The ActiveSG Tennis Academy at the Heartbeat@Bedok is a family affair for sisters (from left) Haseenah Mohamad Tahar, 16, Hadhinah, 15, and Hanisah, 13. They were previously coached by their father Tahar, who now works at the academy. ST PHOTO: KELLY HUI
Launched in 2016 with 5 sports, ActiveSG has grown to 18 sports with over 97k participants
Saturday afternoons are tennis time for Mohamad Tahar and his three daughters - Haseenah, 16, Hadhinah, 15, and Hanisah, 13 - as they travel from their home in Jurong East to Heartbeat@Bedok for lessons at the ActiveSG Tennis Academy.
The three sisters have been taking lessons there since the academy opened in 2016. They picked up the sport about six years ago and were previously coached by Tahar, who now works at the academy.
As they progressed, the sisters signed on as they saw an opportunity to develop there with more structured training sessions.
Tahar, who played several tournaments on the International Tennis Federation circuit in the 1990s, said: "Back then, starting tennis was different. You had to belong to a club, but now, you don't have to.
"It's more affordable and accessible and you can do it through a proper channel."
The sisters are among the thousands participating in ActiveSG's 18 academies and clubs around the island. Launched by national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) in 2016, the ActiveSG academies and clubs aim to increase sporting access for Singaporeans of all ages, create and sustain interest and participation in sports, and improve the ecosystem of sports participation.
SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin told The Sunday Times: "We used to provide courses run by vendors and Learn-To-Play programmes without any particular pathway structure.
"What was envisaged for this was to develop a club scene in the public arena that will augment the private club scene and offer good quality sports programming with clear pathways for the children and youth."
Its portfolio has since expanded from five - basketball, football, tennis, athletics and outdoor adventure club - to 18, with gymnastics the latest addition last year.
The number of participants has grown from 14,865 in financial year 2016 to 97,094 in 2018. While full figures for 2019 are not out yet, there were 44,687 as of last August.
ActiveSG Football Academy Principal Aleksandar Duric overseeing his charges. Photo: Sport Singapore
One of the popular academies is its football outfit, which has over 2,000 participants. Among them are Eden Toh, eight, and Hana Sassarak, nine, who attend training sessions thrice a week at the ActiveSG Football Academy (AFA) at Serangoon Stadium.
During these 1½ hour sessions, they learn the fundamentals of the sport and the 10-week term ends with a tournament involving participants from all 15 centres.
Eden, a Primary 3 student at Ngee Ann Primary School, said: "We learn many new skills like how to control the ball and passing.
"It's also fun when you go for tournaments because you learn how people have the skills and add it to your game."
SPORT FOR ALL
To encourage people to take up sports, SportSG has kept fees affordable, a main draw for parents like Derek Wong, whose 14-year-old twins joined the tennis academy last year.
He said: "I was looking for a suitable academy and they did trials with private ones, but what was most attractive is that it's very affordable."
All the academies charge $130 for a 10-week season. That works out to over $4 for each AFA session, and $6.50 to $8.60 per hour for the ActiveSG Tennis Academy.
Private football academies can charge $30 per session, while the hourly rates for group lessons at a private tennis academy can be more than $20 per hour.
While this has raised questions over whether the ActiveSG academies affect the livelihoods of private operators, Lim insisted there is room for multiple players.
Little League Soccer school owner Paul Masefield said that competition can be healthy for the sport and he believes they can "stay on top" if they do their work well. He added: "Being such a small country, Singapore needs to increase the talent base."
MORE EXPOSURE TO SPORTS
ActiveSG academies like basketball, which is headed by Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang, aim to introduce more kids to the sport.
ActiveSG Basketball Academy. Photo: Sport Singapore
While the lessons focus more on basic drills to help kids understand the game, the basketball academy, which has five centres, has also tweaked its curriculum by introducing gameplay to help returning students develop.
Collaborations with the ActiveSG clubs have also benefited sports like floorball, by providing the Singapore Floorball Association with a platform to introduce the sport to schools that do not offer it as a co-curricular activity (CCA).
A number of youth players have already come through the AFA, which is overseen by former international Aleksandar Duric. Four of the 23 players who competed in the Asian Under-16 Championship 2020 qualifiers last September were from the AFA.
AFA's Serangoon branch head coach Richard Bok said that grassroots programmes are crucial in identifying talents that often go unnoticed.
The three-time S-League Coach of the Year said: "Football in Singapore now is not at a good stage, but hopefully we can scout more talent and, in a few years, provide this pool of players to the youth and national teams."
Football Association of Singapore technical director Joseph Palatsides added they have been working closely with AFA, "so that all players can benefit from a uniform footballing philosophy".
The ActiveSG tennis academy has five programmes to cater to varying skill levels, from those who are just picking up the sport to elite players.
Last September, it began a collaboration with Voyager, a multi-award winning tennis academy that has developed multiple national champions and professional players in Australia.
With the expertise of former ATP professional Allen Belobrajdic, ActiveSG Tennis Academy senior head coach Shahrin Jamal believes that they can help raise the athletes' level of play and "bring a different perspective to training".
SportSG is looking to expand the number of academies and clubs to 25 by 2022 and, while it did not reveal the new sports, Lim said they are monitoring sports like tchoukball. They are also looking into developing the associate partner scheme, which will see more collaborations with private sports academies and clubs like Voyager.
Another programme they plan to grow with the Ministry of Education is the Strategic-Partnership CCA, which aims to let students pursue their interest and represent their school in national competitions, even if the school does not offer the sport as a CCA.
Lim said: "What we want to do is not just forge a partnership, but to also forge a common philosophy around children who do sport.
"This is the way that we are able to expand the number of children and youth who have access to good quality programmes and to begin to advocate nationally a doctrine around sport for development."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction
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