Joseph Schooling had a wonderful 2015, and an unforgettable 2016. On 13 August 2016, Singapore witnessed the 21-year-old swim to glory, beating his own childhood idol, celebrated Olympian and US swimmer Michael Phelps, and gave the nation its first Olympic gold medal. In 2015, he broke 9 records to win 9 golds in the South East Asian Games, was crowned Sportsman of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards, and broke national and Asian records to win bronze at the FINA World Championships!
What a career Joseph’s had.
He comes from a family legacy of high-achieving athletes – his grand-uncle, Lloyd Valberg, was Singapore’s 1st Olympian in 1948, his grandfather represented Singapore in hockey and hurdles, his grandmother was a Singapore hockey and netball player, his mum was a Malaysian softball and tennis player, and his father represented Singapore in softball, and Singapore schools in swimming, water polo and athletics. With such amazing role models to look up to, is it any wonder that Joseph has been as successful as he has been?
In an interview we had with Joseph and dad Colin Schooling in June this year, the latter attributes his son’s achievements to his own inner motivation and focus. “We made sure to inculcate good values and taught him time management, respect and good attitude. (But) Joseph has always been motivated and he also knew that whatever meant a lot to him required his own effort, focus, input and tolerance,” Colin explained.
He added, “Joseph always looks forward to his practices and training. His motivation was success in and out of the pool. Therefore, in his pursuit and quest for it, many factors – sacrifices, constant focus, and discipline – had to be applied and it required a degree of maturity – which he learnt from an early age. And we encouraged it, knowing full well what his future plans are.”
Parenting a champion
Being away from the family since he was 13 years old must have been painful for both his parents and for Joseph, but Colin says he and his wife May both make every effort to visit him as often as they can. “Like I said to Joseph when he was very young (about 9 or 10 years old): ‘I’ll take care of your aspirations, but you must take care of your expectations!’ He made sacrifices to be away at a tender age and we have to make sacrifices to fulfil our promises and to show our true love for him by bearing the pain of his absence,” Colin reflected.
In 2008, May and Colin brought Joseph to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to to show him what the Olympic Games was about. It was also for another reason: to nurture his interest in the Mandarin Language and also the importance of the Chinese language (he acted as their translator and guide). Talk about unconventional parenting methods!
One important lesson that Colin has for parents in supporting their children in fulfilling their potential and dreams is this: “If your child has the talent, wants to excel badly enough and is willing sacrifice the comforts of home, then you should send him or her to the best school or country that you can afford for sporting discipline and excellence. Foresight is very crucial so do take an interest in their sport, so that you may better understand their journey and enjoy it together!”
A tribute to his parents
Joseph is thankful that with his achievements and fame, his parents remain his biggest supporters since he first started swimming. He opined it is not easy to be a swimming parent, sending kids to training early in the morning and then sending them to school, before fetching them from school and to training again. “There are a lot of sacrifices from my parents and I will not be where I am today without their support.”
On the biggest challenge in his swimming career, Joseph shared, “I moved to the US when I was 13 and before that I was very privileged – I didn’t have to do my own laundry, didn’t have to make my bed. Coming to the US, I had to take care of myself and be an adult at 13 years old. It was hard to transition to this setting but I did it.”
Joseph’s advice to young swimmers
“My advice would be to make sure that they have fun and they enjoy doing it. When you start swimming competitively, there are a lot of sacrifices and hard work that needs to be put in. Waking up early and jumping in the cold water, and also long training hours can easily, make someone lose interest.”
Singapore’s Child congratulates Joseph Schooling and his family on his outstanding performance at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.