Coaches of all sports unite

Coaches of all sports unite
(L-R): Sergio Lopez, Alex Weaver,Luis Cunha and Solomon Casoojee
PHOTO: The Straits Times, The New Paper

The Republic's swimmers are slowly but surely hoisting themselves up onto the world stage, with Joseph Schooling fronting the charge.

But behind the headline acts of the swim team, are coaches, working hard to propel their charges forward.

Swimming is blessed by the world-class coaching know-how of Sergio Lopez, who was named Coach of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards last night.

And the Spaniard is part of a group tasked with helping local coaches to also step up to international level, in a bid to create a self-sustaining system that will push Singapore sports to the next level.

"The aim is to bring all coaching education under a single umbrella, a coaching development programme that will eventually see the setting up of a coaching academy here," said Troy Engle, Sport Singapore's (SportSG) director of coaching development.

The 53-year-old has roped in the some of best foreign coaching minds in the country, with hockey's Solomon Casoojee and athletics' Luis Cunha joining Lopez, along with Alex Weaver, who guides defending S.League champions Warriors FC.

"For the first time, we've given our international hires key performance indicators of making an impact on local coaches. The most visible impact so far is Sergio and (his assistant) Gary Tan," said Engle.

Engle's aim is to create an informal network of coaches in an environment, where learning is the baseline, while also forming opportunities for local coaches to step out of their comfort zone.

"The network acts like a critical friend, who can say something about your work, without leaving you offended - it is difficult in a competitive environment, but it is important to build this community of coaches," he said.

"We also need to create opportunities for them to gain international exposure, to raise that bar, so it's not just stuck at the level you see in Singapore," he added, pointing to bowling's Remy Ong, a former world champion who is now grooming more world champions.

"It is a lofty task, one that requires a shift in mindset."

The mindset shift is already happening, at least with Tan, who has been working closely with Lopez.

Tan received the Coach of the Year award on behalf of Lopez, who is currently in Kazan with the swim team at the Fina World Championships.

"One thing Sergio will tell me is, 'If I can do it, so can you'," said Tan, in reference to the award.

Lopez's impact goes even deeper.


"He's inspirational and has got the team to dream big, and honestly I am dreaming big myself," added Tan, who is already speaking optimistically about having the Republic's swimmers making a statement at the next two Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro next year, and Tokyo in 2020.

SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin has big hopes for Engle and his team, but is aware of the challenges.

"When we hire a coach, we're not asking if he's local or foreign, we're only asking if he's the best man for the job. The question is can a local coach say he's the best man for the job," mulled Lim.

He concedes that changing mindsets is the biggest challenge and for hints at how to get around that, he is closely following the progress of Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) new technical director, Michel Sablon.

"The first thing I'd like to know is how he aligns the FAS coaches with the larger pool of coaches," said Lim.

"It's one thing being a leader in the field - and he is definitely that - it's another, to win hearts and minds.

"I want to watch how he does that."

Engle asserts that the time is ripe now for local coaches to start to make the step up.

"We've got a great opportunity now, with the great success that we've had at the South-east Asia Games, where several Singapore coaches have started to prove their mettle," he said.

"There is no need to eliminate bringing in foreign expertise, but the long-term goal is to not have to need to hire foreign coaches.

"If I do my job, in a handful of years, I'd have written myself out of a job, but that is the end goal of having a self-sustaining system."


This article was first published on Aug 06, 2015.
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