The route to securing the first-ever National Service deferment — for champion swimmer Joseph Schooling, 18 — was long, arduous and expensive. His father, businessman Colin Schooling, 65, explains how he and his wife, May, did it.
Q: What is it like being the parent of a swimming champion?
A: Nurturing a world-class athlete is never a cheap nor casual exercise. My wife, May, and I had to learn about the sport of swimming. But our love for our son made it easier to be involved in the sport. We’ve enjoyed every moment of his training sessions and competitions from the time he was five years old.
Even today, we both enjoy watching him compete. May and I take turns to be with him at all times. We are very concerned about imparting good family values and proper upbringing. Most of all, to always love, guide and protect him (it won’t be long before adulthood arrives and he wants his space!). Joseph’s successes and present status were not a-flash-in-the-pan story but 13 years of hard work!
Q: This is Mindef’s first-ever deferment. What made you think he would get it?
A: I guess Joseph’s performances in the last few years convinced both Mindef and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) that he would be a worthwhile candidate.
If you back track to performances by others, you’ll see that Joseph set new bench marks by being the first to qualify in the A category for the 2012 London Olympics and also in the A category for the 2013 Fina World Swimming Championships in Barcelona. He did both world class events as a teenager.
His present Fina World Ranking is among the world’s best and he‘s the youngest. A good example for all Singaporean athletes and artistic talents aspiring to be world class and a national asset.
For the record, we never assumed that Joseph will be granted NS deferment! He earned it with his hard work, talent and training. The record speak for itself.
Q. Tell us about your appeal to Mindef
A: The “appeal” was made up with facts since 2011. The process was done initially through the appropriate channels (Singapore Sports Council, Singapore Sports Institute and MCCY) beginning in 2011 before reaching Mindef in early 2013.
Q: What went into the appeal? How long did it take for you to put together the appeal?
Joseph’s historical track record
Every swim meet from 2000 (the day he started to race at five years old) till 2009 (till the day he left Singapore to the US to study and train at 13) was documented and monitored.
Before the start of a swim year, we prepared a goal or target schedule for him. For example, Joseph’s target swim times for 2003. These target times listed were achievable with proper training attitude/behaviour, work ethic, discipline and focus.
The target times were calculated based on his personal bests, school records, the swimming association’s junior swim times, Malaysian National Inter-Club Records and USA National Age Group times. They were used to compare Joseph’s times with those of local, regional and international standards.
Nearly every local and international event Joseph took part in, May and I would have our “work sheet/s” to monitor his reaction times off the block, split times, stroke counts and stroke rates. We did this so that we could be “constructive” in our opinions and advice to our son. We could not rely on his coaches totally because they were busy with others under their charge.
May and I also began to take serious interest in the technical aspects of swimming. We built quite an extensive swim library at home; we took the swimming association official’s credential test, technical officials course, attended many courses and lectures conducted by visiting experts, served as honorary treasurers in the swimming association for two years each. We played host to many visiting Olympic swim teams from US, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, France, Italy and many others.
Both May and I were always looking forward to meeting the best and most knowledgeable professionals world-wide in swimming to seek their advice, guidance and direction. We invested our time and effort in making friends and listening to them (constantly upgrading our hunger for knowledge).They are also closely monitoring Joseph’s progress and want to be a part of his success (they know his potential).
At no time did we use any taxpayer’s funds to finance Joseph’s swimming or high school fees and expenses.
We submitted scientific studies to the Singapore Sports Council in September 2011 to help us all understand what it means to have a swimmer “out of the water” for an extended period of time (two years of NS).
This was done to present Joseph’s case based on scientific facts and we prayed it would benefit other Singapore potential athletes in the same situation.
Bill Sweetenham, one of the world’s best-known aquatic experts in aqua science and swimming, wrote:
“Every world expert has come back to me basically with the concept that one month out of the water takes a minimum of three months of focused training to gain back current fitness lost. The ratio would apply across any time frame.”
To avoid being “biased” (most of my input came from swimming sources), I attached a news clipping from the TODAY newspaper dated 17 September 2011, in which former Manchester United and Chelsea chief Mr Peter Kenyon recommended uninterrupted development.”
In a news feature prior to the 2011 Fina Junior World Championships in Lima, Peru, Joseph was featured for the Men’s 200 Fly and the comments were: “Joe Schooling lives and trains in the US at the Bolles School, but competes internationally for Singapore. If he were American, he would stand as the third fastest 16-year-old American in this event ever. He is the only 1995-born swimmer, the youngest group at this event, ranked in the top 12, and thus is the only gold-medal candidate who will have the chance to defend the title in Morocco in 2013.”
If Joseph is to prepare for the 2015 28th SEA Games hosted in Singapore and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (potential podium finish), his NS call-up MUST be deferred till after the 2016 Olympic Games.
Q: Why was the Singapore Swimming Association not involved?
A: I could not burden SSA to do all this work, as it required a lot of attention, follow-up and input from around the world. So, I used all my resources to prepare my detailed presentations to the authorities concerned. It involved my son and I had to give it my best shot!
This article was first published on Nov 26, 2013.