Early experience rather than success whets youngsters' appetite to continue.
He was captain of the Singapore hockey team at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG), but even that is not the highlight of Nur Ashriq Ferdaus' hockey career.
The 21-year-old Temasek Polytechnic student became the first Singaporean to secure a playing stint with an European side, after landing a three-month contract with Belgian club Gantoise in 2011.
Like most young athletes chasing their big sporting dreams, Ashriq felt that the YOG was a good sample of how the senior Olympics will be, and it has given him extra incentive to get there.
He has fond memories of the Games Village at Nanyang Technological University, which offered a vastly different experience than ordinary tournaments.
He said: "Usually we stayed in hotels and we don't get to connect with the other teams. We'd only get to talk to them after games. But at the YOG Village, we got to make friends with a lot of people, and we didn't have to go out to have fun."
He and his YOG team-mates Silas Abdul Razak, Karleef Abdullah Sasi and Haseef Salim have progressed to the senior national side, and were part of the team who clinched a silver at last year's SEA Games in Myanmar.
Singapore's 130 youth athletes clinched two silvers and four bronzes at the Games (Archer Abdul Dayyan Jaffar shared a mixed team bronze with Turkish partner Elif Begunham Unsal).
And, of the 51 athletes still training at high-perfomance levels, most felt that it was the thrill of participation that spurred them on, rather than winning the medals.
Said canoeist Brandon Ooi, who went on to win three bronzes in the 2011 and 2013 SEA Games despite not winning any YOG medal: "The YOG certainly gave me the confidence that I can match the world's best juniors in the sport."
Gymnast Timothy Tay noted that the YOG gave him opportunities to compete at more prestigious competitions leading up to the Games, events that included the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships and the Asian Junior Artistic Championships.
"I do feel that there's a lot more for me to do in gymnastics, the main motivation to come back is to work hard and go to even more competitions, fulfil what I have not yet," he said.
One athlete who has taken his YOG experiences to the world stage is shuttler Huang Chao, 21, who was part of Singapore's contingent in May's Thomas Cup finals - the first time the Republic reached the stage since 1986.
"I'm more well-rounded as a player. I used to be more rash, but I'm more patient now and a better player as a result," he said.
With Singapore hosting next year's SEA Games, these youth Olympians hope that they can be a big part of that as well.
Boxer Hanurdeen Hameed, 20, fought in front of his supportive family during the YOG, and is eager to do so again at next year's SEA Games.
"I know what it feels like to box on home ground after the YOG, and I'm going to make full use of the experience in achieving my goals," he said.
This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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