Daryl Tan: From Troubled Kid to Social Worker

As an errant child, Daryl Tan turned his life around and now drives the same positive change in his youth centre – through sports. Find out more about Daryl’s journey, and how he helps other youths.

Championing sports is deeply personal to me. As a child, I was not academically inclined and had behavioural problems. I found it difficult to meet the expectations of the people around me and that constantly left me feeling isolated and unhappy. 

But after I left the army, I picked up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu taught me to see things from different perspectives and this contributed positively to how I approached my problems in life. It also helped that the adrenaline rush allowed me to release my negative emotions through a healthier channel. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed my life and I wanted to replicate it for these youths. 

It is these collective experiences that allowed me to understand vulnerable youths today. It also enabled me to better connect with them because I know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

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Turning Interests into Therapy

Over the years, I’ve seen how important it is for vulnerable or underprivileged youths to be interested and engaged in healthy activities. When youths participate in these activities, they develop useful skills, develop positive traits and form meaningful connections with people around them. This is a large motivating factor behind why I choose to do what I do at RoundBox.

Coming from a troubled past, I understand that not all youths respond to conventional therapy or counselling in the same way. With this in mind, the Centre Director and I polled youths in 2016 to discover what activities they would be most interested in. The resounding answer? Sports.

And so when RoundBox reopened its doors three years ago after a period of evaluating and revamping its programmes, we offered predominantly sports-based activities as a therapeutic approach to behavioural change.

This aligned perfectly with my personal beliefs. I’ve always been a huge advocate for sports because I believe it can change individuals for the better. And my passion translated to my work at RoundBox, where I’m a Social Worker who runs sports programmes, amongst other duties such as deputising the Centre Director and overseeing other programmes and events.

At RoundBox, we respect each other. There’s a strong sense of mutual respect amongst everyone in the Centre. The Centre staffs treat all youths as equals, and this is important in building strong relationships. 

Teaching and practising respect also manifests itself into a powerful force of change. For example, I’ve met youths who’ve had a history of fighting. Instead of disciplining them for it, we teach them proper techniques, form, and most importantly – the ethics and principles of martial arts. This includes a respect for both the martial art, and the partner. You wouldn’t have guessed it – but most, if not all of our youths who have taken up a form of martial art at RoundBox have actually stopped fighting! 

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Transformed by Sports

When at-risk youths join the centre, I see much of myself in them. A lot of their current situations mirror my past. But with time, many of them have changed for the better through the sports they engage with. 

Take for example the story of Jason*, whose life has changed from taking up long distance running. When he first came in, he lacked direction in life. He also used to cheat in games because he didn’t like losing. Whenever we caught him cheating, he would create excuses and throw a fit. Then, he decided to try running. We signed him up for a 5km marathon and a few of us even participated with him. And he loved it! Before we knew it, we were signing him on for more races and on his third race – he clinched third place! And at that moment when he had the medal around his neck, Jason became a different person. 

Winning the race at third place allowed him to unlock his potential and gave him the belief that he was capable of achieving more. But the greatest improvement I saw in Jason? It was his ability to learn how to lose gracefully. Now he races respectfully and whether he wins or loses, he makes it a point to congratulate other players after a game. 

Opportunities of Hope 

I believe that sports improve lives in the long term. From martial arts to running, sports gives individuals confidence, and the aptitude to tackle life with energy and positivity. It always feels amazing when I witness youths seizing opportunities which they may not have had the chance to previously. And when we bring opportunities to our youths, we open doors, and inspire them to explore the world.

Daryl Tan is a Social Worker at RoundBox @ Children’s Society (SCS). SCS aims to provide services that nurture and inspire children and youths. RoundBox is one of many SCS centres around the island, with a focus on using recreational programmes and therapy to boost the confidence and self-esteem of youths. 

*The youth’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.

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