I attended yet another forum today, this time on the topic of whether Singapore is ready to be a sporty nation.  In other words, they don't have a very strong sports culture at the moment, but it is growing stronger and there are those who are interested in bringing it to the forefront.  They want to develop a following for uni level sports like in the states, where college teams are closely followed, or produce athletes like in Russia, which is a powerhouse for certain sports.  Well, those are just models to look at anyway.  Generally, they just want Singaporeans to embrace an active lifestyle, whether by playing sports themselves or supporting and rooting for those who do (especially if they represent the country in international meets).

First though, people need to realize that excellence in athletics and excellence in academics or other areas of life don't necessarily have to be a trade-off.  Of course, there will be those who choose to sacrifice all others in the pursuit of elite athleticism, but you don't need to be that hardcore to still make a living for yourself and be successful in your own right.  It seems that the main concern people have for sports is that it takes away from academics.  This need not be the case.  In fact, in my experience, the better someone is at their sport, the more they tend to excel in school as well.  It's a matter of the discipline, focus, and dedication they learn from their sport that carries over to other aspects of their lives.  There are a lot of other valuable life skills that can be developed from learning a sport too, whether it's teamwork, sportsmanship, or self-motivation.  All of these can be directly useful life skills that positively affect the athletes' lives.

Secondly, I feel that people need a more open mind to what the sports culture is all about.  It's not always about being the athlete.  Even if you choose to practice the sport yourself, you don't have to be the best (or even that close) to do well for yourself.  A lot of how well you do and how much money you can earn has to do with how you present yourself.  Personal branding is crucial for creating the right image and smart marketing of yourself to sponsors can earn you a lot.  For those who are world-class, but not quite on the radar for their performance, it then comes down to how you approach things.  At that level, you already have a lot of experience that people are dying to learn from.  You can become a public speaker, start your own club and teach your own classes, write a book, or a number of other things to impart your wisdom.  The top elite athletes are too busy to do that, so you can get into that before they start to slow down and look into those options.

Finally, success is measured differently for everyone and there are so many other paths you can pursue within each sport.  There are a great number of satellite opportunities in the fields of coaching, sports management, sports medicine, physical therapy, sports psychology, etc.  Why limit yourself to the hours upon hours of physical exertion and training?  You can love a sport and be involved in it without being the one setting records and straining your body.  For some, interests and strengths may lie more in promoting those who do perform like none other, protecting their bodies and minds, or in providing them with the tools and resources they need to reach the level they want.  I think that the only universal thing is that people want to be happy and not too financially strapped.  So, in doing something they love, but also finding a way to pay the bills through a steady job, plenty of people can contribute to the sports industry and help it grow.

Talking about the issues that come with this territory, such as changing people's mindsets so they can see this as a viable career option, reminded my of my own aspiration in this arena.  I even wrote it down when I first created this blog - see goal #2 here.  I came up with this as a concrete idea during one of my random enlightening sessions chatting with Philosopher, one of my closest friends in York.  Together we dreamed up a vocational school for athletes that would not only allow them to train and compete at national and international levels, but would also arm them with the necessary skills to be self-sufficient long after their bodies gave out on them.  The curriculum would involve physiological science, biology, diet and exercise, a history of their sport, sportsmanship, media relations, coaching, negotiation for deals and sponsorships, personal branding, and other such knowledge that would be useful for athletes to know in an academic sense.  Ultimately, graduates would be prepared for years of competitive involvement if they so chose, or they could bypass that and continue on straight to the peripheral jobs.  It's all about empowering people who are traditionally seen as less intelligent with the ability to take care of themselves.

This plan has been on the backburner for a long time now, since it would take immense resources, connections, and organization to get it all together.  In hearing about a new degree offered at a uni here, I started to think that maybe a way to get started is to start implementing sports management majors, alongside the growing options for degrees in other sports related disciplines.  From there, a set of professors and experts can be drawn to start a new organization that solely focuses on the student athletes.  Even that will take a long, long time though, so for now, I'm just going to sit on it.  Then maybe someday, I can finally make this dream come true.