As the governing body of 35 clubs, the SMU Sports Union (SSU) has a pretty tall order: promote a vibrant sporting culture in SMU, champion student rights and add value to every sportsman. Ensuring that every sportsman thrives not only in the area of sports, but also in the other aspects of life, tops the list of priorities for the 2017 SSU managing committee.
To learn more about the inner workings of a student union, SMU Snapshots spoke to the man who leads the union in its 13th year running, Duncan Koh.
Unity is strength
Duncan’s commitment to SSU as its president is absolutely palpable. Within two minutes of meeting, he has already detailed the mission of SSU and his team’s goals for 2017. Having grown up on the basketball court and now a competitive handball player, Duncan understands the needs and concerns of sportsmen and wants to make a change for the better of every sportsperson in SMU.
“It can get a bit daunting for a club to go out and talk to a company, because this is just a small group. SSU, on the other hand, has the power of 35 sports clubs. When we go out to meet these companies, we have more things to bargain for, and the pitch becomes stronger.”
With the support of SMU’s sporting community, Duncan and his team have powered ahead with two initiatives that can give sportsmen a head-start in developing their career and personal lives.
The first is community engagement through sports, such as incorporating CSP in Waikiki 2017 and supporting philanthropic organisations.
The second initiative focuses on improving career prospects. SSU has breathed new life into the traditional corporate networking sessions where students and potential employers meet, by adding the elements of fun and sports to it.
“These corporate networking sessions done over a game of sports provides a common platform for students and employers. It becomes easier and less awkward to talk to one another. They help to create more opportunities for our sportsmen in their careers, as they gain industry knowledge, meet people and get connections – all these while getting to do what they are most familiar with – playing sports.”
Duncan makes it sound easy, but leading 1,200 sportsmen and ensuring that their needs are met comes with equal parts of responsibility and challenge.
“On the student council level, you need to fight for yourself [SSU], while at the same time understand the other constituent bodies and what their constraints are. It’s important to manage that. On the SSU level, I have to understand the needs, issues and plans of each club, and share with them the overall direction.”
Duncan admits that, because one of the main roles of being president is to liaise with external parties, sports clubs, and even his own team mates, people management is an everyday challenge.
“Everyone has different perspectives and I get stuck in the middle a lot of the times. I’ve learnt how to put myself in others’ shoes to try and understand their predicament and empathise with them. I remember arguing with my mum once when I was in primary school and made her upset. My dad told me, ‘son, you’ve got to think before you talk.’ That has stayed in my head ever since. Now, every time before speaking I remember that line. It takes just a few seconds but it makes all the difference.”
Having worked with numerous teams in projects, leadership roles and at work, Duncan shares that a main takeaway in people management is discovering that different people have different types of styles. There are the more emotional people, and there are those who prefer facts and figures. A piece of advice from Duncan on how to work in a team is to identify the different working styles and be adaptable to them.
Managing one’s time is just as important as the ability to manage people. Here’s a fun fact: when Duncan took up the role of president in January, he met with every single president and vice-president of the 35 sports clubs within two weeks.
Duncan swears by excel spreadsheets in helping him to manage his time, which he schedules in one-hour blocks. To him, time management is all about priorities and being aware of what your ultimate focus is. “Once you have your priorities ranked, you have to be willing to sacrifice those at the bottom of the list,” Duncan adds.
Big picture thinking
Duncan shares that every single day of leading SSU is a new learning experience. He cites sports manager, Roy Chua, for being a big source of inspiration and support.
“Roy always reminds me to think of the bigger picture. Sometimes we focus so much on running events that we miss the bigger picture. He always stresses on the need to grow SSU in ways that develop all our sportsmen.”
Looking back at all that he has learnt and the people he has met, Duncan is certain that even if given the chance, he would not change a thing about his time in SMU, and says that running for SSU is the best decision he has made so far.
“Being out there with my team is great, even during the tough times because we know we have each other’s backs. Even when it gets tiring, we always support each other and spend time growing together. It’s been a wonderful experience with no regrets. I’ve had a very fulfilling student life and it can only get better.”