Fun, finesse, fitness – that is the motto that guides ActiveSG Athletics Club head coach (sprints) Melvin Tan, as he seeks to foster an enjoyable environment for his programme’s participants, who are youths aged from 13 to 24 years old.
He designs dynamic activities to suit the different abilities of his young athletes, and teases them by incorporating commands to get moving and “go” when they least expect it. He jokes and laughs with them, but still ensures that they perform well.
The 50-year-old, who boasts 18 years of coaching expertise under his belt, has been committing most of his time to the ActiveSG Athletics Club’s participants – as well as the school athletics scene – over the past few years.
Tan, a former TeamSG men’s relay coach who recently re-joined the national fold to helm the women’s team, is devoted to the youths, constantly putting in his best to ensure his sessions are fun and enriching, and to remain an approachable figure to the athletes on and off the track.
“It’s good to have a coach who cracks jokes to make it less stressful, so that we can relax a bit,” expressed young athlete Bastiaan Schagen, who revealed that Tan spared no effort in training him to qualify for a Direct School Admission to his dream secondary school last year, though his academic results eventually prevented him from making the cut.
Naturally, Tan has benefitted from his work with the ActiveSG Athletics Club as well. He said: “The club’s youth group was a refreshing change [from working with the national team] because you’re working with people who don’t have any athletics background. The sense of achievement is there when they learn new skills.”
Beyond the skills that they hone on the track, Tan also hopes to help them to develop something more important – values.
“Talent will get you somewhere, but good values will see you through your whole life. I always advise my students to become better people. As long as you become a better person, you’re a winner in your own right. You don’t need a medal. And I also hope they can sustain a lifelong passion for sports,” he emphasised.
These goals might differ slightly when it comes to the national team, who established an impressive record during Tan’s previous tenure – SEA Games silvers in 2011 and 2013, and an Asian Grand Prix silver in 2013 – but his approach to both groups has its similarities, as we learnt from TeamSG women’s relay representative Smriti Mahesh Menon.
“[Tan] teases me about my races! But this motivates me to do better. He knows my capacity and always tells me: You can go faster. This isn’t your best,” she laughed, adding that he was always ready with a bad “dad joke” to lighten the mood.
She continued: “The moments when he tells me that I’ve done a good job - nothing can beat those. It makes me want to do even better.”
When Tan’s athletes do well, they are also fulfilling his other aspiration of developing Singapore’s athletics scene. Indeed, so dedicated is he to this cause that he has agreed to work alongside Hamkah Afik – a coach with whom he has had differences with – upon his recent return to the national team.
“We are willing to put aside our differences and try to revive the sport [of athletics], which is not in an ideal place now. We hope that the first step we take in moving forward is to become united. We don’t want to just talk about contributing. If you think that the sport is not in good shape, you have to put aside certain things and take action,” Tan explained.
“I always believe that Singapore can do it. We can produce an Asian champion in athletics one day,” he declared.
Before that, it will take “all of us coming together”, as he asserted, to support and develop a new generation of well-rounded athletes.