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Balancing athletics and education: Q&A with elite athlete Ho Xiu Yi

Students looking ahead to elite athletic careers have new options available to extend their studies in the Diploma Programme (DP). At IB World Schools certified as Athlete Friendly Education Centers (AFEC) by the World Academy of Sport, student-athletes may have the option extend their studies to complete the IB diploma in three or four years to accommodate a full-time training schedule. 

xiu yi feat image
Nineteen-year-old Ho Xiu Yi is Singapore’s national record holder for the 10m Air Rifle Women’s event and is looking ahead to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

To accommodate training and competition schedules Athlete Friendly Education Centres (AFEC) offer students the ability to extend their Diploma Programme (DP) studies to better fit their needs as an student-athlete’s. Ho Xiu Yi, is a current DP student at the Singapore Sports School and will be competing for a spot in 10m Air Rifle competition at the 2020 Olympics. Xiu Yi shares her experience undertaking the IB diploma extension and offers advice for students considering this path in the Q&A below.

How useful was your IB extension?

I chose the extended four-year DP back in 2017. I decided to take this pathway as there were a few seniors I knew that went through this program and I saw the opportunities that opened up for them because they had flexibility in their schedules to say yes to those opportunities and weren’t bound to the traditional timelines. My exams and class schedules are spread out into three subjects during the first two years; I took HL sports, exercise and health, HL Mandarin and SL math. Now I am embarking into my final two years after completing my IB exams and will complete HL economics, SL English, SL chemistry along with TOK and completing my extended essay.

“Being a student-athlete, means that I must be proactive in catching up on my studies.”

This schedule allowed me to train up to 8-10 times a week. This is twice as much time compared to a normal IB student-athlete in our school, who can probably train about 4 times a week. During the exam period, traditional IB student-athletes usually have to stop their sports to prepare for exams. For me in this flexible schedule, I have sufficient time to prepare for my subjects while still being able to train. The increase in training intensity helped me to be able to improve my craft, which is Air Rifle shooting.

What did it allow you, as a student-athlete, to achieve?

During my time in IB, I have managed to achieve several highs in my shooting career as a 10m Air Rifle shooter. I was also able to secure a spot on the Singapore Shooting Association’s elite team and even received a prestigious sports scholarship called the Sports Excellence Scholarship (SPEX). The increased opportunity to focus on and improve my shooting propelled my team and I to break the World Junior Record and earned second place overall, as we tied with the China team, in 2017. I am currently the Singapore National Record holder for the 10m Air Rifle Women’s event in Singapore and also a World Cup finalist for 2016 and 2019. Currently, I am ranked 21st in the world and am training to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo 2020.

“It is hard to make the sacrifice sometimes, but this is when your coach, teachers, family and friends … support you”

What does it mean to combine a sportive career and an academic career together?

Being a student-athlete, means that I must be proactive in catching up on my studies. Due to my intensive competition schedule, I might be away for up to a month. As I am enrolled at the Singapore Sports School, the teachers are really very helpful when I come back from overseas by helping me catch up with my work, giving me extra make-up lessons and postponing my test dates till I am ready. While some students had free periods between their classes, I had no free period at all. I wake up early to train and then immediately go to class. After class, I would go back to training. There is no free time for myself, but this is the sacrifice I choose to make.

Although some may say that I have the weekend to rest and relax, sometimes training and trials take place during the weekends. It is extremely tough mentally and physically, because it means making a choice between many things. Rest? Work? Train? Go out with family or friends? Pursuing an athletic career is always about making choices and for me, the choice to be made is always obvious. Sacrifice is inevitable when we are chasing our goals. It is hard to make the sacrifice sometimes, but this is when your coach, teachers, family and friends, who are aware of your goals and are on the same page as you, support you when you want to give up. So, this is what it means for me to combine sports and studies together: sacrifice, choices and battling mentally with yourself.

What is some advice you could share for future student-athletes choosing this route?

I think the toughest part is battling mentally with yourself because I am only human. I struggled with that at the start of IB with the sudden increase in intensity from secondary school to the DP, which was more than twice my previous work load. As I head towards higher levels in my sports, I have been also struggled to balance my studies and my sports. However, it has gotten better for me as I ease into the program. A very important thing that I have learned is while trying to balance sports and studies, do not forget yourself. Your own well-being is extremely important, if you push yourself too hard, you will eventually crash and get nothing from either side. You are the core of whatever you are trying to do. No matter what, it is most important to take care of yourself before you head towards other directions.

“Utilise the time and opportunity given to you; it is a pathway that requires a lot of self-discipline in order to do your best in both your studies and the other sports”

Sometimes I feel sad about the fact that I won’t graduate with my peers, my initial classmates from secondary school or the DP year two students I started the IB with. After my friends graduated, I joined in a new class of juniors. Because of the modified schedule, sometimes I also feel like I am not advancing as fast as the peers of my age who solely focus on academics. But then I bear in mind that I should not be comparing my progression with others because I am progressing in my life, just in my own way.

Without the choice of taking extended DP, I would not have been able to achieve those highs in my shooting career or had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I am also thankful that my new class of juniors welcomed me with open arms and that I am not alone. One thing to note about taking the extended program it is that you shouldn’t pursue it if you think that it is the easier way out. Just because you have fewer subjects per year compared to your peers doesn’t mean you can slack off and do nothing during the free time. Utilise the time and opportunity given to you; it is a pathway that requires a lot of self-discipline in order to do your best in both your studies and the other sports or arts you are pursuing. Sometimes you might slip but remember to get back on track. You are in charge of your own future and no one is going to be responsible for your actions but you. Be responsible for everything, especially time!

Xiu Yi is currently a student at Singapore Sports School and training to qualify for the 10m Air Rifle competition in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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