Developing the 'thinking floorballer'

Developing the 'thinking floorballer'
Diploma holder Amanda Yeap, 20, who has undergone a specialist programme and aims to play in next year's SEA Games, training at her coach Dahlgren's academy premises at Valhall in Kallang Park.

Dribbling around the stationary cones, Amanda Yeap swivels past the last one before arrowing a shot straight into the top corner of the goal.

This is extra training for the floorball player - done alone.

She is the first Singaporean to undergo a training programme called "situational floorball", which breaks down various situations a player would face in a game, to create "thinking floorballers".

Her coach Stefan Dahlgren, 47, believes this programme could help take players to a level that enables them to compete with top players in European leagues. He is implementing this training across all developmental levels in his newly opened academy at Kallang and has pinned his hopes on Amanda to be the success story.

These are exciting times for the flourishing floorball scene, with Singapore hosting the World University Floorball Championships that end tomorrow at the new Sports Hub's OCBC Arena.

In two months' time, the first Singapore Floorball Open, where clubs from Japan, Korea and Malaysia are expected to feature, will also take place. It is the first international club tournament in Asia.

Dahlgren's company Tiasa, which is organising the Singapore Open and running the academy - an initiative endorsed by the Singapore Floorball Association - has been one of the main driving forces behind the growth, and it has received the thumbs up from SFA president Sani Salim.

The former national hockey and floorball player said: "It is a good move to start the floorball course, and the Singapore Open provides more opportunities for affiliates to compete."

Floorball is also set to make its SEA Games debut when the biennial sports extravaganza is held on Singapore shores next year.

The SFA succeeded in its push to include floorball as a demonstration sport in last year's SEA Games, which paved the way for inclusion in next year's edition.

Sani, 48, said: "We want to help Singapore win medals, and if floorball is included in the SEA Games and Commonwealth Games, we are quite confident that we can win medals."

One player hoping to contribute to the Republic's potential glory is Yeap, 20, despite the fact that she picked up the sport only three years ago when she entered Ngee Ann Polytechnic. She said: "I just want to keep improving. If I get to go to the SEA Games, my opponents can be at any level, so I have to be better than them."

Dahlgren has set her a lofty target of being the first Singaporean to play professionally in a European league since Jill Quek, Martha Quek and Emily Koh did so a decade ago.

The Swede said: "She has a very good sense of the game and has picked up the sport really fast. We hope to prove through her that with the right training, commitment and sacrifices, Singaporeans can do it.

"We need a change in mentality to believe we can be the best. In school, people have that belief, but in sports, we don't have it."

Floorball has grown quickly since Dahlgren introduced the sport to Singapore in 1994. There are now 88 clubs, with 1,425 players in the men's divisions and 686 in the women's divisions.

This reflects a remarkable progress since 2010, when there were only 12 registered teams for men and 10 for women.

Schools have also been picking up the sport, albeit at a slower rate, with about 75 currently playing the game.

The development of the sport locally has been given the thumbs up by the International Floorball Federation (IFF), the highest governing body of the sport.

Secretary-general John Liljelund terms the progress as rapid, and gives credit to the SFA, Sport Singapore and the Singapore National Olympic Council for putting floorball on next year's SEA Games programme.

He hopes the Games will help contribute to floorball's inclusion in the major international games, with the ultimate goal of a Summer Olympics spot by 2024 or 2028.

A breakthrough has also been made in Europe, with the IFF accepted for the 2017 International World Games in Wroclaw, Poland.

"We are getting ready for the International Olympic Committee shortlist process next year, where the international federations will seek inclusion in the Olympic Games for 2024," the Finn told The Straits Times.

He is under no illusions about the size of the task at hand, noting that it is "not enough that the sport is played, the sport needs to be bigger on a national level".

Being a new sport in many countries poses an unique challenge for floorball. Liljelund said: "A big issue is that there is very little time or effort spent on development of the organisation, which is needed to develop a sport.

"It might not be at the speed we wish for, but the trend is positive.

"We believe we are a sport for the future, and we will grow more in the next 20 years."

This article was first published on June 21, 2014.
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