At the same time Mahathir Azeman, 16, has had to handle the pressure of being both a Secondary 4 (Normal) student and a National Football Academy(NFA) footballer.
Little wonder then that in this year’s Lion City Cup, when the NFA Under-16 midfielder scored twice against Ajax Amsterdam’s youth team – once in the group stages and again in the final – he was overwhelmed with pride.
“Seeing my name in the newspapers... looking at myself on pictures and on the Internet, it was all rewinding in my head,” he said.
“I felt so proud of myself. After all I’ve been through, the sacrifices for my family, my friends, and training in the hot weather, it all felt so fulfilling.”
To put the icing on the cake, he received some praise from Ajax coach Michel Kreek.
Said Mahathir: “Ajax are one of the best clubs in Europe. I really felt that sense of satisfaction.”
Looking at Mahathir’s schedule, the Siglap Secondary School student has every reason to be proud of his effort.
Apart from juggling between his NFA and school team training sessions, the Secondary 4 student also has his upcoming N level examinations to study for.
He travels from Pasir Ris to the Singapore Sports School in Woodlands five days a week to attend his NFA Under-16 training sessions.
And it is this determination that has earned him a nomination for The New Paper’s School Sports Star Award brought to you by H-TWO-O.
To help him stay focused and organised, Mahathir has two people to thank: His form teacher, Ritina Fong, and his CCA teacher-in-charge, Quaide Millath.
The Peter Lim Scholarship recipient said: “Ms Fong is like a second mother, as she will take care of my studies and ensure that I do my homework.
“She always tries to get updates on how I’m doing (in school).”
Millath also helps him to arrange his external football and school responsibilities.
Of his student, Millath said: “In the seven years that I’ve observed Siglap’s football, he’s definitely the best player, in terms of fitness, ability and mental strength.
“I also like his humility. He does his job, off and on the pitch. He can do a lot more, but he prefers to keep it simple.”
Mahathir’s romance with the beautiful game began when he was just six years old.
Recounting his childhood days, he said: “My older brother (five years his senior) would play with his team every weekend, and I would sit by the side watching him.
“One day, my legs just couldn’t stay still, I really wanted to play.”
After his PSLE examinations, he made it to the Singapore Sports School, but transferred to Siglap after a few months due to “personal reasons”.
It was there that Mahathir was made captain of his C Div side, and eventually, the B Div team. As the skipper, Mahathir has a liberal approach towards his teammates.
“During team talks, I don’t talk much as I don’t want to stress my players,” he explained. “From the start, I always tell them to have fun, as that’s when we play our best.”
His teammate, defender Muhd Danial, supports his captain’s approach.
He said: “Mahathir leads and communicates with everyone very well. In this year’s B Div Nationals, he really guided the team well... he’s like a hero in our team.”
Mahathir’s easy-going manner has worked wonders over the years.
His team were the East Zone C Div champions in 2010, fourth in the C Div Nationals, and fourth in this year’s B Div Nationals.
Mahathir’s time spent toiling in the muddy fields has definitely paid off with a trip to Sabah, Malaysia, where he attended a football clinic with Premier League club Queens Park Rangers this year.
The Arsenal fan described his 90-minute training session with the club’s coaches as “similar to the NFA, but more intensive”.
Besides players like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand, he also met QPR manager Mark Hughes, who shared a piece of advice that resonated in the young teenager.
He said: “Mark told me that football is a difficult job. You’ll have to make a lot of sacrifices, but the good things will come.”