Coaches at the helm: Part 2
Singapore has spared no effort to bring in the very best to guide its athletes to glory at this South-east Asia Games.
The New Paper speaks to some of the world-class coaches in our midst.
Report by Redzwan Kamarudin and David Lee.
National netball coach
While Singapore’s netball coach Ruth Aitken is aware of the huge expectations on the Singapore netball team, she prefers to keep the team focused on the here-and-now than set targets.
The 58-year-old said: “As a coach, I believe it is important to keep my team’s focus firmly on the present, and resist the temptation to get too far ahead of ourselves. So I try to focus on what we need to do right now to give ourselves the best chance of success.
“For me, that is ensuring that we complete the round-robin matches with a high level of focus and a strong work ethic — being able to execute our game plan consistently, and also being able to change things when we need to.
“My ultimate goal is to have a team of 12 fully fit, high-performing athletes to take into the semi finals and final. Then it’s about seizing the moment.”
Aitken first coached New Zealand’s national team, the Silver Ferns, in 2001 and under her watchful eye, they won the 2003 World Championships in Jamaica, 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
As a player, she won the 1979 World Championships.
It was at the 2011 World Championships, held in Singapore, that she first took notice of the Singapore team.Aitken said: “I was very impressed with the professional way the sport was run by Netball Singapore and the way the national team played and conducted themselves.
“When the national coach position was advertised, I had completed my coaching contract in New Zealand and was very keen to experience an international coaching environment, so I submitted my application and I was delighted to be appointed.”
National kayak and canoe coach
When former canoe world champion Balazs Babella took over as Singapore’s head coach of kayak and canoe, he initially planned to fulfil just the minimum requirement of six months.
In fact, one of the main reasons the Hungarian applied for the job was to forget about his failure to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
Babella won the gold medal in the four-man kayak K-4 200m event in the World Championships the previous year, but after his Olympics disappointment, the 36 year-old applied for the vacant head coach position at the Singapore Canoe Federation and was hired in October, 2007.
What he didn’t expect though, was to build such a strong relationship with the athletes that eventually convinced him to stay on.
Babella said of his early days in Singapore: “I was happy with how the athletes were progressing, and I wanted to go back to Hungary for Christmas. They knew that I probably wouldn’t be back, because I had plans to continue my career.
“I was so surprised when they told me that they wouldn’t take it personally and would let me go back home if I wanted to.
“They thanked me for my hard work and told me they loved me for coaching them. How could I leave after that? Our relationship has grown stronger since then.”
He hopes for a strong showing from his team in the SEA Games, but Babella was tight-lipped on his medal targets.
“I’m superstitious, so I don’t want to jinx anything,” he said.
“But I know my paddlers, and if I were a betting man, I would put my money on the canoeists to win the most medals.”
National women’s pool coach
On the professional pool circuit, she is known as the Duchess of Doom who inflicts painful defeats on her opponents.
But Englishwoman Allison Fisher is friendly and charming as she told The New Paper: “This job has given me a chance to see what I can do as a national coach. “It’s an instructor’s dream because not many of us can end up being a national coach and train with athletes daily.
“It definitely helps that Singapore is a beautiful country and English is the main language. I would love to keep coming back. I like the culture and the people and there is a certain camaraderie after working with people who have been receptive.
“I bring a wealth of experience having been through the entire process of growing up as a promising talent, working my way up to win 15 world titles in snooker and pool, as well as the 2009 World Games women’s singles nine-ball gold.
“The mental aspect of it is very important as well, and it is something that has been with me since I was a little girl making my first 20-break and then going on to make my first century when I was 16.
“The standard of cuesports here needs to go up. There are definitely talents and potential out there, especially as pool has been getting bigger here over the last few years.
“Cuesports Singapore is making the right steps as we need to grow the sport here. We need role models such as Aloysius Yapp, who have won at world level. We need to take them to colleges and get the ball rolling, create stars and get young people inspired.”