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New competition format to give student-athletes more game time

Some upper primary and lower secondary students will get more opportunities to compete at the National School Games (NSG) from 2023 as the traditional zonal and national competitions for three sports will be replaced by a new format, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Thursday.

A classification and league system will be used instead for water polo (C Division), table tennis and tennis (both Senior Division) in 2023. It will be implemented in the C Division for table tennis and tennis in 2024, with more sports to follow.

In a move away from the usual geographical-based zonal competitions, student-athletes in these sports will first compete against schools across Singapore in a classification round, with their seeding determined by results from the previous NSG.

They then compete in a round-robin competition in a new league round against schools of similar abilities, with those in the top league competing for the divisional championship titles.

The MOE said in a press statement that the revised format will allow most student-athletes to play more matches, compared to the traditional format where half will play three to five matches at the zonal level.

“These changes are intended to increase participation for more student-athletes and promote a more enjoyable competition experience in the NSG,” added the ministry.

The format will also resume for the B and C Division football tournaments, which first adopted the system in 2019.

Ngee Ann Primary pupil Elias Theodore Siirtola, 11, welcomed the change as he said the increase in the number of tennis matches will help him learn more.

He said: “There’ll be more players compete against and I can learn to manage my nerves better. I really want to increase my mental strength and not get frustrated when I lose a point.”

Era Sidhu, head of department of physical education and co-curricular activity at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School, the convenor for table tennis, noted that students can be demoralised if they keep competing against strong opponents.

She added: “It is tougher to manage in terms of logistics like venue and manpower but it’s for the greater good and the students will be able to get more exposure with more games.

“Hopefully external venues like the OCBC Arena can be used or national sports associations can collaborate with us to manage the competition.”

The NSG was officially opened at the OCBC Arena on Thursday by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing and resumes with over 60,000 student-athletes competing across 29 sports – this includes the return of 15-a-side rugby and national competitions for applicable sports.

The Games will return in full force after being hit by the pandemic in recent years, with the competition cancelled for the first time in 2020, before it resumed with fewer sports and modified formats subsequently.

Only volleyball was contested at the national level last year – the others were only competed at the zonal level – and 2023 will see student-athletes competing in the nationals in basketball, badminton, netball and table tennis.

West Spring Secondary netballer Sophia Villanueva said: “We can see how other schools in the other zones play and it’s a bigger challenge to compete at that level so it’s more exciting.”

St Andrew’s Secondary rugby captain Jared Seow is hoping to improve on their fourth-place finish at the 2022 seven-a-side rugby competition.

The Secondary 4 student is targeting the B Division trophy, saying: “I’m really happy because 15s will allow more people to play and we get to learn more since we have to work in a bigger team and less space.

“We’ve been working more on the technical side of the game because there are a lot more set-plays we have to follow for 15s compared to 7s.”

In his speech, Mr Chan said: “What helped us emerge stronger from the pandemic are values such as resilience and teamwork. Today, as we celebrate sports, it is an apt reminder that sports provide a natural and authentic context for developing these same values.

“We are inspired by the journeys and struggles that others overcome, and they in turn spur us to embrace the same spirit.”

He also announced that the track and field finals will return to the National Stadium after four years, with the Singapore Sports Hub – which saw a Government takeover in 2022 – set to host more semi-finals and finals of other NSG sports.

Mr Chan took the opportunity to commend the senior netball teams of New Town Primary and River Valley Primary for their achievements last season. Both schools did not have enough players and formed a combined team for the South Zone competition, where they finished third.

Similarly, a combined water polo team will also compete in the 2023 NSG under MOE and Sport Singapore’s Strategic Partnership Co-Curricular Activity (SP-CCA) programme. Started in 2019, it allows students to participate in a CCA that is not offered by their schools.

With plans to include more combined teams, Mr Chan expects “a more vibrant and exciting NSG experience”.