For Bendemeer Secondary School, success for their B Division school football team came in the form of qualifying for their first National School Games football quarter-final in close to a decade.
But perhaps the bigger reward may just have come off the field in the transformation of their captain Isaac Yuen.
By Isaac’s own admission, 2022 was a forgettable year in which he was disinterested in school, struggled to regularly attend classes and even handed blank assessments. He even slept during some of his lessons.
“I was just not into school, I had come close to stopping school. I just had zero interest,” said the Secondary 4 (NA) student.
Added his form teacher Mrs Elaine Wong: “His change was like night and day. His behaviour was apparent, he was simply disinterested and did not commit to attending classes or doing his homework. But his change has been exceptional.”
But this year, something clicked for Isaac as he started to enjoy school and grow into his role as captain of Bendemeer’s B Division football team, which is one of 12 schools under the School Football Academy (SFA) programme, an initiative of the Unleash The Roar! national football project.
A close working relationship between the SFA coaches and Bendemeer's school teachers has brought about a culture of strong values and excellence on and off the pitch.
Thanks to his SFA coaches such as Mr Han Yiguang (left) and his school teachers, Isaac (right) has turned his life around, from being an unmotivated boy, who considered dropping out of school, to a committed and dedicated school leader
He now attends school regularly, is more attentive in class and in his studies. He is no longer the demoralised, disinterested teenager. Instead, Isaac is now a responsible and engaged member of the student community.
His teachers said a large part of the transformation was probably down to football. Bendemeer vice-principal Mr Mohd Azman Mohd Sidek felt that football gave him a sense of belonging and purpose he needed at that point of his life.
The guidance he received from his SFA coaches and the values and character development he has learnt as part of the SFA methodology has given Isaac a fresh approach to school and life.
In fact, it is down to the close communication and synergy between the SFA coaches and the school’s teachers that Bendemeer has managed to build a culture of strong values and excellence on and off the pitch.
Said Mr Mohd Azman: “Football gave him purpose and that translated to marked improvements both on and off the field for Isaac.”
Isaac’s positive approach to school made his coaches at Bendemeer’s School Football Academy pick him as the captain of the B Division team. The armband has made him into a more confident player and a natural leader.
Said Isaac: “I know I may not be the best player, but I know I have the potential to be good and I want to improve.
“At the end of this year, I will sit for the ‘N’ Level exams. If I want to do my best just like in football, I know that I need to do better in school and in class, just like I am on the field. During games, I am a motivator and captain, I understand my duties and I need to play well on the wing. I am fortunate my teammates listen to me, I support them, they support me, both on and off the field."
Mr Mohd Azman noted how the SFA coaching staff of Mr Han Yiguang, Mr Murali Balamurali, Mr Nazir Abdul and Mr Jaime Serra not only helped shape the Bendemeer boys into better footballers, but also better people.
He said: “There is a marked improvement in the football we play. Before we were part of the SFA, we used to just pump the ball out of defence. Now we play the ball out of defence.
“But the skills they pick up are beyond football. Through being part of a team and working together, they also learn about teamwork, responsibility and leadership.”
Mr Kenneth Goh, teacher-in-charge of football at Bendemeer, shared that he is proud of the progress made by Isaac and looks forward to his football and character development. Isaac has shown discipline and leadership, which has increased his self confidence, a trait that was very much lacking previously.
Mr Goh paid tribute to the close partnership the school has with the SFA coaches on all matters concerning the students, not just football.
He said: "The students recognise this, and they reciprocate during training. They know that there are lesson plans made for them, even for the development team. The students themselves realise that their coaches are looking out for all of their overall growth, and are not just merely concerned about playing at the National School Games.
"During training, the coaches have been consistent in how they encourage our players, and I feel this has left a positive impact on the boys, lifted their fighting spirit, and improved the team's mental strength."
Mr Kenneth Goh (right), teacher-in-charge of football at Bendemeer., has seen Isaac grow into a self confident student leader.
Isaac has earned a spot with Singapore Premier League club Hougang United FC's Centre of Excellence team. His dream is to play overseas professionally and also represent Singapore - something his vice-principal is not ruling out.
Said Mr Mohd Azman: "The sport has made him stronger with a strong value system. Despite his early setbacks, his resilience will only take him further. Even if it will not get him close to his goal, he will still be resilient to try harder to achieve it."
Added Isaac’s coach Mr Han: “His strength is his fitness, his speed and his desire to win, that is why we made him captain, because of his positive and encouraging attitude to the team.
“Isaac has a desire to do well, even when the chips are down, he will never give up, he will give his everything to the game no matter the score."