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From Struggling Youth To Volunteer Football Coach

Growing up, Rafiqin Muhd Huzai Bin Ramli, 21, had a rough time struggling with constant bullying and exclusion in school over his dyslexia. His self-esteem took a big hit as a result, and eventually led to him developing anger management difficulties in his early teens.

But that all changed when Rafiqin joined “Saturday Night Lights” (SNL), a football programme run by SportCares that gives at-risk youth with a passion for football a chance to shine and build strong values in them through the sport.

Once a struggling youth and beneficiary of SportCares’ programmes, now the 21-year-old, who’s currently serving his National Service, is paying it forward by making time to volunteer as a football coach and mentor for some of its initiatives including the Community Futsal Programme.

Part of a series featuring young and inspiring Singaporeans who, in big and small ways, make a difference in people’s lives, we speak to Rafiqin to find out about his volunteering journey helping at-risk and underprivileged youth through sports.

Tell us a little about your growing up years.

It was full of ups and downs. I didn’t realise I had severe dyslexia until Primary One when my teacher flagged it to my mother. It affected my schoolwork and grades because I had problems recognising the letters of the alphabet and understanding lessons in class. Classmates would make fun of me, calling me names like ‘stupid’. That discouraged me a lot and I didn’t enjoy school. I kept asking my mother if I could skip school but she’d always encourage to try and try again and never to give up.

After my primary school and because of my poor grades, I was enrolled into Northlight School (a specialised school for students with difficulties managing the mainstream curriculum). The bullying stopped by then but all those years (of bullying) affected me and I started to have anger problems. I struggled a lot trying to control my emotions, and would shout and push anyone who tried to make fun of me. When I was 15, my school, knowing that I love football, recommended me to join SportCares’ SNL programme. It was there that I learnt to deal with my anger as playing football calms me down and helps me to forget my problems. That was a turning point in my life. 


Why did you decide to become a volunteer football coach to youth-at-risk?

Firstly, I love football, thanks to my father, an ex-footballer, who used to bring me to watch football matches. Secondly, my football coach at SportCares really inspired me. He taught me to channel my anger into something positive in football, and I felt a sense of achievement when I did it. Also, my former mentor at SportCares encouraged me to volunteer; to give back to the community and help those in need. So, I made a promise to her that I would.

Actually I wanted to give up volunteering initially when I had to take on the coaching alone instead of having a more experienced coach with me. I was overwhelmed on what to do and how to coach the kids (aged between nine and 13). Slowly, I developed my own way to connect with them; mostly I’d follow my heart and apply the skills that I’ve learnt from my own coaches.

I want to use my experience to help those who’re facing problems at school or at home. I feel that I can relate to them as I’ve been through some similar problems. It makes me sad sometimes when I see some of these boys, so talented, but joining bad company.

You choose to spend every Friday night coaching and mentoring these at-risk youth instead of hanging out with friends. Why?

These kids, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, made a commitment to show up for every training session, and I feel I’ve an obligation to also show up and not disappoint them. I really enjoy interacting with them as a coach and mentor, and I feel good being like a brotherly figure dispensing advice to them. Just seeing them happy, having fun and celebrating their wins together gives me a sense of joy, and reminds me to always appreciate the small things in life.

What are your aspirations after completing your National Service?
I want to go back to school. I’ve already secured a place at Temasek Polytechnic to study Integrated Facility Management. And I definitely want to continue volunteering as a football coach for as long as I can.

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