When it became clear that Andre was serious about pursuing his love for badminton, I had the typical Singaporean mum concern - would he be able to cope with his studies?
This question is a tough one to answer. On one hand, it's true that sports training does take up an enormous chunk of time. When he was preparing for competition, his schedule was so packed that each day, he barely had enough time to go to school, go for training and finish his homework. His leisure time was negligible.
On the other hand, I found that competition actually increased his motivation level. Despite having less play time, he was more conscientious in his homework, complained less about studying and got everything done with minimal stalling. This is in line with a study done in the US which found that students in the school football team actually achieved better grades during the football season than off-season!
I attribute this seemingly contradictory result to the simple fact that for many kids passionate about sports, the sport grounds them and gives them a purpose in life. If you think about it, for a 9-year-old child whose life evolves around school, tuition and enrichment classes, even with play time, it can get pretty monotonous and aimless (few kids can be inspired by working towards an exam). Competitive sports, in particular, adds a fixed goal and that gives them something to work towards. For Andre, it provided the motivation to get all his work done properly so that he could concentrate on his badminton.
A friend of mine shared a similar anecdote. Her daughter was in the school volleyball team and due to the heavy time demands, her parents decided to pull her out to focus on her studies. To their alarm, her grades actually slid, despite having more study time. Realising their error, they promptly reinstated her in the volleyball team. According to my friend, by pulling her out the sport, it actually removed her focus in life and affected her other areas as well.
On one occasion, I had the opportunity to speak to the boss of the badminton academy that Andre trains with. As a coach and ex-professional player, he has seen many kids grow up in the sporting arena. Apart from the many obvious health benefits, sports provide other intangible advantages. He shared that kids, boys in particular, are at their most dangerous age from 14-17 as that's when they are most susceptible to peer pressure and have sufficient independence to rebel.
According to him, sports is a great way to keep them on the straight and narrow as it instills all the positive values of discipline, teamwork and determination. In addition, the boys will usually keep company with other fellow athletes, especially those they train with and this friendship tends to be more wholesome, bound by their common interest in the sport.
Of course nothing in life is ever black-and-white. It's not all roses and sunshine - there are also many challenges in letting your child enter competitive sports, as I've come to discover. I meant to cover everything in one post but found that I had too much to say! So look out for Part 2.