Across sports teams and arts clubs, rarely will you find a group that can boast relationships with their alumni so strong, that the graduates return regularly to compete alongside current members.
Building on the good work of their predecessors, the SMU Sailing team seems to cultivate good team rapport effortlessly. Ko Yumei, the club’s president, let’s us in on some team quirks and how the team stays together.
Friendship and teamwork
Although Yumei picked up sailing when she joined SMU, her acquaintance with the sport has its roots in her secondary school days, where her close friend, Kimberly, would travel regularly to compete in sailing. Yumei looked on in awe as Kimberly excelled in both sports and academia without seeming to put in much effort. Kimberly was “life-goals”, Yumei describes.
When the pair enrolled into SMU together, Yumei was encouraged to take up sailing so that they could spend time training together. Kimberly’s heavy national sailing commitments meant that these plans fell through, but Yumei quickly realised that everyone in the team was warm, friendly and incredibly welcoming.
“Everyone in sailing is generally very friendly and easy to get along with. I’ve heard people talk about how the seniors in sailing are very friendly – they’ll just approach you and say hi. It also helps that we spend so much time together out at sea and at gym trainings.”
Sailing quickly became fun with the support and great company of new friends. It also helped that the team frequently travelled together for regattas overseas.
“People are always surprised when they find out that we sail to regattas like the annual Nongsa regatta. Our boats are at Tuas, so we typically sail to one of the clubs in Singapore to berth, before sailing to Nongsa from there. Because we can only sail during daylight, we split this up into two days. It takes about half a day from Tuas to the next Singapore berth, and a little more than half a day from there to reach Nongsa. The regatta is about three racing days.”
Great teams build great cultures
Yumei’s passion for the sport is clear, but what is even more evident is her love for the team. Throughout our conversation, she constantly emphasises that her teammates are what makes the experience memorable. Unlike most other CCA groups where not every member is an active participant, every member of SMU Sailing has the opportunity to compete.
“Within the team, we are always mixing ourselves up to sail with different people. This definitely helps us to get to know each and every one of our team members better and at a deeper level.”
Yumei also attributes the close-knit nature of the team to the level of commitment required. The team trains every Saturday and Sunday out at sea, with static gym trainings on Wednesdays.
“Sailing is quite a niche sport, and you really do have to put in the effort to attend trainings. So, everyone who stays with us is usually very committed to the sport and the team.”
On top of all this time spent together, the team also meets regularly for social events, school activities, and casual gatherings where it is less about the sport, and all about good company.
“We celebrate a lot of things together. We ‘lo hei’ together during Chinese New Year, eat and drink together during Christmas, and celebrate mid-autumn with lanterns – it’s a long-standing tradition that we call ‘Sailormoon’. It is silly and fun, but all the time that we spend together makes sailing as a team even more enjoyable and fulfilling.”
Keeping close ties
What makes the strong rapport even more outstanding, is how the relationships continue to develop even between current team members and the alumni.
“We always invite the alumni to come back to sail with us. They end up guiding our new members too, so this makes the team even more bonded, and it’s a cycle that keeps going. It’s fun when they come back to join our regattas, and they share with us the traditions of their time, like where to find the best food and where to hang out. Sometimes, after sailing together, they would even email us tips and guides on how to sail better.”
When asked if part of her role includes alumni networking, Yumei pauses to contemplate, and answers: “We don’t go out of our way to come up with events. It happens quite naturally. When we sail with the alumni, we spend a lot of time together on the same boat and become very familiar with each other. We often end up becoming close friends.”
A learning journey
As president in her first leadership role, Yumei is thankful for a committed team and an understanding exco. Leading the team has been an experiential learning curve with its good and bad days, all of which have helped her to develop as a person.
“Tough times are necessary for growth. From my mistakes, I have learnt not to repeat the same errors, and I also learn what the consequences are.”
In leading the team and consulting with former presidents, Yumei is also steadily learning the fine balance between withholding control and trust.
“The previous presidents shared with me their experiences with micro-managing and how they would end up feeling burnt out. In learning from their lessons, I am also learning on my own when to trust my exco members and when to step in. Right now, I think they have their space to do what they want which is great. At the end of the day, we are all on the same level and I like to think of us as one big family.”