As a prelude to its official opening in September this year, Stamford American School Hong Kong is organising a series of free workshops to give young people the chance to meet and learn from inspiring thought leaders in a number of different fields. The first such event in this Global Mentor Program was held in mid-January. It saw Joy Koh, the highest qualified gymnastics coach based in Singapore, taking groups of four- to eight-year-olds through a sequence of warm-up exercises and basic skills. The emphasis was on participation and fun. But during the sessions, Koh also introduced simple movement patterns and explained the importance of flexibility, co-ordination, good form, and listening to the coach. Overall, the aim of Stamford’s Global Mentor Program is to give children new opportunities and inspire them to achieve more than they believe they can “We call gymnastics the mother of sports because it teaches so many foundational skills, which then help in picking up other sports,” she says. “On a very tangible level, if you can master gymnastics, you are better able to manage your body, remain healthy and avoid injuries. In less tangible ways, you realise that hard work and following the correct process leads to results. I often see kids surprising themselves with what they can achieve through their own efforts and by working steadily towards a clear goal.” In the sessions, Koh wanted to demonstrate how each individual can quite quickly learn to do something they have never done before. She set a challenge which might have seemed a little out of reach, but soon had kids performing handstands, swinging on bars, and balancing on a beam. “I also sit them down before the class to run through the rules and guidelines,” she says. “They have to watch when we introduce a new skill, and if they do something they are not supposed to, we call them out and make sure they are here to learn.” Joy Koh, Singapore's highest qualified gymnastics coach Speaking to parents at a separate seminar on “Raising Champions”, Koh emphasised the value of sports not just in promoting physical health and strength, but also for developing social skills, confidence, and self-discipline. She noted that such qualities help to build character and are widely recognised as contributing to academic success. “Regular training, even if you are not aiming to compete, provides benefits both inside and outside the gym,” Koh says. “In the long run, it is not about whether you win medals, but about the kind of person you become. We want parents to see that a well-rounded education at a multi-dimensional school should include sports which build physical abilities and life skills.” Koh’s own passion for gymnastics was ignited when, as an eight-year-old, she saw other youngsters performing cartwheels and splits at a school assembly. “I just loved it,” she says. “I started a little late in terms of competitive gymnastics and, because the sport was underdeveloped in Singapore, we only did the vault and floor exercises at first. But I got a lot of enjoyment and fulfilment from the activities, wanted to get better, and became a bit obsessed with it.” Throwing herself into the training, Koh went on to compete in school and national events before turning to coaching at the age of 16 and, subsequently, becoming a respected judge at international level. In the latter capacity, she attended the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has also been a judge multiple times at the SEA Games, World Cup, Asian Games and World Championships. In 2011, she coached at the prestigious International Gymnastics Camp in the United States, alongside Olympic and world champions such as Nastia Liukin and Paul Hamm. And, when time allows, she still holds coaching and judging workshops for the National Sport Association in Singapore. “I notice there is still a deeply rooted notion that sport is secondary to academic considerations,” Koh says. “Research shows, though, that EQ is in fact a better predictor of future success that IQ.” Overall, the aim of Stamford’s Global Mentor Program is to give children new opportunities and inspire them to achieve more than they believe they can. This is in line with the school’s guiding vision and will underpin the general approach to classroom teaching and a wide range of extracurricular activities. Upcoming mentor sessions over the next few months will focus on different sports, as well as topics related to arts, science and innovation. Stamford’s Hong Kong campus in Ho Man Tin will begin classes for five-to-thirteen-year-olds starting in September. An extra grade will then be added each year as the most senior class moves up.