Like many Singaporean children, Ms Valerie Su grew up playing with her neighbours at the Housing Board void deck. Instead of games like hide-and-seek or tag, she played football.
“I started playing football because of peer pressure,” says the 27-year-old. “If I didn’t join in with my friends, I would have been left out.”
The childhood game developed into a passion for freestyle football and eventually led her to establish a freestyle football facility, Expy the Lab, in Queenstown Shopping Centre 15 years later. She describes freestyle football as a mix of sports and art. It features football juggling, dance, acrobatics and music.
The facility, which Ms Su co-owns with two partners, was established in 2019 when they realised that they needed a permanent space to hold regular classes and allow fellow enthusiasts to brush up on their skills.
An indirect route
Even though she has always loved sports from a young age, Ms Su did not take a direct route to carve out a career in sports management. After finishing her O-level examinations, she studied biomedical sciences in polytechnic. After graduation, she worked as a laboratory technician for five months before realising that the work did not excite her. She was dragging her feet to work every day.
“I was just doing the same task over and over again, and I realised that I wanted a more challenging career. Around that time, I was given an opportunity to work in sports so I took the leap,” she says.
She left the lab and worked in a succession of jobs in the sports industry, including freelance coach, a customs and warehouse officer at a sporting goods store and an event organiser at an indoor football stadium. It was while working as an event organiser at indoor football stadium The Cage that she realised that she needed a relevant degree to build the skills needed to advance further in the industry.
Building relevant skills
To acquire the skills and knowledge needed for sports and events management, Ms Su studied Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Sports and Event Management and International Business) at the Singapore Campus of James Cook University (JCU).
She heard about the university from friends working in sports.
“They had a good impression of JCU, especially of the diverse culture,” she says. “They also shared with me they would choose to enroll at the university if they could study again as it offers modules that are more attractive and relatable to the industry.”
She eventually chose the full-time programme which could be completed in two years due to the trimester system, and the programme allowed her to choose modules that would enable her to build relevant skills for the sports industry. She also wanted to take a second major to hone her knowledge of international business.
The plucky entrepreneur describes her time at JCU as an eye-opener. Thanks to the university’s diverse cohort that includes students from all around the world, she got the chance to interact with people from different backgrounds.
She also credits lecturers like Dr Jenny Panchal in developing her skills in events management. “I had wanted to organise a freestyle football event that was outside of school curriculum and Dr Panchal was there to advise me throughout the process,” she recalls. The lecturer even gave Ms Su permission to hold the event in school.
Another highlight is her six-month internship with football club Paris Saint-Germain Football Asia Pacific, which is based in Singapore. As an intern, she worked as an international coordinator’s assistant and helped to organise events in the region, creating communication collaterals for the sales team and identifying commercial opportunities.
“My internship with Paris Saint-Germain was a life-changing experience,” she says. “One of the most exciting moments of my internship was the time where I got to assist the team in overseas activation in Jakarta and met professional footballer Jay-Jay Okocha in person.”
Ms Su says that such hands-on experience has allowed her to build conceptual skills for the fast-paced sports industry, which she hopes to use to propel her business forward.
“My degree has equipped me with the different skill sets to see the business potential in my passion,” she says.
Visit www.jcu.edu.sg/courses-and-study/courses/business for more information on the Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Sports and Events Management and International Business).