Motivating teens through their love of football

A unique programme that combines football sessions with study time gave a team of twenty-odd students the motivation they needed to prepare for their N-Levels. AsiaOne finds out how these students' love for the Beautiful Game helped them improve their grades.

Classmates Samuel and Dan, both 16, have always had trouble with their studies. Their typical score on a maths exam, for example, would be 20/100. Both were convinced that they were incapable of studying, and consequently spent no effort on their schoolwork. With their N-Levels coming up, it would take a miracle to help them pass.

That miracle came in the form of Bookball, a programme designed by Students Care Service (SCS) and supported by Ngee Ann Polytechnic's (NP) CommServe team. The programme consisted of weekly two-hour study sessions at NP's Clementi campus, followed by a two-hour football game. Samuel, Dan and all their classmates signed up for the programme, lured by the promise of weekly football games.

Both youths admit that the initial draw of Bookball was the "ball", rather than the "book". They saw the study sessions as something to be endured before they could play football. After a few sessions, however, they realised to their surprise that they were capable of studying if they put their minds to it.

Helping students realise their capabilities

The study sessions in Bookball were largely self-driven, with each student coming up with his own study plans with the social workers. These one-on-one interactions allowed the social workers to find out more about the students' hopes and dreams, as well as the struggles they faced in making those dreams a reality.

Students were able to get the help they needed, when they needed, and the social workers could work better with them and motivate them when exam preparations got tougher and more stressful.

Through the programme, Dan and Samuel began to comprehend some of the concepts and principles that they'd struggled with in school. Samuel said that even though he repeatedly asked the same questions, the social workers and NP lecturers would patiently explain the same concept over and over again until he understood.

"I didn't understand it the first nor second time. But by the third time, it started to make some sense, and by the fourth time, I got it," said Samuel, smiling broadly.

A conducive environment

Each study session took place in a tutorial room in NP's Clementi campus, where the students could study without distractions. Being surrounded by friends who were equally driven to work hard helped the students to focus as well. And of course, the promise of a two-hour football game after each study session spurred the youths on.

This was a marked difference from school, where the students were often distracted by friends who wanted to play rather than study. At home, students were also prone to distractions from family members - Samuel, for example, was constantly interrupted by his mother's requests to help around the house.

"Even when I tried to study at home, my mother would keep asking me to do various things, like make milo for my four brothers, or turn off the lights… She means well, but it meant I couldn't concentrate on my schoolwork most of the time," he explained. The dedicated study sessions in Bookball gave Samuel the much-needed time to focus.

Having a choice

SCS' social workers say one of the most gratifying results of the programme was seeing a whole class of students qualify for ITE courses of their choice.

Prior to the programme, it seemed that close to half the class would fail their N-Levels. But thanks to the time the students spent studying through Bookball, all twenty-odd students passed their N-Levels and managed to get into their desired ITE courses, rather than being shoehorned into any course that would take them. Samuel and Dan plan on completing ITE, going for Higher Nitec, and eventually polytechnic.

"Bookball goes beyond the traditional idea of academic support," said Charmaine Tan, a social worker at Students Care Service's Clementi Centre. "The socio-emotional support students receive through Bookball helps them to become more motivated and confident in preparing for their exams, bringing them one step closer towards a brighter future that they want for themselves.

"Sometimes, what these youths need are people who believe in them, and most importantly, journey with them as they work towards something that they have deemed impossible to achieve," she added.

It is easy to dismiss students like Samuel and Dan as failures who would never amount to much. But SCS didn't give up on them, and helped them to realise their hidden potential. Given the proper environment and support, these so-called failures will be able to shine, and succeed enough to surprise even themselves.

AsiaOne is the official media partner for Students Care Service (SCS).

Your support for SCS' work will help them to continue providing programmes and services for the children and youth under their care to maximise their potential. To donate to SCS, go to; to partner them for Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, please contact Rae Mok (Ms), Manager, Community Partnership, at 62869905 or email; to find out more about the work they do, visit their website at