He is a soft-spoken man who stands at 1.66 metres tall. But, when Joerg Tan speaks to his Greenridge Secondary School football team, they listen.
Why does he command such respect from his team?
“We respect him because, first, he respects us and he trusts us a lot,” said Ahmed Tirmidzi, 16. “He communicates with us like human beings. He never shouts at us and rarely raises his voice.”
Added Ahmad Fairouz, 16: “Mr Tan is a great teacher and coach, and has sacrificed a lot for us and for our happiness. So much so that we can never repay him.”
Co-coach Andy Tan recalls an incident when Joerg even put the team above his family.
“On the day of a crucial game, Joerg initially told me that he had to send his wife (who was pregnant) for a check-up,” said Andy, 33. “But I was surprised to see him turn up for the match and he told me that he told his wife to go to the doctor on her own. Thankfully, Joerg’s wife was very understanding and was happy that he was able to be there for the kids when they needed him.”
Not a traditional powerhouse in football, Greenridge struggled in the past in the West Zone, playing second fiddle to the likes of Hong Kah Secondary School and Jurongville Secondary School.
But their results took a turn for the better two years ago. This year, the C Boys made it past the West Zone qualifications to play in the Schools’ National competition, which will start next month.
But results are secondary to Joerg, who feels the boys’ character development is more important. And that is why he introduced a mentoring programme for them. Once a month, Joerg sits down with his boys to discuss and impart values like teamwork and loyalty from a training journal that he compiled himself.
“The aim of this programme is to pass down the culture of our team, from seniors to juniors, groom leaders, and create a sense of belonging for the younger boys as the seniors guide them through the materials,” said Joerg, who came to Greenridge in 2002 and took charge of the football team in 2004. “And, after each mentoring session, they will be reminded about the lessons they have just learnt and apply them on the pitch during training.”
Haridas is one such student who has changed after going through programme.
“I used to be a happy-go-lucky guy and was nonchalant in life,” said Haridas, 16. “But now, I’m more disciplined. I make the effort to come to classes and training on time, and I’m even a student leader now.”
So what made Joerg want to become a coach on top of a teacher?
“Sports is a very special and effective platform for character building,” said Joerg, 39. “I want to be involved in the building of their character and give them the skills to be successful in life.”
Interestingly, Joerg does not conduct trials for students to make the team. He said: “I believe that when a boy comes in with the passion for football, he will be able to go far.”
He cites his most memorable experiences as the times when his former students visit him and thank him for being involved in their lives, thus preventing them from going wayward.
Mohammad Fahmy Sukry, 20, used to be the captain of Greenridge’s football team. Due to bad behaviour in school and often arriving late for both training and lessons, Joerg suspended his captain for two matches during the National Schools tournament.
“He made me write a letter of reflection, and advised me to change my attitude,” said Fahmy, who graduated from Greenridge in 2010. “He made me realise that I was important to him and the team.”
From then on, Fahmy’s behaviour changed for the better and the team’s motto “Trust in Discipline” has become his own motto for life.
While talking to his charges, it is not hard to realise that Joerg is very attached to them.
“When we were knocked out of the Schools’ National tournament this year, Mr Tan apologised to us,” said Fairouz. “He was sorry that he didn’t manage to bring us a trophy, but told us that we’ve already done our best.”
Fairouz added: “I feel really bad too as I wanted to win a medal for Mr Tan. He puts in a lot of effort and doesn’t blame us when we make mistakes.”
And it is this dedication to his students that made fellow coach Andy nominate Joerg for The New Paper’s S Soocelaraj Award, supported by Soilbuild Group. He said: “Some teachers are just concerned with doing their job, but Joerg is really passionate in developing the boys’ characters. I have never seen anyone as accommodating as him as he never gives up on any kid, no matter how ‘terrible’ they are.”