Ball's in her court

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03 Mar 2023 | PEOPLE

Ball's in her court

// Story by Benita Teo // Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of ME4 Neo

English Melayu

She leads a team of naval engineers at work, and captains a medal-winning women's basketball team – meet ME4 Neo Ying Qi.


How far would you go for love? For the love of basketball, Military Expert (ME) 4 Neo Ying Qi took it on herself to set up the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) Women's Basketball Team in 2018, and became its first captain.

"I didn't mind putting in the effort to set up the team, because I love basketball, and I could see that many people enjoyed it too.

"We will always go the extra mile for the things we love. Even when there are challenges, we will not be limited by them," said the 29-year-old Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Naval Warfare System Engineer (NWSE).

ME4 Neo played a key role in setting up the SAFSA Women's Basketball Team, which used to compete under the DSTA banner.

Her hard work has clearly paid off: the team won its first medal, a bronze, in the 2019 Public Service Cup.

Find out how she captains a team that she calls "all leaders in their own right" and what happens when someone tries to pull rank on the court.

Hi, ME4 Neo! How did you become the SAFSA women's basketball team's first captain?

ME4 Neo: I joined SAFSA after signing on with the RSN in 2017. Back then, SAFSA only had a men's basketball team; there wasn't a SAFSA women's team. The ladies, comprising athletes from the SAF, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and the Ministry of Defence, competed under the DSTA banner.

I began talking to the people in SAFSA, we eventually set up the team, and I became its first captain. As more servicewomen with experience in the sport enlisted, our pool of dedicated players grew.

The 2019 SAFSA Women's Basketball Team that took home the association's first medal, a bronze.

Have you always been passionate about basketball?

ME4 Neo: Yes! I've been playing basketball since I was in secondary school, all the way through polytechnic, university, and now in SAFSA. I also played for the national under-18 training squad in my teens.

My dad, Neo Beng Siang, used to be head coach of Singapore's national basketball team and is currently coaching the pro team Singapore Slingers. He was a big influence on me – when I was young, I would always be on the courts watching him coach or play ball. I find it calming and therapeutic and I use it as an outlet for my stress.

Ballin' family: ME4 Neo (far left) developed a love for basketball from her dad, a former national basketball coach (second from left). Her sisters (second and third from right) were also basketballers while her mum (third from left) played netball. On far right is ME4 Neo's brother-in-law.

Has your dad ever coached you?

ME4 Neo: When I was in Secondary 5, our team didn't have a coach, so I asked him to coach us. He was extremely fierce to me! (laughs) Maybe it's because I'm his daughter, so he had much higher expectations and didn't want to look as though he was being soft on me. He's a "tough love" kind of parent.

ME4 Neo (second from left) with her family at her Basic Military Training graduation parade in 2017.

Sounds like you're not one to back down from a challenge!

ME4 Neo: I studied electrical power engineering at the Singapore Institute of Technology, a field that not many girls would choose. I wanted to put my degree to good use and apply my knowledge as an engineer, while doing something that was out of the ordinary.

I'd thought about signing on before I entered university, but it wasn't until I attended a career talk in my final year that I became more certain of my decision. I also liked that (in the SAF,) I would also be exposed to new things and experience different environments with every new posting.

ME4 Neo sailed on Landing Ship Tank RSS Resolution in 2021, where she was attached to the ship as Assistant Shipboard Engineer.

What do you do as captain of the SAFSA women's basketball team?

ME4 Neo: I organise training and uphold the discipline and chemistry among the team members. One of the biggest challenges is getting all six players to come together for training. We usually train at the court in Mandai Hill Camp, but because everyone has different operational roles, it's often hard to find common free time.

Another challenge is learning to manage people of different ranks. Communication is key in managing them. But one thing's for sure, we all set aside our ranks when we are on the court. After all, in a game, you can't be like, "Hey, Major!" We're just here because we love the game and want to play.

ME4 Neo (front row, third from left) with the SAFSA Women's Basketball Team at the Public Service Cup 2022. The team clinched the silver medal at the competition.

Discipline is also very important to me. I've had situations where people didn't turn up for training but wanted to play in competition. They may be better players, but I had to be fair to those who turned up for training diligently, even if they weren't as good.

This is what leadership means to me: bringing people together, managing attitudes, and leading the team to competitions

ME4 Neo receiving her sword and appointment letter from Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Melvyn Ong at the Senior Military Experts Appointment Ceremony in Dec 2018.

How have the leadership skills you learnt on the court helped you in your role as a NWSE?

ME4 Neo: I'm currently an Assistant Operations Officer in the Force Generation Squadron. I work with my team of naval engineers to to oversee the maintenance of our surface ships, submarines and civil resource platforms. I also lead in the planning and coordination of the squadron's day-to-day operations with the flotillas and Headquarters.

Apart from contributing to operational readiness through operations-logistics support, the most gratifying aspect of my work revolves around the people I work with. I've been entrusted to help them to become great leaders and team-players, and seeing my people grow and realise their potential have been the highlights of my career so far.

ME4 Neo (background, second from left) is currently an Assistant Operations Officer in Force Generation Squadron.
ME4 Neo applauds the fearless women she has met in her time in the SAF who give their all to pursue their passions.

You led the team to their first bronze medal in 2019 and subsequently a silver in 2022 (when the Public Service Cup resumed after the pandemic). How do you feel seeing your team grow from strength to strength?

ME4 Neo: I've met very passionate and fearless women, both in my basketball team and across the SAF. How many people would be willing to spend their free time travelling long distances to an SAF camp just to train? Their discipline and commitment drive me to keep going too. It's a reminder for me to put in my best and not let them down.


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