Team Singapore’s Cerebral Palsy (CP) football head coach Mohamed Zainudeen (above) beams with pride each time he speaks of his players. The 46-year old is devoted to his cause of discovering and nurturing young football talents in Singapore, regardless of their abilities.
He took up the mantle of head coach nearly six years ago, after completing a coaching course specialising in disability football, conducted by the Asian Football Confederation. Noting his qualifications, the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) called him up to coach a weekly football session for CP players. It wasn’t long before Zainudeen found himself putting together training sessions thrice a week.
“The moment you work with these boys, you don’t just want to take them for a day or two. Looking at how hard they work, when they come for trainings week in and week out with all their difficulties. They inspire me so much, how could I walk away from them? Coaching them is something worth doing, and they are a wonderful lot to work with,” confessed Zainudeen.
With increased practice, came improved skills. Since 2009, Singapore’s CP football team has won many awards and accolades in competitive arenas, such as their silver medal from the previous ASEAN Para Games (APG) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. However, out of all the competitions, there was one particular result that the head coach admitted to treasuring more than others.
“We were in Abu Dhabi, competing in the Dream Asia Tournament. The team beat Korea 3-0. That one game will remain with me for a long time because Korea was such a good team and we were able to take them on. We were the underdogs and we won the game 3-0,” explained Zainudeen.
While victories do hold certain significance, the coach was quick to stress that it shouldn't be the main point of the game.
“Some of them were not even sportsmen when they joined us. They just loved the game. If you see them out on the football pitch today, everyone looks like a footballer, playing and enjoying the game. To me, that itself is an achievement for the boys. Like I said the results are secondary,” Zainudeen continued.
For the upcoming 8th APG, taking place in Singapore this December, he has just one rule for his boys: Enjoy the game, give your best, but take care of the process.
Besides training, the squad also turn to Zainudeen for advice off the pitch, and the veteran trainer has placed special emphasis on getting to know the lives of his boys outside of football.
“I’ve been trying to guide them to achieve their goals on and off the pitch. They have to make choices as they grow up, in terms of studies or work. There is always some form of advice that I can give them. I chat with them a lot on Facebook, discussing the problems that they may be facing,” he said.
The players were not the only ones to have benefitted from this relationship either. Zainudeen revealed that the biggest payoff he has received from this experience was how much he has learnt from his team.
“How can ordinary people like us complain about life, when people like them are pushing themselves so hard to achieve something?”
Register your interest to catch the 8th ASEAN Para Games here.