Elite support for elite sportsman

National Football academy (NFA) midfielder Mahathir Azeman will be taking a leave of absence from school to play for the U-17 side of Brazil's Boavista football club.

SINGAPORE - It's A tough task for the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI).

But the body will work closely with coaches in an attempt to get elite male athletes under the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) programme back up to speed once they complete serving their National Service (NS).

On the sidelines of SSI's annual symposium Thursday morning, SSI strength and conditioning coach Sofyan Sahrom explained their strategy to help these athletes get back to their peak performance after having their elite training curbed for almost two years by NS.

"The coaches and the SSI sports science team will see where the athlete is (after completing NS)," said Sofyan.

"These athletes would most likely have a sort of maintenance programme to keep themselves in a certain physical condition while they serve NS.

"So once they finish serving, the coaches and the SSI sports science team will work together to figure out the best gameplan.

"It will depend on their sport, but if the athlete has that maintenance programme during NS, the jump won't be that great."

More difficult

He added that a return to peak performance will be more difficult for athletes in more skill-based sports like bowling, where hours of practice have to be clocked.

But Singapore Sports School track and field head coach Ralf Iwan warned that there is a possibility some athletes would miss out.

"It is quite severe, this break for the boys," said the German, who has more than 17 years of coaching experience and joined the Sports School last July.

"I hear coaches complaining, but this is out of their control. They've got to work around it.

"They've built up the athletes to a certain level, fair enough, and there will be a dip (in performance during NS).

"Then some of them will return, some will just vanish. That's the reality, you know."

Iwan gave an example of one of his former athletes, former German national pole vault junior record holder Lars Borgerling.

"Imagine... He jumped a 5.62m when he was supposed to go the army," said Iwan.

"If I were to send him away for two years, hardly touching a pole, he would have come back with a 5.2m maybe.

"But by that time, his fellow competitiors, internationally, would have progressed from 5.60m to about 5.80m. So the gap is big."

Iwan added that track and field athletes would need about a year of intensive training to get back up to speed, if they missed two years due to a disruption like NS.

But he agreed with Sofyan that having a basic maintenance programme during NS was key.

At last Thursday's symposium, Singapore Sports Council (SSC) chairman Richard Seow annouced in his opening remarks that the SSI would offer academic scholarships for students interested in taking up sports-science related programmes in university.

Details on the academic scholarship and research grants are still being finalised, but the SSI, which comes under the SSC, will announce them later this year.

On Tuesday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck and SSI executive director Fabian Lim promised that male elite athletes under the spexScholarship programme would be aided in their attempts to get back to peak performance.

The $40 million programme is set to begin in September, with about 60 athletes chosen from 218 nominations spread across 28 sports.