There will always be new things to learn, says 69-year-old coach

Swimming coach Vincent Poon reckons the Government's call for learning at every age bodes well for the country to grow as a whole - and he feels he should continue learning, given that he is still working at the age of 69.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "It's definitely a good thing to encourage people to keep learning.

"Everything around us is constantly evolving, and there will always be new things to learn."

Mr Poon was described by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech on Monday as an exemplar of "the spirit of what we are creating in Singapore".

Mr Tharman was referring to the spirit of "finding something that we think we can be good at, persevering over the years and taking pride in it, and passing the passion on to the next generation, so that we keep moving up".

Mr Poon's thirst for learning set in at an early age. At six years old, he taught himself swimming at the old Mount Emily swimming pool by attentively watching and emulating others.

"It was just a lot of observing, and then trial and error," he recalled with a laugh. "My parents were very busy with their spray-painting shop then, and didn't have time to look for a professional coach for me.

"But I liked swimming from young - I still do - and so I just kept trying (until I got it right)."

Mr Poon's self-taught skills allowed him to become the captain of the swimming team when he went to Beatty Secondary School, where he received an award for swimming more than 20km non-stop over a 12-hour period.

A road accident fractured his right leg when he was 19 and left him with a permanent limp, but it did little to dent his passion for the sport.

He began his coaching career about two years after the incident and today counts Asian Games gold medallist Joseph Schooling, 19, among the many students he has taught.

Mr Tharman said that Mr Poon would often "dive underwater to watch Joseph and help him improve his technique".

Even today, Mr Poon is not resting on his laurels - he visits the library regularly to read up on ever-changing methods in both swimming and coaching.

"It's all about experimenting to see what works (for you) or not, and doing your best," he said.

Seeing his students, like Mr Schooling, do well is more than enough to spur him to become a better coach.

"Joseph has a lot of potential and passion for swimming, and he tries very hard," he said.

"You'd need that type of character to become anything."

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg