That’s the question that student-athlete Vernice Chua asked herself after her team lost – by a tiny margin – at the finals of the National School Games. Here, she shares her realisation, both the heartbreak and the hope.
2019 was supposed to be the year they won the National Girls’ Floorball ‘A’ Division Championships.
It would be a fitting end to Vernice Chua’s six years with the River Valley High School’s Floorball team. The team had been playing and training together since entering the Integrated Programme in Secondary 1.
“We were a very close-knit team!” Vernice explained. “From being thrashed in our first friendly match in Sec 1 to coming in second in the national championships in JC1 – we had come a long way together.”
In fact, the silver medal they won in 2018 was one of the reasons the team was determined to go all out in JC2. They had lost by just one point in the final match, and felt that they had let down their seniors, who had won the championship title the year before.
They saw 2019 as their second (and last) chance to redeem themselves and do their school proud.
Winning comes at a price
The team stepped up their preparation for the competition during the December school holidays. The competition season would begin in March.
When school started in January, they trained twice a week, and then thrice a week as the date neared. On top of official CCA hours, the team came to school early every Monday for physical training, when they would complete a 5-kilometre run and practise their stick work before class.
Having a test was no excuse to skip training, so on days when they had a test, the team would try to slip in a few extra minutes of revision – by quizzing each other while stretching or flipping through their Chemistry notes while planking!
“It was definitely tough having to juggle training and our studies,” Vernice reflected. “We felt disappointed when we got our test results back. Sometimes when I saw my peers studying after school or being perfectly prepared for their tutorials, I felt anxious that I was not doing the same.”
Despite these occasional moments of doubt, Vernice never once considered withdrawing from floorball. She felt a deep sense of responsibility to the team, and knew that everyone was in it together - even as they stole naps at the canteen during the free periods, or were scolded by their coach when they failed to meet their targets on the court.
“Everyone was trying so hard and we wanted so much to succeed. No one could bear to let the team down.”
That one moment
For a time, it seemed that their effort and personal sacrifices would pay off. In the preliminaries, the River Valley floorball team faced off five other schools and emerged as the top in table.
Everyone was thrilled that they had cleared the semi-finals. Their finals opponent would be Victoria Junior College, whom they had defeated in an earlier match, so the team was feeling pretty good about their chance at the championship.
“It felt like our goal was within reach.”
The day of the finals dawned and with it the nerves. Close to two hundred supporters from both schools filled the sports hall (ahhh the pre-COVID times). This added to Vernice’s and the team’s anxiety. The cheers and hubbub from the spectators made it hard for the team to hear each other during the match.
Then, Vernice made a mistake while competing for the ball and was given a penalty. That meant she had to sit out for two minutes while her team played on with one less player.
“I could see that it disrupted the flow of our play, and I began to feel defeated even though the game was not yet over,” she recalled.
Eventually, both teams scored a goal each, but the River Valley team lost in the penalty shoot-outs.
When the result was announced, everyone dropped their sticks and huddled at the side of the court. With their heads together, the girls began to cry.
On the other side, their opponents were cheering and celebrating their win.
Vernice recalled how the team put a smile on their tear-streaked faces to thank their supporters and posed for a final group photograph. Then they sobbed all the way on the bus back to school.
Six months of hard work, what was it all for if you lose?
The next challenge
Even as Vernice was grappling with this huge disappointment, another hurdle was looming – the A-Levels.
The final match had taken place in May, and she had to quickly catch up on her studies before her Prelim exams.
The day following the match, she found herself in the school library in the afternoon instead of the sports hall. To her surprise, all her teammates were there too – coincidentally they had all gathered there on their own. It was a bit awkward at first and everyone found it hard to not think about the match.
“The loss hit us hard and it took us a while to get over it,” Vernice shared. “Sometimes when we would see each other along the corridor, we would feel the tears welling up again. But we tried to channel all our energy into preparing for the A-Levels.”
Overcoming the fear of failure
Over time things started to get a bit better. But even when the feeling of disappointment had lost its sharp edge, Vernice was left with a creeping fear of failure.
“Because of the competition, I was convinced that I would always mess up in the big moments in my life. Although I improved and did well enough in my Prelims, I began to doubt myself and believed that I would fail in the actual A-Levels.”
This is when her teachers stepped in. Without them, says Vernice, she would have been stuck in the self-defeating mindset that she was in since the match.
One of her teachers, noticing that she was more withdrawn and less confident than before, helped her to process her emotions.
“Mr Shane Koh helped me see that by focusing on the moments when I failed, I was losing sight of my strengths. He encouraged me to go for my next big win, and let it propel me forward. Success is the best way to overcome this setback, he said, so I needed to give my best to the next opportunity that came my way.”
Another teacher, Ms Li Chen, slipped her a cookie with a note while she was revising in the library. It read: You girls are still our heroes!
Vernice came to realise that the colour of the medal – silver or gold – did not really matter.
Moving out of the court
Today, Vernice is happily pursuing her degree at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Her efforts, and the support of her family and school, helped her pull through the A-Levels, and she felt that she did better than she had expected.
Vernice still plays floorball recreationally in a club outside school. She also keeps in touch with her floorball mates, and is glad that some of them are still pursuing floorball competitively in their respective schools and clubs.
“I still love the sport, but I think it’s time to close the chapter on competitions and move on to something new,” Vernice reflected. She is looking forward to the student activities in her residential hall and pursuing internship opportunities related to media and communications.
Looking back, she does not regret the time and effort she spent on floorball and felt that the whole experience made her stronger as a person.
“The nervous feeling I got before the big match – I still feel it. It’s there before every job interview, every big exam, or presentation. But I’ve learnt not to let it affect me. I also handle rejection better now. I know it’s always possible that I could fail, but I should give it a shot nevertheless.”
She still has the two silver medals from the floorball competitions.
“As an athlete, you naturally want to win,” she shared. “But I’ve since learnt that the friendships and the memories are a lot more valuable than the title.”
Making the most of your second chance
Here’s Vernice’s advice for those who may find themselves in a similar situation:
- Be kind to yourself when it comes to disappointment: “Things happen for many reasons. While you are blaming yourself, others may also feel they are at fault. In fact, after the match, my mum even asked me if it was her fault for going there and distracting me! It's okay to reflect on what went wrong, but don't let that failure define you.”
- Seek help when you need to: “Don't be afraid to talk to others about how you feel. This can be your family, your friends or even your teachers. Having people by your side to encourage and support you will help you get back on your feet.”
- Go for the next big win: “Have no fear venturing into new opportunities and seek your next big win. It might be the best way to get you back on track and regain your self-confidence. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Ask yourself that and you will see that it is often not as scary as you may imagine.”
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