Outram Secondary splashes its way to water polo summit

Outram Secondary water polo team’s hard work paid off in 2013, when the school upset its more established rivals to win its first water polo national title. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

For about two decades, it felt as if Outram Secondary School's water polo team was in the national competition just to make up the numbers.

It often finished last in the B division championship for boys aged 15 to 17, losing 30-0 to traditional powerhouses like Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

Its results were so dismal that it was almost disbanded at one point.

The only neighbourhood school among the six secondary schools that compete in water polo, Outram has the smallest pool, at just 25m long, among the schools.

But things started to look up after teacher Francis Tang took charge of the CCA in 2008.

Mr Tang, 36, said: "The students are all weak or non-swimmers. Most joined because we are the only neighbourhood school with a pool, and they thought it would be fun - they didn't realise they would have to play against the top schools in Singapore, which have more talent, funding and outside lessons.

"The boys were very unmotivated and trained half-heartedly. They expected to be thrashed every time anyway," he added.

It reminded him of how he had wished for better training as a badminton player at Queensway Secondary School, which often lost to schools like Hwa Chong Institution (HCI).

Mr Tang shook things up by doubling training to six days a week, 7am to 7pm, apart from lesson time.

He organised friendly matches to give the team more practice and gave them pep talks, sharing how he had beaten a HCI player in Secondary 4 after training hard.

Nineteen-year-old Sean Toh, a former member of the Outram water polo team, said: "These talks helped to increase our self-confidence. We began to believe that if he could do it, so could we.

"Mr Tang told us we don't have to win, just become more evenly matched with the other schools."

Their hard work paid off in 2013, when Outram Secondary upset its more established rivals to win its first national championship in water polo.

In addition, the grades of the team also improved as Mr Tang made sure to include two hours of team study time in their daily schedule.

Said Lun Jing Hao, 16, a Secondary 4 student in the team: "When we study together, my teammates are patient and teach me concepts I don't understand. I used to have the worst scores in the batch, but with their support, both my results and water polo have improved a lot."

Parents have been supportive, often providing dinner and going with the team to overseas competitions.

"These boys can be rebellious and it is an effort to keep them in school. With this training, we know where they are and that they're actually studying," said taxi driver Angela Ang, 47, whose son is in the Outram water polo team.

"My son now does his revision without me nagging. We are thankful that through this CCA, our children are growing into better people," she added.

In a repeat of the finals three years ago, Outram will once again play against ACS(I) in this year's finals on Wednesday.

Said Mr Tang: "The boys are very motivated right now. Our team may be the underdog, but we still stand a good chance of winning."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline Outram Secondary splashes its way to water polo summit. Subscribe