Speech By Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister Of State, Ministry Of Law And Ministry Of Education, At The 'Leadership Symposium 2013 - Inspiring Future Leaders'

27 May 2013

Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth

Professor Arnoud De Meyer, President, Singapore Management University

Mr Richard Seow, Chairman, Singapore Sports Council

Mr Lim Teck Yin, CEO, Singapore Sports Council

Ladies and Gentlemen


1. It is a great pleasure to be here today at the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) - Singapore Management University (SMU) Leadership Symposium 2013 and to launch SSC's Game for Life Toolkit and SMU's Life Skills Centre.

2. What does leadership have to do with sports, you may ask? From my years in private practice, one of the things we learnt when we were doing recruitment for young lawyers was that most people would think that you would look at the grades and that is it. We did, but the most immediate thing after that was to look at the ECA, or now CCA page to see what kind of CCA the potential candidate has. Another thing that we always looked out for was to see whether the candidate played team sports, because somebody who has played a team sport is more likely to be able to work in a team, because it is about the team, and not necessarily about the individual. So this is just one small illustration of what potential employers would look for and what organisations look for when assessing an individual. And I thought I would like to share some of the things sports inculcates or imparts for leadership.


3. One of the things about sports is that you have to work with people, even the ones you don't like. You have to learn to work around it and achieve a common goal. So teamwork is something you would get out of sports.


4. The other thing is discipline. You will not get good results without working hard at it. This is true whether you are in school, working, or playing games. The point is you do need to work through a schedule, plan it out and carry it through. Hence, you get discipline through sports.


5. Training is important as well. You do not get to hone your skill or your craft or your experience unless you are doing it constantly and you are learning from the mistakes that you make and you correct whatever it is you are doing wrong, and try again until you get it right. That was something that I saw downstairs when I was talking to the primary school children from Admiralty Primary School playing snap ball. One of the girls was hitting the ball and the other girl was standing there taking notes. So I asked her what her role was. She said her role was to observe and see whether her classmate was doing it correctly and if she was not, she would tell her. That was part of training. Observing what we do and making sure to get it right and honing it until you do.

Mental Toughness

6. Another part of sports, not often emphasized, but is critical not only to sports but also to leadership, is mental toughness. You've got to be able to go the distance, hanging on in there even when the odds are against you, even when all the chips are down. Once you lose that ability to stand firm mentally and to hang on, you have lost it. If you have already ceded the game to your opponent, ceded the competition to the other side, and if you are a leader, that means you have already lost it even before you began. So sports teaches you how to hold on even though the other side is two goals up, three goals up, and hang in there until the final whistle blows. It is the same thing at work and in everything else that we do.


7. Related to that is endurance. If you are familiar with Kipling's poem "If", there is a line which says, "if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run". That is what life is like sometimes, being able to endure that period when you just have to hang on and get through it. It is like that in the game when you are waiting for the final whistle but you got to somehow get that final goal in, or do the final burst to get past the tape. So endurance is what sports teaches you as well.


8. Also, it teaches you about spotting, creating and seizing opportunities. Anybody who has ever played a game will understand that the game is fluid and it is not pre-determined, and pretty much depends on whether your opponent makes a mistake or you are able to capitalise on the situation as it crops up. Creating and seizing opportunity when it arises - that is vital for leadership, vital for work life ahead.


9. Next thing it teaches you is adaptability. You can go in with all your set pieces but the opposing team members do not play the way you wish them to. You have to adapt on the spot to their playing style. You have to adapt to some of their players. All that training on the field can only take you that far. When the situation is fluid, you've got to adapt, change and deal with it.

10. Sports also teaches you about strategy but, most importantly, sports also teaches you how to lose. If you are a leader, you know you cannot win all the time. There will be times when you lose and the question is how you deal with that. Nobody likes losing but what do you make of it? What lessons do you take away from it? Losing sometimes teaches you even more than winning, because you've got to take that loss and stand up there and smile. You have to shake hands with the other side even though inside, you are either crushed or upset. The first thing you learn about losing is that you have to take it well and you have to take it gracefully. The other thing about losing is you have to go back and start thinking what went wrong, what are the things that need to be corrected? Losing usually sets you on the path for improvement and you have to see losing as the thing that can trigger you to a newer and better way of playing.

11. There are lots of things you can learn from sports. I learned one thing from the school children playing snap ball. There was a third student on the side. I asked what her role was. She said her role was to encourage her friend. I thought that was really important too as one of the things you need to do is to encourage the people. It is a great motivation to have someone believe in you, to encourage you. If you are a leader, you must encourage the ones under you. If you are the one who made the mistake, one who has fallen down along the way, having a kind word, having a word to pick you up, to encourage you makes a world of difference, and that is what leadership is about.

12. So there are many benefits you can take away from playing sports. Of course, it is the sheer joy of playing the sport itself, and, the endorphins that it gives you that are the other benefits. At the end of the day, this is a great programme and I can imagine that the children as well as the university students would take a lot away from it. Great job SSC and SMU. I wish you all the best going forward. I am sure you will help produce many well-balanced leaders for Singapore.

Thank you.
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