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Collaboration For Alignment, Progression Of Athletes

Partnership with National Sports Associations: Coach Exchanges

Beyond overseeing the sport development of their charges at Singapore Sports School, the School’s sport coaches also have a role to play in growing the sport nationally. More than a handful of Sports School’s coaches don a second hat by coaching external teams – some work with the National Sports Associations (NSAs) age-group teams, others with ActiveSG’s clubs. Ultimately, be it coaching at the national or junior development levels, coaches are pushing towards a common goal of developing the pipeline of athletes who will become champions for Singapore.

Less than a year after joining Sports School’s Netball Academy as Head Coach, Lindsay Filiata was appointed Under 19 Tertiary and National Coach by Netball Singapore in 2020. As Covid-19 threw 2020’s plans into disarray, her work with the U19 team only started in April this year and despite the short time she has had with the players, she has witnessed progress by the players both on and off the court. Due to the lack of competitive sport action during the past two years, Lindsay is focusing on honing their technical and tactical skills in preparation of the return to sport when the situation allows. By adopting a self-directed style of coaching, players identify the areas they want to work on which they can subsequently practise on their own or take back to their clubs or school teams.

On doubling up as a coach for one of Netball Singapore’s age-group teams, Lindsay says: “I think it is good holding a dual role as it allows for some alignment between the programmes. Being at U19 level also allows me to see what the progression is for U21, Development Squad and Opens so that I can guide the players on their pathways.

“The more alignment between programmes the better as it makes the pathway smoother for athletes if they know what their ultimate goal is and if all the coaches along the pathway are aligned too.” She added that to facilitate the progression of athletes and to maximise their sport potential, “a coordinated national youth development programme that looks beyond the National School Games may go a long way in growing the sport.”

Lindsay is not the only coach in Sports School who contributes heavily to the respective NSA. Aside from ensuring that student-athletes from the Swimming Academy are on track in their development plan, Head Coach Douglas Djang plays an important role in coach education at Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) as the latter “aims to enhance coaches’ knowledge and experience in developmentally appropriate tiers”. By being a mentor to coaches from SSA’s affiliate clubs, the Sports School coach is able to influence development of swimmers on an even larger scale.

“Coach Djang’s integration has been crucial, effective, and beneficial for the Singapore swimming coaching education in general, and more specifically for the individual coaches of these tiers. With his knowledge and experience, he is always able to contribute to all aspects of coaching,” said Stephen Widmer, National Head Coach and High Performance Director at SSA.

Douglas’ partnership with SSA goes beyond being a mentor to coaches or designing an athlete development programme for high-performance swimmers. In fact, his appointment of head coach at the Sports School was not without support from Singapore Sport Institute, SSA and National Youth Sports Institute, which speaks volumes of how closely Sports School works with leading agencies in Singapore’s sport ecosystem.

“Any collaboration with the NSA is important if we’re serious about ensuring the pipeline of swimmers to the national team. It should be rooted in development and sustainability for long-term progress and to position Singapore to succeed in a high-performance environment,” said Douglas.

Douglas’ close relationship with SSA has undeniably reaped benefits for Sports School’s swimmers as student-athletes. One advantage is being able to rub shoulders with and train alongside swimmers in the National Training Centre, thereby inspiring improvement and development through the exposure to a higher level of sport.

“It’s getting out of our own bubble and ensuring we have a constant influx of new stimulus and new ideas. We’re always trying to change the way we think about things or change our approach to things, to have different viewpoints. It’s about constantly pushing that needle or turning that thermostat up if it forces our athletes to grow and evolve.”

The reverse can be seen in several sport academies where NSA coaches instead work closely with Sports School student-athletes. In the Table Tennis Academy, higher-potential student-athletes train under Singapore Table Tennis Association’s coaches Dong Shifei and Sun Beibei.

In fact, a unique collaboration between Singapore Bowling Federation (SBF) and the School’s Bowling Academy, saw Francis Yeo joining the Sports School under secondment as the Head Coach of the Bowling Academy. Prior to joining the Bowling Academy at the start of 2019, Francis was SBF’s Head Coach (Development) where his job entailed overseeing the development of both athletes and coaches. When the offer to be a part of Sports School’s coaching team arose, he grabbed it as it was the perfect opportunity to work intimately with the School’s coaches so as to achieve greater alignment with the national federation’s programme.

“It is a win-win situation for SBF, Sports School and its student-athletes. This way, coaches from both organisations are in line with regard to developing Sports School student-athletes for selection into the national programme. When everybody is aligned, the progression is smoother,” said the bowling head coach. With a consistent programme being rolled out across SBF and Sports School, he hopes that it will ease transition for bowlers when they enter the national setup.

For a successful partnership between Sports School and the NSAs, Douglas shares that the key factors are not different from creating an effective coach-athlete environment where there “are clear objectives, clear collaboration, and an understanding that it is okay to differ in opinions – to not take disagreement as dissent.”

“At the end of the day, there must be a clear commitment and support to the national agenda – whether it is performance, development, sustainability or other objectives they may have. The goal should be to one day have sport in Singapore perform consistently at the highest level, although the ‘highest level’ may differ across sports – for some it may be the Olympics, others the Asian Games.”

The swimming head coach hopes that the positive relationship the Swimming Academy has with SSA, coupled with the strong commitment by the Sports School in developing athletes and the uniqueness of the environment provided to support high-performance sport will bear fruits in the coming years.