School Games: Putting the fun in Juniors' School Games

Krupa Palaniappan remembers feeling sad last year, warming the bench during the National School Games (NSG) and coming on only when her teammates were injured or during "easy" basketball games.

From this year, however, the Kranji Primary School pupil will get more playing time following changes to the NSG junior division, for ages nine to 11, that the Ministry of Education unveiled at the NSG opening ceremony at the OCBC Arena yesterday .

Basketball is one of 12 sports that will undergo changes in areas such as game formats, equipment, awards and recognition and the use of substitutes.

One change to the format will see each school field three teams of three to five players while games are played in two six-minute periods on half a court. Previously, a team of 12 would contest five-a-side games on a full court in four 10-minute periods.

All three teams earn points for the school, towards a final ranking in the group stages or a result in the knockout stages.

Said 10-year-old Krupa, a Primary 5 pupil, of these changes: "It's better because you have more opportunities and more space, so you can play better. Everyone has a chance to play and they won't think they are bad just because they don't get chosen to play."

Also, in track and field, athletes will no longer compete in specialised events such as the 100m.

They will instead take part in a multi-event competition, where they each have to run, hurdle and throw in the same race.

Participants get achievement pins based on how far they throw and how fast they run, for example, instead of their final race positions.

Former Singapore sprinter and two-time Olympian C. Kunalan lauded this change, saying: "It makes sense; at that age, running 100m or 200m or 300m is crazy. If you are training for these events at such a young age I feel that after some time you'll get fed up.

"Of course there will be a couple of young ones who won't mind doing this forever because they're just born like this. But how many 'born-like-this' kids do we have?

"We don't want to lose any of the kids too early. This kind of thing will keep the fun element there and they won't get too injured too early or (suffer) psychological burnout."

All 21 sports in the junior division would have underwent the changes by 2021. The process started last year in three sports - golf, rugby and sailing.

This follows the review, which started in 2015 and was completed last year, of the NSG competitions.

Said Tan Chen Kee, MOE's divisional director of its student development curriculum division: "The review was started because first we wanted to look at our students' initial encounter with sports and how we can strengthen that - how we can make it a lot more enjoyable, less competitive and how can we adopt a long-term athlete-development view of things and... help the children slowly ease into the competition and the sports."

Senior Minister of State for Education Chee Hong Tat added: "These enhancements will enable our young athletes to enjoy their sporting experiences, have more opportunities to participate in competitions, and develop character and values through sports."