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Schooling for Gold: a Parent Reflects on Singapore's First Olympic Gold Medallist

50.39 seconds. The (less than) one minute of time that made history for the small island nation of Singapore. Millions in Singapore and around the world watched as 21-year-old Joseph Schooling defeated his long-time idol and heavily-decorated Olympian Michael Phelps, the man described as "the most-decorated Olympian of all time". Indeed most of the international news footage had been previously focussed on Phelps, given that the American is expected to retire at this year's Rio Olympics. The New York Times even ran an article with the headline: "Somebody (His Name’s Joseph Schooling) Finally Beats Michael Phelps"!

For Joseph Schooling, it could not have been a prouder moment, as he not only bagged Singapore's first and only Olympic Gold, it was also a race that proved he had not only matched, but also beaten his childhood idol. Indeed a 2008 photograph of 13-year-old Schooling standing side by side with Michael Phelps has been spreading like wildfire on social media, alongside another photo taken in 2016, with both men in a similar position.

In the wake of the Schooling victory, news feeds across social media has been rife with numerous questions, for example whether the Singapore government would declare a public holiday to celebrate the historical win, or what the 21-year-old Singaporean would do with his 1 million dollar prize money, or even whether Schooling should be deferred from serving National Service for another four more years.
What does the future hold for young Singaporeans? Can a small country like ours
actually produce an Olympic great? 
For Sue and I, what has captivated our imagination has been Joseph Schooling's Olympic journey - all the way from the age of 6. It seems Schooling had a chat over dinner about his granduncle Lloyd Valberg, who has Singapore's first-ever Olympian in 1948. The chat was apparently what inspired the young boy to decide there and then that he wanted to follow in his relative's footsteps. His parents Colin and May supported the decision, and made every effort to prepare him for his training; with his father taking him for training every morning, and both parents eventually sending him to the US to be trained under a leading coach.
As parents, are we walking alongside our kids and supporting them
in all that they want to do? Difficult questions for difficult times.
I strongly believe that parental support was a strong reason for Schooling's success. Moments after winning the race, Joseph called his father, who affirmed him strongly: "Son I love you, you've done the nation very proud." And the 21-year-old responded: "I love you too Dad." Even before the race both parents were strong in their support for him, with the father declaring, "I want you to stun the world" and the mother stating: "If all goes well, Singapore will rejoice with us."

I have been running a parenting workshop on "How to Help Your Child Succeed". The premise of that workshop is that grades are no indicators of a child's future success in life. What's important is for parents to learn how to communicate with their children and how to help them develop a love for what they want to do; supporting them as the kids inch closer to their personal goals.

Joseph Schooling's parents clearly had the end in mind as they chose to support their 6-year-old child in the "crazy" dream he had. Consider that Singapore is such a small country with a minuscule population in comparison to other demographical greats such as the USA. What makes someone in Singapore dare to dream that he or she could be on par with America, the leading country in the world! But the Schoolings believed in their son; to the point of sending him overseas to learn from the best, in the way that they felt would help him achieve his goals.

I have the privilege of speaking to parents from all segments of the population. One question I often ask them is: "Do you know what you child likes to do?" or "What is your child's favourite hobby?" The sad thing is that most parents are not able to answer my question, even if their child is as old as 6 or even 10! If we don't know and understand our children, how can we help they realise their dreams and to achieve self actualisation?
I've spoken to many parents at the end of my workshops. While some of them have a clear picture
on how to help their kids, many appear clueless, and it is so sad to hear their stories. 
I believe another key reason for Joseph's success was his dogged determination to achieve his goals no matter the cost. Indeed his father recalls how he would go for training rain or shine; and even though he did not have enough sleep. In today's society, how many of our children are as resolute and disciplined as Joseph Schooling? How many of our young people possess the resilience that will bring them through to the end? That is something I share with the young people I talk to during my career guidance workshops. And I can see many of their eyes light up when I tell them that passion without focus is dead. We have to teach our kids the importance of perseverance; and not to give up even when the going gets tough!

Our two sons Z and E are now 6 and 4 respectively. Before their birthday last month, both boys had very specific requests for their birthday presents. For Z, he asked us to help him build a real water playground, complete with tilting buckets and all related paraphernalia. We knew that was largely a result of his desire to become an architect when he grows up. As for little E, he asked specifically for a dead frog, a dead scallop and a dead crayfish; complete with a real scalpel - he wants to personally dissect those animals so that we can examine them clearly. As parents, we were more than slightly amused by their requests, but we have taken them seriously even though both of us know next to nothing about construction and dissection. 
Our two little boys, whom we are so very proud of!
Just yesterday I told my wife the story of a world-famous architect. This Nobel Prize winner was apparently responsible for a massive integrated entertainment resort in Asia. At the centre of the complex was a gigantic water playground, and it was flanked by a zoo, a farm and a bird park. I told Sue that the architect had dreamt of such a structure since he was 6; and that he had even come up with the plans for the resort at that age. My wife was very curious and asked me who this famous architect was. With tears in my eyes, I smiled, "His name is Z Lim; and I am so very proud of him."

Yes, my dear sons. Your dreams are your destiny. May us, your parents, always help you to reach towards your goal. May you fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith!


  1. Determination and dedication to achieve the goal is the only reason of success. If someone is completely devoted to his/ her goals then they will succeed irrespective of the difficulty level.


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