by Wong Jeng Teng
Having spent almost three decades working intimately within the local track and field scene, ActiveSG Athletics Club head coach, Melvin Tan continues to be motivated by the desire to see Singapore perform well on the international stage.
After all, he was a national youth representative in track and field himself, after growing up as an active child who spent plenty of time on the soccer field and the athletics track. However, his sporting career was cut short in the early 1990s, due to a bad injury.
“I couldn’t compete then, but the desire in me to see Singapore do well internationally was always there,” said Tan, who was formerly the national sprint and relay coach from 2010 to 2014.
“It motivated me to get involved with local sports in other ways,” he added, referring to his decision to go into coaching.
On top of being the head coach of the ActiveSG Athletics Club, Tan is also coach to the Raffles Institution track and field team, as well as athletes like national hurdler Jannah Wong.
With his wealth of experience in coaching student athletes and those at an elite level, the 49-year is unsurprisingly full of insights.
He finds younger children, especially those in primary school, to be highly competitive, but considers that age to be too early for them to specialize in any particular part of athletics.
Noting that the kids sometimes feel the pressure to do so in order to qualify for direct admission into a good secondary school, Tan shared: “In my opinion, we should not be advising them (the children) to specialise so young, or push them too hard. I think they lose their interest after a while.”
“Physically, it doesn’t work well for their development as an athlete. Secondly, they may feel tired of the sport, and they may not have motivation,” he continued, and shared that he had seen secondary school students “burn out” by the time they turn 15 or 16 years old.
He emphasised that maintaining the fun in training is vital to keeping children interested, and ensuring that they keep active throughout the years.
“We have to be very careful about how much to push these children, if not we might lose generations and generations of good athletes,” he continued.
In hopes of steering athletes away from specialising too early on, the ActiveSG Athletics Club provides children in the programme with a generalized overview of drills and games to encourage the development of genuine interest in athletics.
Participants in the youth category, aged 13 and above, continue to train for all events, tackling proper drills and friendly competitions. It’s only when they hit 17 or 18 that they begin demonstrating their true aptitudes in particular areas, according to Tan.
While developing a programme that provides balance for participants to have fun and improve, Tan worked with coaches handpicked for their experiences in instructing youths.
Since its inception in late April this year, the Athletics Club has seen children from ages as young as six take part in the tri-weekly training sessions, exposing them to the basic components of athletics, including throwing, running, and jumping.
“We’re trying to get the children active. We’re trying to tell them that physical activities and exercises are very important for life, especially for the future, so you inculcate some good habits through the process,” Tan stated.
“If your kid is the talented one, we are really interested in them as well. And we are going to provide them with the opportunity for development and bring them to higher levels,” he said.