Meet Auntie Dolly, Mother and Mentor to Team Singapore Athletes over 10 Years

Dolly Lo is mother to three national athletes, grandmother to three grandchildren, and mother-mentor to many more of Team Singapore athletes across the different sports. Having nurtured a whole generation of youth athletes over the past 10 years, here are the lessons she has learnt about mentorship and motherhood.

  • 14 May 2024

Auntie Dolly at Singapore Sport Institute (SSI)

Dolly Lo is mum to three national sailors and grandma to three adorable kids. But if you ask her, she has countless more ‘children’: the many Singapore athletes she has nurtured over the past 10 years as an athlete life mentor. 

Known as ‘Auntie Dolly’ to the athletes, the 56-year-old started as a parent volunteer with Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) in 2014 and is now an Athlete Life mentor. We speak with her about what it’s like being a mother-mentor to athletes for the past decade.

Kicking off her journey with the athletes

Of Auntie Dolly’s three children – Man Yi, Jun Hao, and Ryan – two have represented Singapore on the Olympic stage. In the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics Games, her youngest (Ryan) will be competing for the second time. Seeing her children shed literal blood, sweat, and tears for their sport, she realised other athletes also needed someone to confide in.

Auntie Dolly, with her children and grandchildren. (Left to right: Man Yi, Ryan, Auntie Dolly and Jun Hao)

During each SSI visit, Auntie Dolly sits down and chats with the athletes. Questions such as, “Are you eating well?” and “How are you feeling?” are common openers. If the athletes share their woes, Auntie Dolly listens, assures them, and gives advice.

“How close I am to an athlete depends on them. You have to use different approaches for various age groups. Some take a long time to open up. For example, I’m having lunch with an athlete later and it took about 3.5 years of gentle encouragement and check-ins before she began sharing with me.”

Auntie Dolly posing with inline skater Ping Siang (left) and baseballer Kohei (right)

Besides conversing and affectionately ‘nagging’ at them to use sunscreen and see their physiotherapists, Auntie Dolly also bakes for the athletes; things she would also do for her children. One of her specialities is banana cake. She adds lots of nuts and bananas to the cakes as she knows their recovery benefits for the athletes.

To me, it’s important to let them know that I care, that I am here and they can always rely on me. I want them to know they are all precious, no matter their rank. But I know this kind of relationship takes time to develop. That’s why every time there is an opportunity to reach out, I just do it!

Auntie Dolly hanging out with the athletes at the Athletes’ Lounge

While Auntie Dolly has set shift hours, she often goes above and beyond. Sometimes, an athlete will want to chat after 9pm, once their work or training winds up; other times, they reach out on the weekends. Though being available round the clock can be trying, she believes there needs to be flexibility, especially for a job that deals with people. 

“I know how much pressure these kids face. No one plays to lose. Even when asking questions, I try to phrase my questions tactfully. Like when I ask about their competitions, I’ll ask ‘How did it go?’ instead of ‘Did you win?’”

Auntie Dolly explains these little speech adjustments can make athletes feel seen and understood by their parents and mentors. By shifting the focus onto the process, it becomes easier to celebrate their efforts and sacrifices.

“The most satisfying thing is when you talk an athlete out of a slump. I encourage and remind them they are not defined by their achievements. Rather, they are respected for their sportsmanship, integrity, and character.

At the end of the day, they must remember why they started this sporting journey and take time to enjoy the sport. If they don't, competing can become very mentally, emotionally and physically strenuous.”

Auntie Dolly talking to athletes Shayna, Ping Xiang, Insyirah, Kohei and Ashlee (from left to right) 

Finding the gold in this journey

One of Auntie Dolly’s biggest takeaways is how every athlete’s sporting journey is unique, as are their backgrounds and struggles.

“Every one of them has difficult moments and no one moment is more difficult than the other. You can feel their pain when they cry because you understand their sacrifices. Sometimes when they cry, I cry too.”

But it’s not all tears and sadness. There are shining moments of pride and joy when she attends award ceremonies or sends athletes off at the airport for their games. Occasionally, the athletes would bring notes and flowers to thank Auntie Dolly, causing her to shed happy tears.

Notes of gratitude from athletes to Auntie Dolly

When asked how long she intends to hold the role of athlete life mentor, Auntie Dolly smiles and replies:

I will do this as long as the organisation sees I can add value and make an impact on the athletes. I only exist in this role because of them. I’m thankful for their trust and for letting me journey with them. Without them, there is no me.