Football: Active SG academy coaches creating skills for the future

Former national striker Aleksandar Duric, the principal of the ActiveSG football academy, offering encouragement to youngsters at Jurong East yesterday. A year since it opened its doors, the academy has 716 pupils on its books.
Former national striker Aleksandar Duric, the principal of the ActiveSG football academy, offering encouragement to youngsters at Jurong East yesterday. A year since it opened its doors, the academy has 716 pupils on its books.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A year since kicking off, ActiveSG academy's coaches are building a firmer football base

As Singapore gears up for the inaugural Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election on April 29, steps have already been taken to rebuild the sport that has taken such a battering in recent years.

With its grassroots and youth development structures struggling to churn out talent, the ActiveSG football academy was launched exactly a year ago by national sports agency Sport Singapore to lend a helping hand.

Since its inception with 312 trainees, its multi-racial list has grown to 716 youngsters aged 3-17 training every weekend at nine locations - Kallang Cricket Field, East Spring Secondary School, and at Bedok, Hougang, Serangoon, Woodlands, Queenstown, Clementi and Jurong East stadiums.

Also, an estimated 5,000 children have benefited from its outreach programmes such as one-off coaching clinics for under-privileged kids.

Indeed, much talk has been on the ActiveSG academy's strong slate of football coaches. With former national striker Aleksandar Duric helming the academy as its principal, he is assisted by a host of past and present S-League tacticians and players - Terry Pathmanathan, Richard Bok, Steven Tan, Hyrizan Jufri, Hairil Amin, Isa Halim, Robin Chitrakar and Winston Yap.

"It wasn't difficult to convince my coaches to join me," Duric, 46, said.

PASSING ON THE PASSION

We all believe there is a future for Singapore football and it is in our grassroots. We share the same passion in wanting to give opportunities for kids to learn and play.

ALEKSANDAR DURIC, former national striker and ActiveSG principal, explaining its overall vision.

"We all believe there is a future for Singapore football and it is in our grassroots. We share the same passion in wanting to give kids the opportunities to learn and play."

When The Sunday Times visited the Jurong East Stadium for one of its training sessions yesterday, the pitch was a flurry of activity.

Duric and Hyrizan were guiding a group of primary school youngsters through agility, balance and co-ordination drills, offering them high-fives and pats on the back as encouragement.

In another corner, children as young as three were thrilled to just dribble the ball around, taking their first steps in the game.

Meanwhile, the parents are not ignored: The fathers have their own kickabouts, while the mothers worked on their physical fitness, all just outside the field.

Yet for all its strong coaching line-up, the institution's greatest drawcard is its affordable pricing as it charges $130 for a maximum of 29 sessions.

In contrast, some private football academies in Singapore can charge up to $40 per session.

The convenience and affordability are major reasons why Irwan Isnin enrolled all three of his children, daughter Irsalina (10) and sons Harith (eight) and Haziq (five) at the Jurong East training centre.

"The stadium is just 10 minutes away from where I live in Jurong West," Irwan said.

"My children receive quality and affordable training. On top of that, I notice that they learn values like resilience. I have seen them applying such values in life."

For Sabrina Mathe, every training session is a family affair. The 20-year-old Singaporean and her younger sister Nicole (18) are assistant coaches with the academy while their three younger brothers, Marco (13), Lyon (10) and Lilo (six) are trainees.

"I was drifting away from football before I joined the academy this year and fell in love with the sport again," said Sabrina, who also plays the game as a midfielder and forward.

"My mother and father are involved in the parents' teams and it is great to see my brothers learn values like teamwork, discipline and punctuality."

The ActiveSG academy is not without its detractors. It faces strong criticism from members of the community who believe that its cheaper programmes are undercutting the private academies.

There are also murmurs that SportSG - with its ActiveSG academies for popular sports such as tennis and basketball - is spoonfeeding local sports associations by taking over the nurturing of their grassroots.

SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin defended the academy, saying that it is not the government's intention to dominate the landscape but to influence every player in the industry to step up its game to better shape Singapore football's eco-system.

After a year in operation, the warm response to the public academies is a source of satisfaction for chief of ActiveSG, Lai Chin Kwang.

He said: "In its first year we have reached out to hundreds of children and parents. Thanks to our coaches and partners like FAS, we were able to give them a quality football programme that has also enriched their lives with life skills and values.

"We hope to strengthen and build more partnerships to deliver quality programmes to our participants."

Although Duric declined to share funding figures, he said that the amount is not high, considering that it is a government operation where spending must be prudent.

But he is not complaining, saying: "We don't overspend, and a lot of my coaches and staff volunteer to do overtime work without getting paid.

"My biggest wish is to reach out to even more kids. It is a good start for us, but we can do even better.

"Kids are our future. They might be doctors, lawyers or soldiers one day, but it is nice if the ActiveSG football academy manages to take laptops and handphones out of their lives for a while, get them playing and give them a bit of resilience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Creating skills for the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe