Making kids 'fall in love' with Athletics

Wan Lay Chi's career high was winning the shot put silver for Singapore behind compatriot Zhang Guirong at the 2011 SEA Games.
Wan Lay Chi's career high was winning the shot put silver for Singapore behind compatriot Zhang Guirong at the 2011 SEA Games. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Former thrower Wan opens sports academy today to groom next generation of athletes

Former Singapore thrower Wan Lay Chi may have quit being a competitive athlete five years ago, but the sport was always on her mind.

Her love for the sport remained so strong that she left her job as a sports manager at the British Club in July to start coaching schools, and will open a track and field academy today for children aged four to 11.

Wan told The Straits Times she had been mulling over it for at least a year, but found the courage to do so only recently, after saving enough money and receiving encouragement from her friends.

"As a coach, I just love what I do. You get this sense of satisfaction when you see the kids who didn't know anything at first improving, then slowly becoming more ambitious and starting to set goals like wanting to throw this far or to run this fast," she added.

"Then you feel like, 'Wah'. I hope I can contribute a little bit by passing on my experience and knowledge to the younger ones."

The 2011 SEA Games shot put silver medallist left the sport in 2013 because she was frustrated with a perceived lack of support from Singapore Athletics, then the Singapore Athletic Association.

At 30, she "sees no point" in a competitive comeback but wants to groom young athletes.

She will manage and coach at the Team Wan Sports Academy, which is based at Bedok Stadium, with fellow coach Kevin Leong. It will feature athletics disciplines including sprints, throws and jumps.

Wan, who aims to include other sports in the programme, is aware of the slight difference between coaching schools and running an academy, noting that the latter would involve creative learning so as to make training more fun.

She also stressed that it is important for her charges to try the different disciplines and to enjoy them, adding: "You have to be very careful not to over-train these young kids. Being too specialised at this age is bad for their development.

"Hopefully, they will fall in love with track and field. At the end of the day, it's just about promoting track and field as a sport."

Wan, who still holds several national age-group records in shot put and discus, also hopes to identify talent that can raise the level of track and field here.

"I hope I can inspire more young throwers to reach where I was, or to become better than me," she said.

Explaining her desire to contribute to the local athletics scene, she said: "This sport changed my life. After school, I trained every day instead of making trouble and I became more motivated first to win the Schools Nationals competition, then to break records, and then (to do well) at the Asean Schools Games.

"Now, when it comes to work, I make sure I give of my best instead of just doing things for the sake of it.

"This sport has made me who I am today."

Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei, who knew Wan during her days as a competitive athlete, believes her initiative bodes well for the local sports fraternity.

"I think it's a good thing. It will reinforce the fact that in sport, you may not necessarily earn a lot of money but, at least, you can make a livelihood and have a small business," he said.

"Lay Chi has been away for some time, but people still remember her and it's good that an ex-national athlete has come back in this way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Making kids 'fall in love' with Athletics'. Print Edition | Subscribe