Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Malaysia. During this time I made a few trips into Singapore, taking the opportunity to meet up with several people in the sports industry there. My travels saw me linking up with the Singapore Sports School, the Singapore Cycling Federation and the Singapore Sports Institute. I had some good discussions around the environment in Singapore and how they approach sport and coach development.
Singapore Sports School
My first stop was the Singapore Sports School. The school is an independent school that integrates academic education and a sports programme. It was opened in 2004 and is located in the north of Singapore, close to the border with Malaysia.
I was given a tour of the school by John Limna, Deputy Director of Sport, who has been with the school for several years. Prior to this he has worked for the Singapore Sports Institute and the New Zealand Academy of Sport. John was very generous with his time and provided me with a detailed insight into how the school operates.
The first thing you notice about the school is the quality of the facilities. Just walking outside the school you can see the fields and swimming pool complex, which far surpass what most schools in New Zealand have. The school has some amazing facilities which are used by a range of national and international teams for training and competition. John provided me with a tour of these facilities which included:
- The recently upgraded football field (with a newly-laid artificial turf)
- The swimming complex with two Olympic-sized pools
- The table tennis centre with its 32 tables
- The 30-bay indoor shooting range, and
- The strength and conditioning centre.
The school also has a physiotherapy centre with a dedicated team of physiotherapists. Each student is screened on entry to the school and then every two years. The physio team focus on the prevention of injury and the rehabilitation of students that are injured. They also spend a lot of time educating students and assisting with their pastoral care.
The school can cater for up to 600 students, who have daily training sessions along with their class work. The majority of the students stay on campus and will be drawn from all parts of Singapore. Most of the students will join the school at the start of high school, with only a few starting midstream.
The school has ten academies covering sports such as Football, Badminton, Swimming, Netball and Shooting. The school follows a Long Term Athlete Development model with each sport documenting how they will implement the model within their own sport’s programme. Coaches are on two-year contracts and each of the assistant coaches is also a national coach. The school works closely with National Sporting Associations and most of their teams compete in the school competitions.
My conversation with John was very interesting and highlighted some of the similarities and differences between Singapore and New Zealand. Students in Singapore are under greater pressure to perform academically than their New Zealand peers, which led to a reduced focus on sport development and performance. This provided the impetus for the setting up of the school by the government – to provide an environment where athletes could flourish.
The school develops a good relationship with its students, to the extent that many of them come back to the school once they have left and remain involved with the school. In Singapore, all males need to complete two years of military service, which can be deferred until the age of 30. During this time they are unable to train regularly, and are only able to get time off for competitions. For elite athletes this means that they are no longer able to train and compete at the level they could while in the school system.
Along with the impact of military service, another factor leading to a drop off in participant numbers is the quality of programmes once students leave the school. The facilities and development programmes offered to the students within the school are difficult for sport bodies to replicate, meaning that students often find that they are no longer supported as well as they were when they were at the school. In New Zealand we see a similar drop off with school leavers, as they move to University or into the workface. While the causes in New Zealand are not related to conscription, the issue of retaining athletes in sport is certainly relevant.
Singapore Cycling Federation
I made another trip into Singapore the next morning. My first visit was to the Singapore Cycling Federation, where I met with Sam Yang (Sport and Technical Manager) and Mahipal Singh (General Manager). The Federation is located near the new Sports Hub, in a small building behind the Singapore Judo Federation. Due to the size of Singapore, there is only a national organisation – there are no regional organisations as there are for many sports in New Zealand. They also do not have a club structure in Singapore for cycling, as most competitors will enter a competition under the banner of a cycling shop.
My discussion with Sam and Mahipal was focused around the work they were doing aligning their Level 1 and 2 qualifications with the International coaching qualifications. We looked at some of the issues that they face, such as getting people to sign up for and attend coaching workshops, and increasing the level of sharing between coaches. These are the same issues that we face in New Zealand. We also discussed the issue of ongoing coach education and how to track coaches as they progress through the coaching pathway.
An area that the Singapore Cycling Federation is looking to develop is the use of mentoring. , I was able to discuss a few ideas around how to develop such a programme, based on the work we have done in this area in New Zealand, and the idea of a Community of Practice.
Singapore Sports Hub
I had a bit of time between meeting with Sam and Mahipal and my next meeting with the Singapore Sports Institute. I took this opportunity to explore the newly built Sports Hub.
The Sports Hub has only just been completed and contains a number of state-of-the-art facilities. These include a 55,000 seat stadium, an indoor stadium, aquatic centre, library and a shopping mall. It also has a sports museum which I spent an hour in, learning about the history of sport in Singapore. There is a metro station right at the stadium making it easy to get to and from the Sports Hub.
Singapore Sports Institute
After my visit to the sports museum and a wander around the Sports Hub, I was ready for my next meeting, with the Coach Development team at the Singapore Sports Institute. I met with Goken Sakamoto and four of his staff that form the Coach Development team. They had just moved into their new offices at the Sports Hub. The aim of the team is to develop coaches and set coaching standards in Singapore, which they do through a coach development programme, coaching qualifications, funding of National Sports Associations to develop their capability and a National Registry of Coaches.
The institute is currently in the process up reviewing and updating their coach development system, which is based on the NCAP Level 1 -3. They are currently implementing a linear approach, where coaches work through a Level 1, 2 and 3 pathway, which is then followed by Master Coach, Senior Master Coach and Principal Master Coach levels. This is somewhat different to the modular approach that is promoted by Sport New Zealand. Another difference is that Sport Singapore require coaches to attend a Basic Sport Science course before attending the Level 1 workshops. This course takes 28 hours and includes an examination. The Level 1, 2 and 3 courses then have both theory and sport-specific technical components.
Another contrast between the Singapore and New Zealand coach development systems is that New Zealand also breaks the pathway down into communities, based on the age and development level of the athletes being coached (learn, participate, perform, excel) and the level of the coaching community (foundation, development, performance, high performance). This approach allows coaches to specialise within a specific coaching community rather than having to follow a linear approach.
Singapore has a National Registry of Coaches which was established in 2002. To be on the registry, coaches need to be certified to Level 1 and have a standard first aid certificate. The minimum age is 18 and membership is for a period of three years. During this time coaches need to complete a certain number of ongoing coach education hours. There is a range of workshops which coaches can attend to clock up these hours, covering topics such as:
- Risk assessment
- Injury prevention
- Disability sports
- Building a team.
As mentioned earlier, the club system is not strongly developed in Singapore. As a result, most of the coaches are working within schools. The Singapore Sports Institute will collaborate with sports to run joint courses, and help with the development of their sport-specific coaching qualifications. This is done through funding and the provision of coach development expertise.
I managed to have a couple of good days in Singapore and it was great to catch up with other people working in the sport industry and see how they approach sport development. The facilities that they have available to them are outstanding and it was great to get some different views on how to develop coaches and sport in general.