Teacher-coach Joel puts discipline and ethics above medals
Teacher-coach Joel Vinson's no-nonsense approach to basketball bears fruit
It was the quarter-finals of the South Zone Schools basketball championship and the First Toa Payoh Primary School senior boys' team were in the mix.
In a stunning move, coach Joel Vinson benched four of his five starters.
His reason - the four boys had skipped their supplementary class earlier.
"It was a message to them," explained Joel.
"You may be a star player but, when you do something wrong, there are consequences."
Joel was willing to take the loss, but he did not have to.
The players who were elevated to the starting five delivered and First Toa Payoh beat their opponents by eight points to make the semi-finals.
Joel's no-nonsense approach proved effective in the end and the First Toa Payoh boys eventually finished second, and went on to secure third place in the schools' nationals.
The 29-year-old, who has been nominated for The New Paper's S Soocelaraj Award, puts discipline and ethics above winning medals.
The teacher-coach always wants his youngsters to do well in their Primary School Leaving Examinations.
With two other teachers, he conducts revision sessions with his student-athletes to help them with their work.
Joel is not the school's official basketball coach.
He relinquished the post when he became the school's Head of Physical Education in late 2012, but he couldn't stay away and continued to train the team outside of his work.
Good sportsmanship is also something he preaches, once taking his captain out of a game for pushing an opponent, when the move went unnoticed by the referee.
"In basketball when a person jumps, it's very dangerous to push off on that person," he explained.
Maybe Joel also does not want a repeat of what happened to him as a young basketball player.
He suffered a tear to his ligament during a B Division match, and it eventually forced him to have surgery at age 20.
It was rough for the then-Serangoon Gardens Secondary School captain, who had to give up hopes of playing for top local clubs.
But he never quit the game.
Despite his injury flaring up intermittently, Joel was good enough to be vice-captain in the Catholic Junior College team and today, he plays for the AMK Bravehearts in the Pro-Am Singapore Basketball League.
His passion for basketball and teaching runs deep.
In his first year at First Toa Payoh in 2011, he pioneered a "2 Day 1 Night camp" to motivate the young players and to encourage team building.
The school team went on to finish second behind reigning champions Chua Chu Kang Primary School. It was First Toa Payoh's highest finish in the competition.
While Joel admits that he does get frustrated as a coach, especially when his students do not put in effort, it does not affect his popularity.
His ex-students still visit him on his birthday, and invite him to watch their matches.
The current batch of students also enjoy playing with him, even staying back after training for a game.
"They always want to challenge Mr J," said Rina Ho, the teacher in charge of basketball, referring how the students address him.
"They look up to him and want to be like him; he is really a good role model for the kids."
As if Joel does not already have enough on his plate, he is currently taking a part-time Physical Education and Management degree at uniSIM.
He said: "It's professional development for me, and the way I teach will get better."