Netball Singapore yesterday announced a new initiative which it hopes will help widen its pool of players for the national youth teams.
Instead of holding one-off trials to select players for the national Under-14 and U-17 teams, the association, in partnership with the Ministry of Education's Physical, Sports and Outdoor Education Branch, is starting an U-14 and U-17 team this year in each of the four zones that schools here compete in.
Each team will boast the best 12 players of their respective zones. They will compete in lower divisions of the local netball league to gain exposure and precious competition minutes. The national U-14 and U-17 teams will eventually be picked from this pool of players at the end of the league season.
Yesterday, Netball Singapore chief executive officer Cyrus Medora told The Straits Times: "In the past we used to have selection trials, where we have to pick 12 players from over a 100 kids in one day.
"It makes the selectors' jobs very difficult, while some children might not have enough court time to prove themselves.
"The new initiative will help us pick the best players in each zone."
Last year, some 2,200 players from 186 school teams took part in the B and C Divisions of the Schools National Netball Championships.
The new initiative, dubbed the M1 Zone Age Group Programme, is part of Netball Singapore's plans to establish its regional superiority.
While Singapore are reigning SEA Games champions, rivals Malaysia have caught up after losing to Singapore in the 2015 final.
They won the Asian Netball Championship in Thailand last year and, with home ground advantage, could dethrone Singapore at this year's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Netball Singapore also unveiled a new sponsorship agreement with local telco M1, who has been partners since 2009, and is also the title sponsor of the domestic M1 Netball Super League.
The latest deal is worth a reported six-figure sum, which Netball Singapore president Jessica Tan said will help fund the new initiative.
Tan, who is also MP for East Coast GRC, said: "The sponsorship of the M1 Zone Age Group Programme will help netball in Singapore progress further, as it enhances the elite selection pathway.
"It is our aim that this will provide a good base of talents and develop better players who will in turn, be our Singapore national players."
M1 director of corporate communications Ivan Lim said: "We are happy to see our long-term partnership with Netball Singapore grow the Singapore netball scene.
"The M1 Zone Age Group programme will enable them to scale even greater heights."