Calls for deeper pool of coaches

SINGAPORE - Two teams comprising well-known personalities will go head to head today at the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) election of office-bearers.

Armed with glossy manifestos and well-crafted slogans, both teams - one led by Singapore Bowling Federation chief Jessie Phua and the other by current SSA secretary-general Lee Kok Choy - have promised a shake-up of the local swimming scene, and assembled personnel capable of delivering their promises. I

Ironically, when the SSA's 34 affiliates decide who should head the association for the next two years at today's election, it seems that both teams are aiming for similar goals.

For example, one area that both teams identified as needing an overhaul is Singapore's over-reliance on a handful of swimming clubs to supply the talent for the national squad.

At last year's SEA Games in Myanmar, the 24-strong Singapore swimming contingent was made up of swimmers from only four clubs.

Both teams believe that raising the standards of local coaches is the key to addressing this problem.

Oon Jin Teik, who is on Lee's team and running for the position of secretary-general, said it would be healthier to have national swimmers come from more clubs.

The former Sport Singapore chief executive officer said yesterday at a media lunch: "Successful swimming countries depend on the clubs; at grassroots level... the affiliates must be equipped with good coaches.

"We want to upgrade and upsize the whole local coaching environment, bring local coaching upwards."

It is a point echoed by former national swimmer Mark Chay, who is on Phua's slate and running for the post of vice-president (swimming).

During his team's press conference on Wednesday, he said: "Accessibility to the latest high-performance coaching methods is limited to a few clubs.

"For an age-group swimmer, coaches and parents play a very important role in their development, and if you give just a bit of knowledge to the parents and coaches, the swimmer can go a lot further."

David Lim, founder and coach of Swimfast Aquatic Club, which accounted for more than half the national squad at last year's SEA Games, agrees.

The former national swimmer said the current situation is not sustainable and he welcomes the competition that will arise from such a move.

He said: "It would be very good for Singapore as a swimming nation if we have a good crop of local coaches, from the developmental to elite levels.

"It's not about business. It's important to have more clubs coming up; it keeps us on our toes as well but, more importantly, it's healthy for Singapore swimming overall."

Chay, a former Sportsman of the Year (2002), has engaged renowned sports psychologist Michele MacNaughton, who will help introduce sports psychology to the swimming fraternity and coaches.

Oon, meanwhile, said he had assembled a team of advisers to assist the executive committee, including renowned swimming coach Bill Sweetenham and Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah, if they win.

This article was published on June 13 in The Straits Times.

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