ability to think quickly on the spot. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRIYA SELVAM
Rohin (left) scoring a goal in a football game four years ago and at a friendly match against Sembawang Secondary School last year (right). Although he is also gifted in running, he likes the unpredictability of football as it complements his ability
Rohin scoring a goal in a football game four years ago and at a friendly match against Sembawang Secondary School last year (above). Although he is also gifted in running, he likes the unpredictability of football as it complements his ability to think quickly on the spot. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRIYA SELVAM

His dad is a corporate lawyer who wanted him to study in RI, but teenager Rohin Selvam Ramachandra is gifted in sports and has persuaded dad that his career is in a different field - the football pitch. This is the second of a three-part series on students who have ventured beyond the normal academic routes and followed their passion and aspirations.

His father had dreamt of him scoring a place in the prestigious Raffles Institution (RI), known for its academic prowess.

But 14-year-old Rohin Selvam Ramachandra has a different dream - of scoring goals and making it into the elite league of professional football.

"I just felt good playing football.

"It would lift all my stress and problems, and then there was that love of the glory of scoring a goal," says Rohin, his eyes lighting up as he recounts a memorable season in Primary 5, when he scored 51 goals in 13 games for his school, Anglo-Chinese School (Primary).

It was in the same year that he had a serious conversation with his father, corporate lawyer Krishna Ramachandra, 45.

He revealed that instead of the usual route of school, university and white-collar career, he wanted to pursue his love of sports.

  • Inspired by humble, loving granddad

    Q What did you want to be when you were 10?

    A A footballer.

    Q What do you want to be now?

    A I still want to be a footballer, but I also plan to study IT in the future while pursuing football.

    Q What do you hope to be doing five years from now?

    A Going overseas to train and play top-level football competitively, and maybe studying for a degree.

    Q If you could change one thing about the education system to encourage young people to follow their passion, what would that be?

    A For studies, there shouldn't be a model answer for every single question, as long as you understand what you are learning.

    The teacher should also know that you understand, based on the answer that you give, instead of following an answer scheme.

    Some people don't think along the lines of model answers.

    Q Who inspires you and why?

    A Two of my footballing inspirations are Paulo Dybala, an Argentinian striker from Juventus, and Luis Suarez, who plays for FC Barcelona. Paulo's playing style reminds me of how I play.

    He is predominantly left-footed and fast.

    For Luis, I used to support Liverpool and he was the club's star player.

    Somebody who inspires me in my own life is my granddad, who was an engineer.

    He passed away in August.

    He was humble and respected everyone regardless of their background and status.

    The way he treated people was extraordinary, and I admire the virtues that he displayed. He was also a loving man, and always made time for all of us in the family.

DIFFERENT ASPIRATIONS

My initial hopes had been for him to join Raffles Institution, but I think it was more of my dream than his dream.

MR RAMACHANDRA, on wanting his son to get a place in the prestigious school.

Specifically, he wanted to be a professional football player.

Mr Ramachandra, a sports lover who is chairman of S-League football club Tampines Rovers, says: "Certainly, in my generation, you would not have entertained something like that. But I realised that his generation is different and we need to embrace their dreams."

Rohin's athletic skills had caught the attention of coaches from RI and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) by the time he entered Primary 6.

Such was his talent that they began exploring the possibility of having him join their schools even before the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Rohin ended up with a PSLE T-score of 214, good enough to join the Express stream if the schools made him an offer through the Direct School Admission scheme, which recognises excellence in sports, arts or the academics.

But Rohin had his heart set on the Singapore Sports School.

His father supported him, seeing it as the place where Rohin could take his passion to the highest level and compete regionally and internationally, while receiving a good education at the same time.

His parents pay about $4,000 in school fees a year, on top of around $6,000 a year for extra classes such as muay thai and gymnastics that improve his flexibility and agility.

M r Ramachandra admits: "My initial hopes had been for him to join Raffles Institution, but I think it was more of my dream than his dream."

GRIT AND INSPIRATION

Some might label Rohin's dream as impossible - audacious, even - given that Singapore football has yet to leave a significant mark on the international scene.

But Mr Ramachandra, who describes his parenting style as "pretty avant-garde", fully supports Rohin. Rather than viewing football as the polar opposite of the academic route, he sees it as an avenue through which Rohin can learn the importance of transferable life skills and knowledge.

"Even a footballer needs to know how to speak well, understand maths and the commercial realities of the sport," says Mr Ramachandra, who also has a 12-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter.

While an unorthodox career path by Singapore standards, football is a thriving industry in Europe, where a top-league professional footballer can earn big bucks - up to US$20 million (S$27.5 million) a year for the very best.

Mr Ramachandra emphasises: "I want my kids to be able to aspire and to dream. That is already a discipline in itself."

It helps that Rohin's parents have a different perspective from many other parents.

His 42-year-old mother, veterinary practice manager Priya Selvam, represented Singapore in international showjumping competitions. His father, despite carving out a successful career in the intensely competitive legal world, tasted academic failure earlier on in life. He got an F grade for mother tongue in the PSLE, but managed to pick himself up and do well in secondary school.

The only concern that Mr Ramachandra had was whether Rohin fully appreciated the realities of what it takes to make it in football.

But Rohin has laid those concerns to rest by persevering even when his morale took a hit when he was pitted against better players.

Mr Ramachandra says: "He'll work on his technical skills and do drills, and he wakes up an hour before his peers every morning to do additional training. Others tell him that he's crazy, but he has the discipline to stick with it."

He points out that Rohin, who is in the National Football Academy's Under-14 team, can juggle a football with his feet 1,500 times consecutively - no mean feat even for a good adult player.

Rohin's former coach at ACS (Primary), Mr Desmund Khusnin, 43, recalls: "He would text me at night, asking me what he could work on to improve his game."

Rohin also constantly asked for videos of games he had played in to see where he could improve.

LESSONS THROUGH FOOTBALL

Rohin first got hooked on the sport at around seven when he began playing football with kids at a playground near the Bukit Timah estate where his family used to live.

He then joined his primary school's football team, and went on to play under the Football Association of Singapore's Junior Centre of Excellence elite programme for two years.

One of Mr Ramachandra's proudest moments as a parent was watching Rohin play in a game between ACS (Primary) and ACS (Junior) when he was nine.

The score was stuck at 0-0 in the dying minutes of the game.

 
 

He recalls: "Rohin bundled the ball in, and the referee declared it a goal. But Rohin said the goal did not count, because he had touched the ball with his arm. The referee declared that goal illegal, and everyone was aghast at Rohin.

"(But) I was close to tears as this showed how he had translated the life lessons I had tried to impart through football into everyday practice, and how he had embraced the philosophy of winning with honour."

The young Rohin also proved gifted in running, breaking his primary school's 600m record when he was 12. He was so good that he was asked to pursue track and field at the Singapore Sports School, although football won out.

Rohin prefers the unpredictability of the Beautiful Game as it complements his ability to think quickly on his feet. He says: "The game can change in so many ways. Sometimes you have to defend, and sometimes you have to attack."

It is this creative logic that appeals to Rohin, who also enjoys drama lessons and who has started learning computer coding on his own through mobile apps.

Rather than memorising large chunks of information, he prefers to learn by doing things, such as project work, or going on field trips.

Indeed, studies have shown that kinesthetic learners - who do best when a task involves body movement and hands-on work - are often talented in athletics, dancing and other physical activities.

Maths and geography are his favourite subjects, as he can best see their relevance in real life.

THE SCHOOLING EFFECT

He hopes more parents will encourage their children to choose different pathways, especially in the light of Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling's historic gold-medal victory at the Rio Olympics.

He says: "Parents here would prefer their child to become a doctor instead of a footballer, if given a choice. But if more parents allow their children to pursue sports, there will be more sportsmen and a larger number of people succeeding in sports."

Rohin also sees intrinsic value in investing time in sports, no matter how his professional ambitions turn out. He says: "Even if I don't end up pursuing football for whatever reason, it still pushes me to be disciplined."


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This is the second of a three-part series on students who have ventured beyond the normal academic routes and followed their passion and aspirations.

VIDEO: Watch our video of Rohin Selvam Ramachandra http://str.sg/4xmc 

Discover your child's unique smarts at uob.com.sg/kidsmart

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Aspiring professional footballer thinks quickly on his feet'. Print Edition | Subscribe