SINGAPORE - As a teenager, bowling was never a main priority for Marcus Tan, who used to compete in national and school tournaments. But after graduating from junior college about six years ago, he decided that he wanted to pursue the sport at an elite level.
Last year, the Singapore Management University undergraduate tried out for the national development squad and got in, an opportunity that the 23-year-old never expected at his age.
It could have been a lot harder to come by if not for the Singapore Bowling Federation’s (SBF) new initiative introduced this year to outsource its national development squad programme to seven academies that also function as Centres of Excellence (COE).
Tan, who trains at JForte Sportainment Centre with Bio Bowling Academy in Hougang, said: “At my age, I never expected to have the opportunity to be in this programme... This really gives developing players a chance to develop their skills and the whole programme really helps the players to reach their peak performance.”
Previously, only the elementary, intermediate, advance and elite tiers of the national development pathway were part of the COE programme, which is run by 11 academies.
The national development squad was previously managed solely by the SBF, along with the national training squad, national squad and major Games squad. The four squads took in 78 bowlers last year.
While the athlete pool increased yearly, the federation’s limited resources resulted in many talented bowlers dropping out of the system after they were not selected for the national development squad.
SBF technical director Sid Allen explained: “As every year went by, the bar to get in was getting higher, so many kids who would’ve had an opportunity a few years earlier couldn’t get into the programme.
“It became evident to me that we were cutting off some kids who could go a long way and we needed to change what we were doing.”
The SBF has come up with a syllabus with clear outlines on what needs to be achieved at each of the programme’s three levels.
There are also daily lesson plans as a guide for COEs, but Allen said that these academies still have the autonomy to train the bowlers using their own methodologies.
All coaches will have to possess the minimum of Level 3 certification under the Singapore Bowling coaching programme and by 2023, they will have to be minimally certified at SBF Level 4.
The programme has been put on hold since Monday as SBF has suspended all its programmes for the next fortnight owing to heightened Covid-19 measures and will evaluate the situation at the end of these two weeks.
All training catered to youth aged 18 and below has been suspended or shifted online till June 13 as per Sport Singapore’s latest guidelines.
Although academies determine their fees independently, most of the seven appointed academies have set the fees for the national development squad programme at a rate that is similar to or lower than what is charged for the COE programme.
The average fee across the academies is $4,000 annually, but those from the Singapore Sports School do not pay training fees as this is included in their school fees.
Now, the academies that run the three-year national development squad programme will have a COE programme that is extended to seven years for bowlers.
Some coaches like Bowling is Science’s Sandra Sageran, 60, believe the extra time will be beneficial to athletes’ development.
He said: “Now they have the luxury of staying at their academies; some may be fast, some may be slow, so now they have the opportunity to slowly mature and realise their true potential.”
Allen added that another benefit of the new system is that the athletes get to continue working with coaches they are familiar with and know them well.
Nur Sarah Jasmi, who is among the batch of 27 bowlers in the pioneer cohort of the programme, is happy to have the best of both worlds with guidance from the SBF and her own academy, the National Service Resort and Country Club.
The 20-year-old said: “This programme acts as a bridge between the academies and the SBF, providing a smooth transition for those going into the SBF programme.”