As head coach of the ActiveSG Athletics Club’s distance running arm, Steven Quek mentors a varied group of running enthusiasts, with his students ranging from 13 to 55 years of age.
Some of club’s participants bring their children along too, so it is not uncommon to see little ones plodding down the lanes at the Bukit Gombak Stadium, where the training sessions are typically held.
“Keep going!” Quek shouted, clapping his hands and encouraging the group during a particular weekday evening session.
The recreational runners present that day were also joined by TeamSG Olympian Neo Jie Shi, SEA Games marathon champion Soh Rui Yong, as well as a number of other competitive distance runners.
With his rather diverse collection of students at the Club, his position as head coach of the Hwa Chong Institution’s cross-country team, and a track record of success across his 31 years of coaching experience, one might be inclined to assume that the 50-year-old must have certain special techniques up his sleeve.
Yet, it turns out that Quek’s philosophy is simple: He expects his students to do their best in sport and in life. To bring that out, he, too, gives his best to every one of them, addressing their individual needs.
“There isn’t one particular way that works for everybody. The primary school kids, the secondary school kids, the junior college kids, the high performance runners – they’re all different. They have different needs and you have to guide them differently. I treat all of them as individuals,” he explained, revealing that he begins each week by creating customised training programmes for all of his ActiveSG Athletics Club members.
Sharing more about how he conducts his sessions, Neo told us: “All of us run in a group, but we have specific targets to meet. Some of us can hit longer distances with the same pace, while some do shorter distances. [Quek] plans the training in a way that some of us do longer intervals, some do shorter. But we’ll definitely meet at some point and continue running together.”
The veteran coach then wraps up each session with individual post-training updates. He shared: “If you’re a teacher, your job is to guide them. And the one thing that I always expect from them is that when they’re doing something, they do it properly; they do it well.”
“When you expect your students to do their best, can you expect anything less from yourself?” Quek asserted.
Naturally, Quek’s expectations of his students also include doing well off the track. According to him, the local society’s emphasis on studies is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity, a chance for students to develop life skills by managing schoolwork and sports simultaneously.
“I see this as just that little bit more challenging – an extension of the same role that sport plays in the development of children. I want to see it not as a problem, but as an opportunity. That’s how they get better and grow,” he elaborated.
20-year-old competitive distance runner Shohib Marican, who has been training under Quek since 2010, added: “He views excellence as a way of life. To him, excelling in running is a way for us to excel in other parts of life too, as he believes that the skills will transfer to everything else. He doesn’t just teach us to be good runners. He teaches us to be good people.”
In fact, Adriel Tay, another high performance runner who has worked with Quek since his teens, revealed that the coach had even gone to the extent of suspending him from his school team, to provide Tay a chance to get back on track with his studies. Rejoining the team after his examinations, Tay went on to take the National Schools 1500m title and, eventually, graduate from medical school.
Of course, as a lifelong teacher to so many, Quek also shows concern for his charges’ welfare and individual needs, making sure that – aside from training and studying – they rest and eat well.
Tay expressed: “He always reminds us to do the little things right. He has so many students, but he still finds the time to send us voice memos. Last night, I got one from him – a pep talk for today’s training!”
Indeed, whether it is ensuring that individual training requirements and targets are met for his students, or looking out for their well-being, Quek does so wholeheartedly. That, perhaps, is how he brings out the best in so many of them.