THE "shelf life" of an athlete is relatively short. In most sports, the athlete will peak at around age 25 to 28.
A few will continue with the sport, as coaches, for instance, but most will have to embark on a career in something else.
Thus, the years leading up to their peak are very important if we want them to be able to stand up to competition on the regional, if not world, stage, as well as prepare them for life after sports.
Here in Singapore, certain sports like football and basketball have a go-professional option, where the athletes can focus on their sport full time and earn a living from it.
In other sports, the athletes may not be so lucky. They are, at most, semi-pro and, for the 20 to 23 age group, most have to balance intense sports training with their studies.
In a society where decent post-secondary education is a basic requirement, most of our young athletes are pressured to pursue a post-secondary education on top of pursuing sporting excellence.
Sadly, I have seen talented athletes give up their sport as they enter higher education because they struggle with this tension. Studies win and our sports suffer.
One suggestion would be for our universities and polytechnics to allow such students to do their courses of study in extended time.
For example, a typical university course is about three yearslong, with an additional year for honours. Can a student-athlete be permitted to complete his degree in six or seven years?
With a more manageable workload, they can then balance both sports and studies effectively.
Something similar may already be available on a case-by-case basis, but student-athletes may still struggle as they may feel they are lagging behind their peers. There is also the problem of key competition dates clashing with examinations.
What possible pathways do higher-education institutions have available for these talented athletes?
Singapore wants champions but we also have a duty to help them level up for their post-sports careers.