No go for team sports

NSG won't have 8 of them but situation may change; coaches hoping new formats arise

Left: SAJC netball goal shooter Rachel Wong taking a shot during a training session as Demetria Ho defends. They are joined by Amelia Chu (far right) and Tara Nur Alisha Faris. Below: Peicai softballer Nur Aliya Natasya was hoping to compete for the
SAJC netball goal shooter Rachel Wong taking a shot during a training session as Demetria Ho defends. They are joined by Amelia Chu (far right) and Tara Nur Alisha Faris. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ST ANDREW'S JUNIOR COLLEGE
Left: SAJC netball goal shooter Rachel Wong taking a shot during a training session as Demetria Ho defends. They are joined by Amelia Chu (far right) and Tara Nur Alisha Faris. Below: Peicai softballer Nur Aliya Natasya was hoping to compete for the
Peicai softballer Nur Aliya Natasya was hoping to compete for the B Division girls' softball title after last year's washout but is resigned to missing out again. Other team sports like cricket, football, hockey, rugby, volleyball and water polo will also not be played although floorball and basketball will be contested in modified formats. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NUR ALIYA NATASYA

Netballer Talisha Michelle Savaridas had dreamt of winning the National School Games (NSG) A Division title when she was accepted into Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC) - netball champions for 2018 and 2019 - through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme two years ago.

But Talisha, now a JC2 student, is staring at a second straight year of not competing in the annual school competition.

For the first time in its 61-year history, the NSG was cancelled last year - after it was suspended twice - owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the Games will resume this year, eight team sports - cricket, football, hockey, netball, rugby, softball, volleyball and water polo - have been benched for now as they "do not meet the national guidelines", said the Ministry of Education (MOE). Judo has also been omitted from the NSG.

Other team sports like basketball and floorball have been modified to adhere to the latest Covid-19 guidelines that limit sports activities to groups of eight people. The competitions for the two sports will be held in 3v3 formats.

However, there is still hope for student-athletes like Talisha as the MOE said in its press statement last month that it is "working on how these sports can resume safely for NSG 2021".

The NSG, which typically runs from January to August, sees about 60,000 student-athletes competing across 29 sports.

Talisha, 17, said: "I came in last year with the intention that I'm going to play in the A Division and we're going to win, but no one expected Covid to hit. Nonetheless, I still had some hope that it was going to die down sooner or later, but it hasn't and I don't think we'll be playing this year.

"It's just really sad to know that I won't be able to play my final NSG properly and end it on a high and the fact that I didn't even get to play with the school sucks, but at least I still got to train with my teammates at ACJC and experience what training with coach (Kok Mun Wai) was like."

Other student-athletes shared her disappointment at the possibility of not competing in this year's inter-school games.

Softball player Nur Aliya Natasya, 15, said the omission was expected but not being able to represent her Peicai Secondary School team felt "very sad and wasted because hard work has not paid off".

"It's really a huge deal for me because not being able to play and win for my secondary school for the last time before I leave is not what I had in mind," she added.

HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED

Despite the announcement that their sports may not be included in this year's NSG, the student-athletes are still training and hoping that like other team sports, their sport can be modified to be included in the competition.

Netball coach Kok, 52, who trains the ACJC and CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh) teams, said: "It will be a good compromise if they can modify the game because we cannot expect everything to go back to normal... At least they get to play in a competition and they're just dying to play."

Hockey coach Robin Ng, who coaches CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School and Eunoia Junior College, suggested hockey could also be played in a 3v3 format, adding: "Maybe they can also allow each school to send three teams for the 3v3 format so that more players can get a chance to play as well and you don't kill the interest of the players."

With the lack of competitions, keeping student-athletes motivated could prove to be challenging. Football coach Razif Ariff, 34, said: "We understand (that this is necessary with) the situation that is happening now. But it could be frustrating, or the kids may lack motivation because they don't know the purpose of training."

The uncertainty has forced some school coaches to get creative with their training sessions to keep their charges driven.

Razif, who coaches Kent Ridge Secondary School and Jurongville Secondary School, holds internal competitions during training to pit his charges against one another in 1v1 or 2v2 challenges.

If the NSG is cancelled, Ng hopes there could be a mini hockey tournament among schools that is held within the safety guidelines or an internal competition for the school's current players and its alumni to give the student-athletes a chance to compete.

The 45-year-old said: "It's different but it gets them together and at least they get to compete one last time before they go to their respective universities. They're really very disappointed because they've been training very hard."

Not having competition experience this year could also affect those who are banking on their sports performance for the DSA exercise or scholarship applications.

The coronavirus outbreak saw last year's DSA exercise moving online, with MOE announcing last May that schools would not hold physical trials or face-to-face interviews as part of their selection process to ensure that there was no intermingling of students across schools.

THINKING POSITIVELY

While the coaches understand their charges' despair at possibly missing their second consecutive NSG, they were thankful that they could still train.

Queensway Secondary School girls' football coach Merah Ahmad, 63, said: "They keep asking me (whether football is included in the NSG), but we just have to wait for MOE's decision and follow it.

"But for now, at least they still can continue training, even if it's in small groups."

While she felt demoralised when she heard the news, St Andrew's Junior College (SAJC) netballer Amelia Chu, 17, is trying to look at the situation positively.

The JC2 student said: "We will not give up and be ready for whatever comes our way.

"I play netball because I like it. Though it's really sad because playing for the school is a gift that comes with my passion for netball, it doesn't make me not like netball any more. I'll just find other ways to play or participate in future."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2021, with the headline No go for team sports. Subscribe