Hockey: New ActiveSG hockey academy aims to grow talent pool

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam taking a shot with Team Singapore hockey player Ian Vanderput looking on during the launch of the ActiveSG Hockey Academy at Sengkang Hockey Stadium yesterday.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam taking a shot with Team Singapore hockey player Ian Vanderput looking on during the launch of the ActiveSG Hockey Academy at Sengkang Hockey Stadium yesterday.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The ActiveSG Hockey Academy opened to much fanfare yesterday morning, with nods to the sport's glorious past even as hopes are high that this new production line will eventually churn out talent to win silverware for Singapore again.

Although the Republic did well enough at the 2015 SEA Games - with the men's national team winning a silver and the women's team finishing third - there is still a considerable gap to close on regional powerhouse Malaysia.

Malaysia's men's and women's team are ranked 14th and 22nd in the world respectively. In contrast, the Singapore men's and women's teams are ranked 39th and 40th.

Still, with the new academy backed by ActiveSG, the national sports movement, it is hoped that participation numbers will surge and, in turn, enlarge the talent pool.

SportSG deputy chief executive Chiang Hock Woon said on the sidelines of yesterday's launch at Sengkang Hockey Stadium: "We set up the academy to create a platform so that we can bring out more games for the community to play.

"These games and leagues are very important. Without them, where else can they play apart from games organised by the schools or at national level?

"When we look at trying to get people to play the game, we have to look at the kids' level. And that is what the academy is intending to do - bring the children together to play and, hopefully, they will sustain that interest when they grow older."

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was the guest of honour at yesterday's launch, hopes the academy will encourage mass participation in the sport.

Mr Tharman, a former combined schools hockey player, said: "I hope that through the ActiveSG Hockey Academy, more Singaporeans and especially our youth will come to love the game.

"Sports is one of the best ways we develop respect for others and develop ourselves for life, and it certainly was that way for me."

According to Singapore Hockey Federation president Mathavan Devadas, there are some 3,000 to 3,500 players in the Republic, of which 600 are below the age of 12.

A major problem facing the sport is that young players drift out of it if it is not offered as a co-curricular activity in school, or when work and study commitments take priority.

Also, the Republic's elite players are not getting enough match experience. While Malaysia plays 30 to 40 international games a year, Singapore plays about 10 matches.

"That's definitely not enough, we really need to push that up," Mr Mathavan, a lawyer, conceded, adding that Singapore should ideally have at least 2,000 players in the high-performance category.

Although details of ActiveSG's latest academy have yet to be firmed up, it is expected to offer affordable and quality coaching to young people.

And this will brighten hockey's set-up here, as Mr Mathavan said: "This academy will help us hugely to improve the number of players, and develop our age-group teams and our senior team."

The hockey supremo believes the men's team should be able to retain the silver at next month's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, while he is hopeful the women will earn a podium place.

He said: "We have players who quit their jobs to train for the SEA Games. There is one full-time national servicemen who changes his shift duties to the weekends so that he can train on weekdays.

"That warms my heart - the commitment that comes from the heart."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 16, 2017, with the headline 'New ActiveSG hockey academy aims to grow talent pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe