Benjamin Ho was an undefeated coach in the sport of Ultimate Frisbee until two defeats at the same time taught him that winning is not everything.
Benjamin Ho was standing on the sidelines of a field, twisting and turning his neck every few seconds to keep his eyes on the two Ultimate Frisbee semifinal matches being played simultaneously.
At one end, his Raffles Junior College (RJC) A team was taking on Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and was leading 4-3. One more point and they would be the winner.
At the other end, his RJC B team was playing St Andrews Junior College and also leading 4-3, a point from victory. Benjamin, the coach, could afford a smile at the prospect of an all-Raffles finals.
But alas, both his teams stumbled and allowed the opponents to overtake them, dumping them out of the 2010/11 Inter Junior College competition. It was, believe it or not, the first time Benjamin had experienced defeat since becoming a coach in the sport in 2004.
Stumped, he didn’t know what to do. “I stuttered, I broke down and I cried,” recalled the 32-year-old. “I had no idea how to pick my players up.”
Since then, he has gotten better with defeats, learning that results may not be all there is to sports. “It is a cliché, but I now understand that life is about the journey, the process.”
It is a motto which he has embraced both on and off the field, as he channels his passion for the game into business and sports administration. He wants to embrace the sport completely – from playing to coaching to business.
“To be able to do something which I love and be a part of it every day, that’s what I chase in my life,” he said. “I don’t want a 9-to-5 job. I love this sport and I want to be a part of everything which is related to it.”
Spirit of the game
Benjamin picked up the sport in 2004, when he was studying business management in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).
The sports lover, who was a long and triple jumper, was enticed by Ultimate’s energy, simplicity and sportsmanship. The game was started in the 1960s in the United States, blending elements of American football, basketball and soccer.
Two teams of seven play each other and points are scored by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone.
Unlike other sports, Ultimate does not have referees. It relies on self-officiating from the players, or what is called the “spirit of the game”. Such grace drew Benjamin in and he has been mesmerised since.
An entrepreneur from young
Growing up in a fish farm in Sungei Tengah, he was brought up in a rural environment amid an urban Singapore. At the farm, he was taught from young by his parents that being different was fine.
“I was encouraged to find my own path in life,” he said, and seeing his family doing business sparked his entrepreneurial streak. The two things he learnt are not to fear hard work and to pursue passion rather than the conventional job.
In 2008, at the age of 22, he set up UltySports, a business devoted to all things Ultimate Frisbee. The firm provides coaching for the sport, manages events and currently sells merchandise through its ecommerce platform with Shoptiq.
Its products range from apparel like jerseys, shorts and socks, to accessories such as bags, gloves and discs. It even stocks balls, shoulder braces and ankle guards to help rehabilitation from injuries.
In business, as on the field playing Frisbee, there needs to be a strategy for success. This was what he learnt after his first defeat as a coach. “Being able to understand the players more made me more sensitive to understanding customers and consumers,” he said.
“We have been steadily growing the business in the past 10 years and it has expanded from just one man, which is me, to now a team of five,” he added, smiling as the freckles became more pronounced on his tanned face.
The focus of the business goes beyond the bottomline, he stressed. While UltySports supplements his income as a coach, the entrepreneur sees it as an extension of his passion to be involved in all aspects of the sport.
“My life is about Ultimate. I see a frisbee every day,” he said.
Seven days a week
Beyond running UltySports and coaching various tertiary-level teams like NYP and RJC, Benjamin also trains club team Chuckies. It accounts for a daily rush around Ultimate, starting at 7am and ending close to midnight after a night training session with one of his teams. He coaches every day of the week.
He spends his mornings helping out at his family business before devoting the afternoons to the administration of UltySports.
While sales on the website have been dipping recently as a result of competition, he is optimistic they would pick up now that UltySports has migrated from Shopify to Shoptiq.
“We did our research and found that Shoptiq is a merchandise-friendly platform which is focused on sales. So we are hopeful that sales will rebound soon.”
Benjamin hopes the business will expand beyond the sport of Ultimate and cater to a larger audience soon.
“I don’t want to lead a life being part of a rat race, doing what everyone does. I chase experiences. Ultimate is my passion. I want to enjoy the journey,” he said.