Paddlers' new path

Over the past year, it has come under fire for a perceived bias in its selection criteria. Now, the Singapore Table Tennis Association has dropped the strongest hint yet that the way forward for aspiring young paddlers is through the Singapore Sports School's "School Within a School" programme.

This, after confirming that intakes for its national youth team, which is made up of players from mainstream schools aged 13-18, would cease from next year.

"We have done a review of our youth development pathway," STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng told The Straits Times on Wednesday. "It was found that we need to chart a new path for Singapore, if we harbour hopes of continuing to match the standards of top table tennis nations."

Among the reasons given for the decision were poor attendance at training due to school commitments and a high attrition rate at both pre- and post-GCE A levels. These, the STTA said, equated to a wastage of resources.

Under its revised youth development scheme, annual trials will be conducted to select training squads for major competitions such as the Asian Youth Games and Youth Olympic Games. That will open the door for two boys and two girls from mainstream schools to join their Sports School counterparts although the selection criteria have yet to be set.

Stephen Chia, whose son Shing Kee is a Year One student at Raffles Institution and joined the national youth team earlier this year as part of its final intake, expressed concern about the move. "It's disappointing that the STTA is implying that if young paddlers want to continue pursuing their passion, there's only one path for them to go down," the student care facilitator said.

The development could see non-SWS students training only with their schools, which could be as little as three times a week, as they would not have the benefit of the five additional training sessions under the national youth set-up.

Those under the SWS programme, on the other hand, get to train in the morning and afternoon while taking their academic lessons in the evening.

They also have the opportunity to test themselves in overseas competitions. To Alvin Koh, whose sons Dominic and Donovan are both budding paddlers at Maris Stella High (Primary), this step makes it almost impossible for players from mainstream schools to keep up with the elite group's progress.

"There's a definite disadvantage there," he said.

"It seems like the Sports School is the only route to representing the nation."

Ironically, mainstream school students have shown that they can more than hold their own against their Sports School rivals. In fact, only a narrow 3-2 final win for the Sports School's B girls over Raffles Girls' prevented the Rafflesians from sweeping all the titles on offer at this year's Schools National championships. Meanwhile, it is RI's Yin Jing Yuan who is leading the Republic's charge towards next year's Youth Olympics.

He is currently ranked sixth on the International Table Tennis Federation's Road to Nanjing while the Sports School's Ethan Poh is lying in 14th. When asked for his opinion on the matter, the Singapore National Olympic Council's secretary-general Chris Chan said: "Most other associations conduct open trials.

"I hope that when the STTA conducts its trials, it will cast its net far and wide."

fabiusc@sph.com.sg


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