Whether it’s catching a basketball pass from a student, or leading a thousand of them in choreographed Wushu movements, Yeo Yew Yong is passionate about using sports to bring everyone at Nan Chiau High School closer.
Yeo Yew Yong, Nan Chiau High School, President’s Award for Teachers 2016 finalist
Sports is in Yew Yong’s blood. Over his three-decade career, he’s coached combined schools sports teams, managed Singapore’s youth basketball team, been in several community sports clubs, and groomed track and field athletes, one of whom went on to play football in the S-League. He has pretty much tried almost every sport.
Today he’s 57 years old, but isn’t slowing down. The sinewy father of three still meets his former junior college classmates for weekly basketball games, and won’t hesitate to shoot some hoops with his students a third his age after school.
It’s not only for the love of the game. He’s completely sold on the idea that engaging in sports is a great way to develop positive character traits and build rapport.
Building a special bond through sports
This belief of Yew Yong’s has its roots in the early 1970s, when he arrived in Singapore from Indonesia with his family. His PE teacher at the time provided the attention and guidance necessary for him to flourish as a basketball player and find his footing in a new school and country. Yew Yong went on to junior college, captaining its basketball team to inter-school victories. He did this while also being active in volleyball, and track and field.
When he became a PE teacher, he found that sports was also a great way to get to know his students better. “Playing a game of basketball together builds bonds that are difficult to achieve in other contexts,” he says. “When you have that bond, the students trust you and come to you if they have problems. They are also more open to listening to your advice.”
And listen they did. Yew Yong’s rapport with his Secondary 5 students helped them do better than expected in their GCE O-Level in 2015. He knuckled down with them, using six months’ worth of PE lessons to train them in their favourite games, softball and basketball. He introduced competitions to motivate them. During pre-examination night study sessions, he made sure they were served dinner first, being the most senior students. Now most of them are in polytechnics, and a few in junior colleges. Many of them return to visit Yew Yong from time to time.
The impact of Yew Yong’s contributions goes beyond connecting with his own students – they’ve also shaped the school’s identity. Nan Chiau’s mass Wushu display is a mainstay at school events, being performed by all 1,300 staff and students each time. Yew Yong, who learned the martial art when studying in Taiwan, chose it as a way of honouring Nan Chiau’s Chinese heritage. He took care to simplify its moves and choreograph the display such that anyone could participate.
Sometimes, he lets students take the lead, allowing them to run events such as the mini-Olympics, a series of inter-class games held every term. They organise badminton, basketball, football, captain’s ball and table-tennis matches, and form teams with their teachers to participate.
In his drive to get more students excited about sports, Yew Yong has also looked outside the box – literally. In 2013 he initiated a friendly Combined School Sports Meet with Yishun Town Secondary School and Xinmin Secondary School. This allowed for friendly competition and more opportunities for students in non-sports CCAs to compete in sports beyond their schools. Indeed, the competition has been very keen, both on and off the field, with busloads of students from all three schools battling to out-cheer each other.
Even as participation numbers continue to climb, Yew Yong has not lost sight of his rationale for promoting sports – instilling good values. He’s now piloting “Play with Integrity”, an honour-based system for using Nan Chiau’s sports equipment. Balls, racquets and frisbees are left in an unlocked cage on the school grounds. Students can play with them in their free time, as long as they observe “integrity” at three levels: returning the equipment when they’re done, going for classes when it’s time to, and taking care not to injure others when playing. “The students don’t always remember to put things back but they’re learning,” Yew Yong says with a smile.
Cultivating these values is just the start of a longer journey. “What we want to do is impart sports skills so that kids can use them – in their family life, even in the working world,” says Yew Yong. “This would serve them well as they become future leaders and eventually pass on the importance of sportsmanship and the love of sports to the next generation.”