Netball: Singapore to hold out for right coach

Under New Zealander Ruth Aitken, Singapore won the 2014 Asian Netball Championship and last year's SEA Games title. The 60-year-old cited family back home in New Zealand as the main reason why she is leaving Singapore.
Under New Zealander Ruth Aitken, Singapore won the 2014 Asian Netball Championship and last year's SEA Games title. The 60-year-old cited family back home in New Zealand as the main reason why she is leaving Singapore.TNP FILE PHOTO

Search for Aitken's replacement will begin as national netball coach steps down this year

The search for a new national netball coach may be urgent, but the need to appoint someone right for the job is greater for Netball Singapore (NS).

The association is prepared to wait it out after technical director and head coach Ruth Aitken steps down at the end of the year - if that is what it takes to find someone who fits the bill.

Said its chief executive officer Cyrus Medora: "We waited six to seven months for Ruth before she could actually come over and start. We want to make sure that we have the right coach and we're willing to wait.

"We'll have to start advertising now, but we've got a couple of local coaches who are capable of helping out in the interim. We'll work with Ruth to make sure we have (at least) a six-month programme after she leaves to give us some time."

NS announced yesterday that Aitken would step down at the end of the season, and take up the role of performance manager of Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, a team that plays in the trans-Tasman netball ANZ Championship.

The 60-year-old Kiwi cited family back home in New Zealand as the main motivation for the move.

MORE THAN A COACH

She's our coach, but also a friend and a mother to us as well... When we're on court, we play for Singapore but we're also fighting for her.

CHARMAINE SOH, Singapore shooter, on coach Ruth Aitken.

Having helmed the development of Singapore's elite netball programme for more than three years, developing a close relationship with her charges, Aitken said this was a "really hard decision" that she took a long time to arrive at.

Speaking to The Straits Times from New Zealand, where she is currently on home leave, she added: "It's bittersweet, really. It's been an incredibly special time in my life and I loved it in Singapore.

"I'll look back on having met some amazing people, and hopeful that we're able to get a good connection between Waikato and Singapore. That would be the best of both worlds."

Aitken is widely regarded as one of the top coaches in world netball, having won the world championship both as a player and coach for the Silver Ferns. Under her tutelage, Singapore won the 2014 Asian Netball Championship and last year's SEA Games title.

Its world ranking also rose from No. 21 to No. 17.

With the national team going through a transition following the recent retirement of several stalwarts and a tough defence of the SEA Games title just 10 months away, Aitken acknowledged that the national team faces several challenges ahead.

However, she has faith in what the team she leaves behind is capable of and also gave assurances that she will do all she can to get them as prepared as they can be.

Her relationship with Singapore is also expected to continue, with partnership with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic team in the works.

"There's never an ideal time to go. We do need to challenge (the team) to take the step up, but I believe so much that they can do it," she said.

"I'll be working hard the next few months to make sure they'll be well prepared for next year, and I will be keeping an eye on things.

"It's a big hill to climb, but that's what sports is about."

Still, her high level of technical expertise means her replacement will have big shoes to fill. Yet, for those who have worked closest with her, it is their relationships which will be hardest to replace.

What she has forged with the players is something that cannot be manufactured, said shooter Charmaine Soh.

She said: "She's our coach, but also a friend and a mother to us as well. She's someone you know you can trust to always be around. When we're on court, we play for Singapore but we're also fighting for her.

"You know things will turn out well as long as she's there. You just do what you can as a player and leave the decisions to her.

"We understand and respect her decision. It's really very sad, but we're excited for her."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore to hold out for right coach'. Print Edition | Subscribe