School sports

Mastering team spirit crucial for champions: ACS (I) head rugby coach Adrian Chong

Adrian Chong, 49, has coached rugby for 18 years at ACS(I), winning six A Division, 11 B Division and 14 C Division titles.
Adrian Chong, 49, has coached rugby for 18 years at ACS(I), winning six A Division, 11 B Division and 14 C Division titles. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Between them, they have almost 70 years of combined coaching experience in Singapore school sports and together have captured more than 60 national titles. But winning trophies was never the priority as Adrian Chong (rugby), Kok Mun Wai (netball), William Chua (volleyball) and Fabio da Silva (football) tell The Straits Times. First and foremost, they are teachers and the most important lesson offered on the sporting field is a simple one; success requires hard work.

The cabinets in Adrian Chong's Dover Road office at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) are a nightmare to clean, thanks to the countless trophies inside.

Yet for the school's rugby head coach and old boy, his abiding memory of silverware was of the ones that got away.

The former ACS prop lost back-to-back B Division finals at the Padang in the 1980s.

 

He said: "I remember after we got second in 1983, my captain threw his medal into his fish tank. That really made me want to help the boys achieve something I didn't manage to do."

Having masterminded 31 national championships since he took charge in 1999, it is fair to say that hunger has been sated.

Nowadays, Chong, who is one of Singapore's longest-serving coaches at the same school - alongside the likes of veteran athletics coach Loh Chan Pew and netball coach Kok Mun Wai - finds other forms of motivation.

The 49-year-old Chong, who had stints in the food and beverage industry and the Singapore Rugby Union, said: "The part of rugby that is special is the team spirit.

"I have players who, through injuries can't be part of the team, will volunteer to help with hydration and logistics.

"We're here to really build character in the boys and when I see that, it vindicates what we're trying to do. For their age, I think it is something to marvel at."

Equally impressive is ACS(I)'s current pursuit of a third "grand slam" in nine years. The school has picked up the first two legs - A and B divisions - and victory in the C Div, starting in July, will see them repeat the feats of 2008 and 2011.

What a run of success it has been, noted ACS(I)'s former coach cum rugby master Irwin Seet, who had roped in Chong to return to his alma mater in 1993.

Four years later, the duo and the rest of the coaching staff guided ACS(I) to its first B Division title. They captured the C title as well, winning the double for another six straight years.

Seet, who left the school in 2002, said: "Adrian has the passion, being an old boy, and knowledge, being a former national player.

"After I left the school, he continued to hold the fort and carried on the rugby team's rich tradition."

There have been some heartbreaking losses and memorable victories along the way.

Last year's B Division final, in particular, stood out for Chong. His team were trailing 5-9 against St Andrew's Secondary School but scored an injury-time try for a dramatic win.

Even Chong, normally a composed figure at the sidelines, was emotional and fell to his knees after watching his boys change their destiny.

He said: "I will always remember that we took 22 phases, moving the ball up inch by inch. There was no margin of error at all... to me it was phenomenal."

It is why he has no intention of stepping down any time soon, even if keeping the dust off that array of silverware is a chore.

He said: "Winning is always great, but my philosophy is for the boys to be champions on and off the field.

"You can be a champion on the field, but that must translate into your personal life as well, where you set goals and work hard.

"As long as the boys get something out of this, and are able to give back in some ways, that's motivation enough to keep me going." 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Mastering team spirit crucial for champions'. Print Edition | Subscribe