Hectic schedule, but coach unfazed
Women's floorball squad, Singapore's Team of the Year (Team Sports) for 2017, still expect to finish in top 4 of Asia-Oceania qualifiers
The road to this year's World Floorball Championship (WFC) in Neuchatel, Switzerland, is fraught with challenges for the women's national team.
Their journey starts with the Asia-Oceania qualifiers in Bangkok on Sunday, when they face arch-rivals Malaysia.
A top-four finish there will guarantee Singapore a spot in the Dec 7-15 Finals but, despite the team facing several off-court difficulties and having undergone personnel changes in recent months, coach Louise Khng is unfazed.
In the main, the hectic schedule afflicting Khng's squad, and even herself, has been disruptive to their preparations.
Said the 36-year-old: "I have to deal with players who have either work or school commitments. There is also the issue with injured players and their recovery, which may not align with regular training.
" So, it becomes tough to manage a team when players are late or they cannot attend training.
"I know that, when we are in Bangkok, some of the players will be working or studying, which is not an ideal situation as you need to focus on the games when you go for tournaments, but I guess we are used to it.
"Some things are beyond their control, like last-minute deadlines, meetings. So I have to be understanding, after all, it is their rice bowl.
"Floorball is just a passion and, at this level, it is a passion that has gone beyond its limits for these players."
Khng, a lecturer at the Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Business Management, added that she has to balance work and coaching, and it hasn't been plain sailing for her as well.
While her colleagues have shown support, with her superiors endorsing her leave during school term and fellow lecturers filling in for her, Khng does her part to ensure her students are not shortchanged.
"Before I go away, I ensure I do all that I can to alleviate the load on others and also prepare extra lessons for my students when I return," she said.
Facing a similar situation is goalkeeper Fariza Begum, a physical education teacher at Yuying Secondary School.
The 29-year-old reaches school by 7am on weekdays. When there's training, she will be out till late at night as the sessions end at 10pm.
She said: "It is challenging to stay up late and to wake up early the next day, and to be able to concentrate the whole day.
"However, the punishing schedule has helped me prioritise my tasks and be more disciplined."
It isn't much easier for Siti Nurhaliza, a third-year sport and exercise science student at Republic Polytechnic.
"The final-year project (FYP) submission date is Feb 1 but, because of the qualifiers, I had to submit mine on Jan 23, the day before I flew off to Bangkok," said the 20-year-old.
"I want to be fully focused on the tournament when I'm there, so it meant that I had to work even harder to balance lessons with training and squeezing in time for my FYP so that I can finish by the 23rd."
Despite the manic timetable, Khng's side were named Team of the Year (Team Sports) last year at the Singapore Sports Awards, following their exploits at the qualifiers for the 2017 WFC and their triumphant Asia-Oceania Floorball Cup campaign in June.
However, several players have since left the national fold and Khng has had to blood in seven debutantes in a refurbished squad, but the former national captain said that there is no pressure on her and her charges.
"I've had players retire, while some have opted to discontinue competing at the highest level," Khng said.
"Some left due to work commitments as they feel they can no longer dedicate the extra hours while, in some cases, injuries have also played a part.
"As such, my team have evolved... I had to ensure that, while a new batch of players comes in, I still maintain the high standard that we have.
"There is a lot of synergy that needs to be built up again, but I wouldn't say there's pressure.
"For me, one of the key things in playing this sport is to have fun.
"If the players don't have fun, they won't enjoy their game and could therefore feel a lot of pressure to perform which, in turn, could lead them to underperform."
Added Fariza: "Blooding in younger or newer players is a normal process ...
"But we are progressing well, we have a good crop of younger talent coming through... It's going be a close fight at the qualifiers."
Eight nations will be competing in the Asia-Oceania qualifiers, with world No. 15 Singapore in Group B alongside Japan (14th), South Korea (24th) and Malaysia (26th).
The top teams from Groups A and B, as well as the two winners in the play-offs between the two groups' runners-up and third-placed teams, will qualify for the Finals.