Increased exposure to high-level competition will be key if Singapore's beach volleyballers are to achieve their goal of qualifying for next year's Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
Not only will the Republic host the South-east Asian Beach Volleyball Championships in June for the first time, but local events have also gained prominence and attracted stronger fields.
The Singapore Beach Volleyball National Series, which began last year, has swelled from 29 teams (four overseas pairs) to the 46, including 15 foreign teams, who will compete this weekend at the Yio Chu Kang Swimming Complex courts.
The second leg will be held at the Singapore Sports Hub in June, with the finale at Sentosa in November.
Among the international participants involved tomorrow will be Hong Kong's duo Kelvin Lau and Wong Pui Lam, who reached the quarter-finals of last year's Asian Beach Games, and Thailand's three-time Asian Games representative Yupa Phukrongploy.
Volleyball Association of Singapore council member (beach events) Brian Tan, who is also the organising chairman of the National Series, said the vibrant local scene - there are about 500 regular beach volleyball players - would benefit the elite players.
The national team are using the upcoming competition as their final tune-up for next week's Asian Beach Volleyball Championships in Thailand.
Tan added: "I didn't expect everything to grow so quickly. We hope to qualify for next year's Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, so we'll need to compete in more competitions this year."
National women's player Rachel Lau, 21, noted that with the unavailability of quality opponents here, it was hard to improve their skills.
She said: "Now we have events where we can be exposed to international standards."
The VAS had also hired Canadian Dean Martin, previously part of the Canadian national team's coaching set-up, last month.
He has targeted a top-six standing in Asia, which would meet the Singapore National Olympic Council's benchmark for eligibility to participate at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games in Australia and Asian Games in Indonesia, in April and August 2018, respectively.
National player Gilbert Tan played in his first overseas tournament 12 years ago and was taken aback by the vast difference in abilities and physical conditioning.
The 30-year-old said: "In 2015, at an Asian Tour event in China, we lost to the Chinese by just two points. So I'm confident and hope that we can do well to finish among the top eight teams at next week's Asian Championships.
"Beach volleyball hasn't been in the limelight and we didn't have enough exposure to overseas competitions. So now is a good chance for us to break through."