Jita Singh: From the training field to the football pitch
Former national coach Jita Singh, who was from the pioneer NS batch, derives his coaching philosophies from his stint
Many in the football community know Mr Jita Singh as the coach who led the national team to glory in the 1980s.
But the 67-year-old, still going strong as a director at S.League club Tampines Rovers, told The New Paper that lessons he taught on the football pitch were rooted in his time on the training field during national service (NS).
After all, Mr Singh was among the 900 men who formed the pioneer batch of NS recruits.
On this day 50 years ago, the NS Amendment Bill, which made NS compulsory for all 18-year-old male Singapore citizens and permanent residents, was signed. On Aug 24 that year, Mr Singh enlisted into the army.
While most would enter NS with a sense of trepidation, Mr Singh, who was a national footballer at the time, said that he was "so excited" to receive the letter.
He said animatedly: "I was quite happy to get the letter, because I was in the National Police Cadet Corps in school, so I was not scared at all.
"Besides, it would be interesting to live life as a soldier."
But he soon found out that no prior experience would be enough to prepare him for the harsh realities of NS.
Along with many of his peers, NS was the first time Mr Singh had to fend for himself.
"We had to man up and start being adults. Wash our clothes, iron our uniform, all these things we had to do on our own," he said.
Mr Singh and the other men who served in the pioneer batch of NS had to undergo six months' basic training. They were allowed to go home only after the first month.
He laughed as he shared how he had to put in so much effort to iron his uniform - starching each fold of his sleeve and ironing it when he was preparing for a parade.
"The commanders back then were so fierce, they were all army regulars so we were the first ones to face their training," he said.
"But looking back, it was good, I learnt a lot, thanks to how they tekan me."
Although some would say that NS is less demanding now compared to the past, Mr Singh disagrees.
He disapproves of this because each training revision is done "for a reason" and such changes do not make current training methods inferior.
Said Mr Singh: "So many people say, the training was harder before. But you must understand, then people were different, we didn't have handphones or Starbucks or McDonald's. We didn't have the life we do now.
"The training had to be tougher because that's what was required. I still have some injuries from doing all those exercises but I don't mind them, they were necessary," he added, pointing to his right knee.
But the tough training did not scare Mr Singh. Instead, his time in NS convinced him to join the army full-time.
Post-NS, Mr Singh served as a regular in the army for three years. In that time, he served in different departments, including the infantry, artillery and transport divisions.
But his love for football never left him. While serving as a regular, Mr Singh continued his football aspirations, dividing his time between serving his country and chasing his passion on the pitch.
As national coach, he led Singapore to victory in several international matches, including the Malaysia Cup triumph in 1980 and two SEA Games silver medals (1983 and 1989).
When asked what the greatest take-away from NS was, Mr Singh said it was not the training methods or the independence he picked up as a soldier. Rather, he felt that it underscored the importance of camaraderie and discipline - insights that have guided Mr Singh to focus on building a strong team spirit in his football teams.
"It makes sense that I did both these things, they came together so well," said Mr Singh.
"I'm thankful for my time in NS, it's helped me to become the man I am."