Singapore can succeed, says national swimming coach Sergio Lopez

Departing national swimming coach Sergio Lopez poses for photos with participants of a discussion group on the Rio Olympics at the Sports Hub Library yesterday. The Spaniard believes that attitudes are changing among Singaporeans seeking success in s
Departing national swimming coach Sergio Lopez poses for photos with participants of a discussion group on the Rio Olympics at the Sports Hub Library yesterday. The Spaniard believes that attitudes are changing among Singaporeans seeking success in sport.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Changing attitudes point way to locals finding successful sporting careers

Outgoing national swimming head coach Sergio Lopez leaves for his new job at Auburn University's swimming and diving team in Alabama today.

And the 48-year-old Spaniard departs knowing that, apart from mentoring Joseph Schooling to Singapore's first Olympic gold, he has also renewed belief among his charges and their parents that success in sport is possible.

Speaking to media at the International Sports Academy at the Sports Hub yesterday, Lopez said: "When I first got here and I told everyone I wanted to change the mindset that education is the most important, many people wished me good luck.

"But now we're in a situation where parents want their kids to be successful, and if these parents can see that there is a path where their kids can succeed in school and as athletes, they'll take that path.

"The parents are now open to that, and this is really important."

National assistant coach Gary Tan reinforced Lopez's point, saying: "Kids would come up to me and say they couldn't come for training because they had exams or tuition.

"So I told them - and this is where Sergio had a very big influence in the way I thought about it - to tell me their schedule and how they plan to train, the days they could train, and to commit and stick to it.

"At the end of the day, you'll find a big change in their mindset - it's a form of empowerment for them and they take ownership of the way they manage their schedule."

 

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For the former national swimmer, seeing his charges take more responsibility in managing their own training is a "big change" that he has observed since Lopez became head coach in January last year. He also credited the Spaniard with building belief within the swimming community.

Lopez had recommended Tan take over as national head coach, and the latter vowed to continue his coaching mentor's good work, should he be given the task of heading the national swim team.

Tan added: "Sergio always tells me family comes first and to always take care of your family.

"My swimmers are like my family, so I'm going to take care of them the way I take care of my daughter."

Lopez, a 1988 Olympic 200m breaststroke bronze medallist with Spain, believes Schooling's historic 100m butterfly gold medal win at the Rio Olympics has set the wheels turning in Singaporean parents' heads.

He said: "Whoever's close to the sport of swimming has seen a big change with the local coaches, the swimmers and the parents. So keep pushing that."

Referring to Schooling's victory parade on Thursday, when fans turned up in droves to see their sporting hero, Lopez added: "Look at the people. The enrolment for swimming lessons would have gone up. It's the same thing when Michael Phelps won so many medals after the Olympics.

"Parents are now thinking maybe there's a possibility for their kid to be successful at something else other than school - and I think that's the change."

Adding that the way is clear for Singapore swimming to excel, Lopez said: "Singapore is a country that doesn't have financial problems. You're a country that doesn't lack pools or water to train - you have everything.

"Now, use it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Lopez: S'pore can succeed'. Print Edition | Subscribe