Netting mum's cheers

If she had heeded her mother's appeals to be more feminine, netball star Charmaine Soh, 24, might have given up her sport.

"Mum used to discourage me from playing netball. She wanted me to concentrate on my studies, go to church and play music. She wanted me to be a feminine girl," says Ms Soh, who learnt music when she was young and still plays the piano and "a little bit of guitar" once in a while.

Her father, 54-year-old Soh Char Les, a businessman in the steel industry, "was the opposite". "He wanted me to do sports because he is very sporty," she says.

Ms Soh, a 1.77m-tall goal shooter, scored 42 points en route to helping Singapore beat Sri Lanka 59-41 in the final at the Mission Foods Asian Netball Championships last month.

The second of three children, she says her "conservative and traditional" mother, billing officer Josephine Tay, taught her to cook and sew as a child. In Secondary 1, she took netball as a co-curricular activity at St Hilda's Secondary School.

Ms Tay, 53, says: "I preferred that she studied more. I was worried that she would get injured while playing sports."

Ms Soh fractured her wrist during her first netball training session. During the one month it took for her to recover from the injury, her mother asked her to join the Girls' Brigade instead, which she had done in St Hilda's Primary School.

But she did not, persisting with the sport.

Ms Tay, who left the talking mostly to her husband and daughter during the interview, says she eventually changed her mind when she saw the rest of her family going to netball matches to support Ms Soh.

She says: "Now I give Charmaine a morale boost by attending matches. When the ball goes into the net, it's very exciting, the joy is there. I feel proud of her."

Ms Soh graduated with a business degree from the Singapore Institute of Management in May and joined professional services firm Deloitte last month as a regulatory and compliance adviser.

Her elder brother, 28, is now a property consultant and her younger sister, 20, is a nurse. The family home is a condominium in Loyang.

Have you always been sporty?

Ms Soh: No. I used to wonder why my father played football every Sunday. In secondary school, I explored different kinds of sports. I used to rush out of school, skip lunch and play basketball, then go for netball training. Later, I'd play badminton with my friends. I also liked volleyball. I love the sun and team sports.

What were you like as a child?

Mr Soh: She was quiet and independent.

Ms Soh: My report cards used to say that I should open up more to my friends, but when I went to secondary school, I became very noisy.

How would you describe your upbringing?

Ms Soh: When my parents were busy at work, they made an effort to play with us and have dinner once a week. When we were younger, we would have family gatherings to read the Bible and talk.

What is your parenting style?

Ms Soh: They're very supportive. Sometimes I can hear my parents cheering during matches. It's really encouraging. They deliberately shout when no one else is shouting.

Mr Soh: We cheer her to let her know we're there. We're quite open. We always let her express herself and go on overseas trips, which she likes to do.

Which parent are you closer to?

Ms Soh: I'm close to both of them. They're always together. I don't hide any secrets from them and they know all my friends.

Who is the stricter parent, your mum or dad?

Ms Soh: My mum, definitely. She is a 'parade commander' with a booming voice. My dad is soft.

Mr Soh: We feel we need to discipline our children from young. The Bible says, spare the rod, spoil the child. I used to be a policeman during national service. I saw youngsters in gangs and using drugs.

What are your views on caning?

Mr Soh: We discipline by reprimanding, shouting and caning on the hand. But we did not use the cane when they were in secondary school. Punishment was for wrongdoing and bad behaviour, such as talking back.

Ms Tay: If they didn't do their homework, I would use the cane.

Ms Soh: They would give the reason for the caning and I would fear that if I did it again, I would get caned again. When we were in upper primary classes, they would talk to us more when disciplining us. It would be more like a counselling session.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Ms Soh: I would have done things the same way. For example, disciplining the child, and explaining the reason and consequences of misbehaviour.

Mr Soh: I would expect more understanding and support from my parents, and hope they spend more time with me. This is because as their father, when I was younger, I was busy with my work.

This article was first published on Oct 19, 2014.
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