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A Way with Words

By; Elliot Wong

(Photo: Elliot Wong)

Growing up, most of us would be familiar with the word game, Scrabble, which challenges one’s vocabulary and spelling. However, to Special Constable/Sergeant (SC/Sgt) Nicholas Hong, Scrabble is more than just a word game as he has taken the game to the next level, spelling words to the top of the competition and winning the Civil Service Games’ E-Scrabble Tournament as a representative of the Singapore Police Force (SPF). SC/Sgt Hong shares with Police Life the ‘secrets’ to his victory, and how his experience with Scrabble has shaped the way he leads trainees as a Field Instructor (FI) in the Home Team Academy (HTA).

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“To be honest, I have not really played Scrabble since secondary school,” SC/Sgt Hong shared humbly. At first glance, many would not expect him to have even played the game before, let alone be among the top 15 players in Singapore at one point. Most of SC/Sgt Hong’s current hobbies involved physically rigorous activities, such as regular gym sessions, boxing and taekwondo. Among his other achievements, he was placed 3rd in his Junior College’s cross-country, and was the Mens’ Junior Team Champion in the Police Sports Association’s Endurance Sports Cross-Fit Challenge.

Given his athletic lifestyle, many were surprised to find out just how adept SC/Sgt Hong is at Scrabble. His love for sports defies the stereotype of the sedentary Scrabble player, and his skillfulness at the game often becomes a point of intrigue for people who meet him for the first time.


How it all started

“It all started when I forgot to submit the form indicating my preference for my Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) in secondary school,” SC/Sgt Hong recounted. “So I was randomly assigned to the Scrabble Club and was not really intending on being an active member at first.”

As he spent more time with the game, SC/Sgt Hong’s interest grew as he found the game intellectually exciting and he also enjoyed participating in Scrabble tournaments.

“I started to realise that I was actually quite skilled at the game,” he explained. “In my mind, I could see the different words coming together on the board quite easily and forming powerful combinations to eliminate my opponents just came naturally.”

SC/Sgt Hong’s competitive spirit drove him to compete in many tournaments throughout his secondary school days and clinched many championship titles. Owing to his skillfulness, his head coach actually appointed him as an ‘unofficial’ coach to his peers. “Being able to use what I am good at to help my peers to improve and grow gave me a great sense of satisfaction.” This was an attitude that stuck with him long after his secondary school days and shaped him to become the FI he is today.

Now, as an FI, SC/Sgt Hong spends most of his time conducting physical training and drill sessions for his trainees. Like his days in the Scrabble team, he takes pride in being able to lead his trainees in their transformation journey from being a civilian to a police officer.

“Witnessing their growth from their enlistment day to their Passing Out Parade is incredible! I always feel proud leading my squad when they march onto the parade square for the last time.” SC/Sgt Hong said.


Playing for the Home Team

At one of his training sessions, SC/Sgt Hong was giving a talk to his trainees and happened to mention his former days of playing Scrabble competitively. His trainees, surprised at this piece of trivia about their FI, mentioned it to one of the ‘enciks’ at Basic Training School, who then asked if he could represent the Training Command at some Scrabble tournaments.

“It had been a while since I played the game and I was not exactly sure if I was up to it,” SC/Sgt Hong recounted.

Nevertheless, SC/Sgt Hong went on to compete in the Home Team Sports and Recreation Association Games. Despite not having touched the board for a couple of years, he still managed to clinch the 5th placing. He then went on to compete in the Civil Service Games, where he managed to clinch the Championship Trophy!

When asked about his victories, SC/Sgt Hong quipped, “Some of it was really just pure luck.” Though it was evident that he still had a strong sensing of the game, he acknowledged that many of his opponents had put up a good fight, and at the end of the day, part of the reason why he won was simply because he drew a good hand.

“That is what makes Scrabble so interesting,” SC/Sgt Hong explained. “Even among players of a similar skill level, the element of luck can still make all the difference. It is as much about the tiles you draw and the way you play them.”


Beyond Scrabble and the Police Force

Though SC/Sgt Hong still has a knack for the game, he shared that he is unlikely to continue playing competitively anymore, as he wants to focus on sports and training his physical fitness.

“It was a good run, but I think I want to spend my time doing other things,” he shared. “Nonetheless, I am thankful to the Force for giving me the opportunity to relive my Scrabble days in more ways than one, not just in the game itself but also the way I coached my fellow peers back then, and the way I lead my trainees right now.”

In some way, what is admirable about SC/Sgt Hong was not his ability to play an old board game, but about the way he chose to excel at everything he did, competing to the best of his ability, and guiding others in their journey towards excellence. It was never about the game itself, but the attitude behind the game, that we can all learn from.


25 January 2021 @ 12:00 PM
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