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UTR! Diaries: Chloe breaks out of her shell at Sunshine State

Eight promising Singapore youth footballers were awarded the inaugural Unleash The Roar! Overseas Scholarship in August 2023 to further their football development in either Spain or the United States. The talented male and female footballers, who are between the ages of 15 and 17, have been training hard at the IMG Academy in Florida and the ESC LaLiga & NBA in Madrid. In this series, we hear from these athletes on how they are coping with life overseas.

Chloe Koh, 17, IMG Academy

Here is a recap of my first semester at IMG Academy from August to December 2023. Video by Chloe Koh. 

My life at IMG Academy now could not be any better. But it wasn’t always a bed of roses.

I have always been a rather shy person and do not enjoy initiating conversations with people. Stepping into a brand-new environment at the IMG Academy last August, coupled with jet lag weighing me down, only amplified the initial challenges.

Football wise, I also struggled. The intensity here in IMG Academy is way different than what I was used to in Singapore, so I struggled a lot in terms of fitness during the first day of preseason.

It was a tough first week but luckily, I have four other Singaporean friends who were part of the Unleash The Roar! overseas scholarship program with me all along this journey, which made adapting to the new environment easier.

Knowing that I have people from back home who understand and go through the same experiences reassures me. The five of us here are pretty tight and sometimes have dinner together or just hang out in each other’s rooms at night to talk about our day.

Being Part of a New Family

But soon, I began to realise that there was more than just my Singapore IMG family.

At IMG Academy, I've been welcomed with open arms, surrounded by the warmth of the staff and students alike. Each morning, the simple greetings of "Good morning" and "Have a good day" create a friendly atmosphere in the cafeteria and hallways, instilling a sense of respectfulness that resonates deeply with me. It's a culture I hope to carry back home to Singapore with me.

Initially, my response to a stranger's "Hi, how are you?" was a simple "I'm good, thank you," staying within my comfort zone. But as time passed, I found the courage to reciprocate with "How are you?" This small step opened doors to conversations and forged new friendships.

On the pitch, I encountered many friendly faces among the staff and coaches. Coach Raymond Lindquist stood out as someone who cares about the players’ well-being as much as he cares about football. The soccer staff, including the college counsellor and sports trainers, showed a genuine interest in our welfare, ensuring that we settled into our soccer environment. Their care extended beyond the field; when I encountered an issue with my jersey size and boots, they promptly resolved it within a day.

In the classroom, the teachers understand the challenges of being a student-athlete. They adjust the pace and workload accordingly to avoid overwhelming the students and readily offer support to keep everyone on track.

The Rollercoaster Ride

My most memorable moment was when we beat FC Sarasota in our first home game of the season. What made it even more special was that they were in pretty good form, sitting at the top of the table, while we were struggling to find our momentum in our first two away games, losing the first and scraping a 1-0 win in the second.

In the preparation before the match against FC Sarasota, I vividly remember the burning desire to win that everyone had, and that week of practice was unlike anything I had experienced before. The intensity was off the charts, the team spirit was soaring, and everyone was very focused and competitive during practice.

When the match against FC Sarasota finally came, I felt the goosebumps rise on my arms as I watched the ball sail into the net. The sight of everyone rushing to our goalkeeper (who made the assist) and the scorer filled me with an overwhelming sense of ecstasy. It was a moment that I'll cherish forever, a testament to the power of teamwork and determination.

Team group photo after IMG Academy beat FC Sarasota (I am the third person from the right in the first row). Photo provided by IMG Academy.

However, my journey took a different turn when I suffered a severe injury a day before my first showcase - which is a day in which colleges come to scout for players. During training, I tore my ankle ligaments, sidelining me for a month and a half. When I finally returned, I was limited to minimal playing time.

The injury initially shook my confidence, fearing the possibility of re-injury for four months afterwards. However, I refused to let it defeat me. Instead, I accepted that injuries are part of the journey and embraced the rigorous rehabilitation process.

This involved attending post-practice sessions with the trainer diligently, where I worked tirelessly to complete ankle-strengthening exercises every day, along with extensive icing and taping. It was a challenging period, but I remained determined to overcome it and return stronger than ever.

Sporting a new tan, I made a lot of effort to adjust to training under the scorching weather in Florida as I was used to the evening training in Singapore. Photo by IMG Academy.

Balancing Study and Football

While football remains a passion for me, my mother's wise words about "time management" and "discipline" are always on my mind. Despite the demanding training schedule, I consistently stay disciplined to complete my academic homework and maximise study opportunities during breaks.

Unlike Singapore's system where only weighted assessments and exams count, in IMG Academy, every assignment contributes to my GPA, making consistent effort important.

Thankful to be inducted into the National Honors Society, I have a few words to share with aspiring student-athletes, "There will be ups and downs, but most importantly, enjoy the journey!" Photo by IMG Academy.

My hard work paid off when I was inducted into the esteemed National Honour Society at IMG Academy. This honour recognises well-rounded students who excel both on and off the field, displaying great leadership and service to the community.

Reflecting on my journey so far, I learnt that as a student-athlete, there would be highs and lows. The highs are exhilarating, while the lows can be challenging. However, it all comes down to what I aspire to achieve at the end of the day.

I always have a choice—whether to let setbacks define me or to persevere relentlessly. Ultimately, it boils down to how much I want to reach my end goal.

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