National School Games Junior Division to undergo review to allow more playing opportunities

(From left Lee Hui Feng, chairman, Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council and principal of Qihua Primary; Cassandra Ong, 11, of Tao Nan School; Minister Ng; Lincoln Forest Liqht Man, 18, of Sports School and ACS (I) principal Winston Hodge.
(From left Lee Hui Feng, chairman, Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council and principal of Qihua Primary; Cassandra Ong, 11, of Tao Nan School; Minister Ng; Lincoln Forest Liqht Man, 18, of Sports School and ACS (I) principal Winston Hodge.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

More than a decade has passed since former national floorball player Mohammed Hafeez was turned away from his former school's first team, but the 34-year-old still remembers the hurt of being "good, but not good enough".

Now the coach and teacher in charge of North View Primary School's floorball team, he hopes the ongoing review of the 21 Junior Division sports competitions at the annual National School Games (NSG) will allow student-athletes of all skill levels to have more opportunities to play and represent their schools in sport.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced on Wednesday (Jan 24) at the opening ceremony of the NSG at the OCBC Arena that the Junior Division competitions, for primary school pupils aged nine to 11, are being reviewed over the next three years.

In addition to increasing playing opportunities and playing time for young student-athletes, the committees are also looking at ways to reduce perceived stakes of the competitions while instilling the need for competition rigour and sporting excellence.

Noting that the Junior Division competitions are usually these young children's first time taking part in a formal inter-school meet, Mr Ng said: "The review of Junior Division competitions seeks to design competition experiences that are developmentally more appropriate... by strengthening their fundamental skills and cultivating the joy of playing sports.

"I look forward to seeing these important changes that support the development of our young athletes."

The review committees are led by the respective national conveners for each of the 21 sports competitions organised by the Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council.

Principals and teachers - including Mr Hafeez - as well as representatives from some national sports associations, are also involved in these committees.

Ms Lee Hui Feng, chairman of the Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council, said the review is aimed at allowing children to enjoy the experience of competing.

"In all sports, after you pick up the skill set, you would want to apply it in a competition setting... We really hope that, the first time they enter the competition ground, the sense of defeat shouldn't be too overwhelming to the extent that it discourages them from carrying on with the sport," she said.

St Stephen's Primary School pupil Ezrie Iman Ang Norhisham, a track-and-field athlete, agreed.

"I think playing is better than winning because in order to win, you have to play more. If we play more, we get to bond more with our friends and we can also build our teamwork from there," said the Primary 6 pupil.

Teacher Khairil Anuar Idris, who is involved in the Junior Division review for rugby, hopes the review will lead to children continuing their involvement in sport even after their schooling days are over.

"Ultimately, you want the children to enjoy sports... It starts at this level and, if we reduce the opportunities for participation, then the children will not have this passion and dedication to sport. In future, they will not want to continue participating and the belief in sport will be greatly reduced," said the 42-year-old, who is the head of department of physical education (co-curricular activities) at St Andrew's Junior School.

Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee lauded the review as a "psychological boost" for young student-athletes.

"I think (the review) will lead to better-quality athletes who are more dedicated," she added.

"Studies are always important, but I think most of them may want to be better sportsmen than what their parents might allow, so hopefully, this will be a legitimate reason for them to say, 'Look, sports is just as important as academic studies.' "