At the SGSquash Senior Circuit #1 final recently, Au Yeong Wai Yhann lost out to Malaysia’s Lai Wen Li, a player ranked 40 places above her in the world ranking, and also a player she has played numerous times over the last few years. She has never once beaten Wen Li. But if one had witnessed the match and had it compared to a year ago, it would be evident how differently Wai Yhann played this time round.
A big part of the difference in her game was the level of maturity she displayed on court. The consistency of her lengths, her choice of the shots at a given time and effectiveness in her movements, are just a few of those factors that stick out. It would appear that her good working relationship with national coach Timothy Arnold, played a part in the improvements, but Wai Yhann also cited the support she receives from the Singapore Sports School as a big factor.
“Since I’ve been there, I have a lot more support. I have a strength and conditioning coach who works with me one-on-one. Then, I also have a sports psychologist, as well as a dietician. So, we have been working on little things that add up to all these improvements,” said Wai Yhann when asked what she thought were the keys to the improvements to her game.
But of course, it also takes lots of hard work, commitment and determination. And Wai Yhann is one gutsy girl who would know all these. In 2015, she missed out on a place in the SEA Games squad and the opportunity to play in the home games. In the same year, she had just finished her O levels, and she made a conscious decision to take two years off to train, just so to ensure she will be in the team for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. Her sacrifice earned her not just a place in the team, but also a pair of medals from the games – a silver from the women’s team and a bronze from the international doubles.
After the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, it was back to the drawing board for her, she had to continue with her education. She was about to take up the Ngee Ann Polytechnic offer to study Psychology, when the Singapore Sports School contacted her to offer a place in their extended International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.
Given that they have a flexible schedule specially tailored for athletes and the many facilities available within the campus, Wai Yhann jumped onto the opportunity after a discussion with her parents.
“We are very supportive of her decision to join the Singapore Sports School as we know that the school will allow her time to excel in her sport and at the same time, not neglecting her studies. Initially we were concerned with the distance she has to travel. Even though it is still hectic, she continues to do her best and we are happy she has adjusted well.
“It’s definitely a good decision she has made. The very affirming staff members of the school also helps increase her motivation and affiliation to the Singapore Sports School,” said Wai Yhann’s dad, Au Yeong Pak Lam, who himself is a well-established squash coach in the country.
Now into her second year of the IB programme, Wai Yhann started the year with a career-best world ranking of 117. However, this is something she wants to better by breaking into the top-100 bracket sometime this year. She has set her targets of making it into a couple of semi-finals of Professional Squash Association (PSA) events to achieve that.
Her year just got better when she was one of 20 students awarded with the Sports Achiever Award by the Singapore Sports School. The award is given to exemplary students who achieved sporting and academic excellence, as well as having good conduct in school. Singapore Squash Rackets Association’s (SSRA) general manager Benson Seow and committee member Felix Chen attended the ceremony, where squash was being honoured for the first time.
“We are very proud and grateful of Wai Yhann’s achievement and recognition from the Singapore Sports School. Her continuing her education at the school has obviously helped her continued growth in the sport because of the ability to integrate her training and education.
“She has SSRA’s gratitude for putting squash on the board at the school, and hopefully, squash in Singapore will grow from strength to strength in the coming years and we will have more of our junior players studying there,” said Felix.
What’s more important, really, is the fact that Wai Yhann is able to juggle between her squash and studies, and she absolutely loves it. We asked her what she liked about it and here’s what she said :
“I feel it’s a really good place to be. It’s nice to be in an environment where everyone has the same goal of really wanting to be a professional athlete and doing Singapore proud in competitions.
“There is a lot of support in the school. We have a mentor who keeps track of our schedule and ensures everything is in check. From a sporting perspective, there are all the facilities and expertise available to us – many of which even the other national players do not get. I am even able to work out between my classes.
“One more thing I like about it is the food. It is served buffet style and there are plenty of options, so that is really a luxury. Being a sports school, the meals prepared are also generally healthier in nature.”
While she loves it there, it is also not a bed of roses in every aspect. One of the disadvantages is that the school is nowhere near the Kallang Squash Centre and she spends about an hour commuting to training each day.
With the school still relatively new, especially to the squash fraternity, obviously there are some uncertainties looming for many parents and students themselves. This was no different in the case of Wai Yhann, who was a little unsure when she first accepted the offer. Her leap of faith paid off and she is convinced that any doubt about the standards of education there is not on par to the conventional schools, is merely a misconception.
“It’s actually pretty competitive in here. Recently, one of our seniors scored 44 out of 45 (in the IB programme), which is nearly a perfect score! I wasn’t too sure (about the quality of education) initially when I first came, but having been here now, I can safely say I have no regrets and it’s one of the best choices I’ve made.
“Even the teachers work around our training and competition schedule. At the school, our cohort is really small. My classes can be as small as five and up to fifteen people, so we get quite a bit of attention as well. Whenever we have a competition, we just need to inform our teachers and we can either do forward or make up lessons. So essentially, we do not miss lessons.”
Given her very positive feedback about the Singapore Sports School, we asked Wai Yhann what she thought about younger juniors attending it at an earlier age.
“I think it’s a good place for them to be. Being in a school where you are surrounded by so many other fellow athletes, it gives you even more motivation to push yourself harder. Seeing everyone waking up at 6.30 am to train, I think that’s a really good motivation itself.
“There are also many different tracks to choose from here – there’s the O level track, the IB track, the normal track, so they really cater to many different students.
“I would strongly suggest parents to consider it as an option at least. It’s a really good choice I made, I am enjoying it, it’s doing good to my squash and it’s not at the expense of my studies. I am sure their kids will benefit and enjoy it too.
“It is really possible to excel in both sports and studies – with the right support, and I believe the Singapore Sports School can provide that.”
There are 25 schools in Singapore offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. The Singapore Sports School is one of only four local schools to offer it, but it is the ONLY school that allows the programme to stretch beyond two years (and up to four) to cater to the schedules of athletes, allowing them to train and compete.