Netball starts to reap the fruits of Sports School partnership

The report:

Singapore will be hosting a six-nation international netball competition called the Fisher & Paykel Nations Cup from 31 August to 6 Sept. The tournament will be Singapore’s most competitive tournament since the Republic finished 15th at last year’s World Championships.

Singapore, which won the 4-Nations and 5-Nations competitons in 2006 and 2007, will be taking on Samoa (world no 6), Sri Lanka, Botswana (10th), Northern Ireland and Papua New Guinea (14th) in this year’s competition.

Netball Singapore announced a provisional national squad on 10 June and will unveil the final squad on 5 August. A more detailed report can be found here at redsports.sg

My thoughts:

This competition was reported not just in redsports but also in The Straits Times and TODAY. However, all of them issed what I felt was one of the most significant newspoints.

If you look at the make-up of the provisional national squad at Netball Singapore’s website ( see link ), you will notice that a 17-year-old and two 16-year-olds – Suhailah Kariman ( Wing Attack, Centre ), Melody Teo ( Goal Defence/Goal Keeper ) and Povaneswari d/o Shanmugam ( Goal Defence/Goal Keeper ) respectively – have also been drafted into the team.

Not only are they the youngest players in the squad (the second youngest seems to be Anna Soo  at 19, while the rest are between ages 23 to 29 ), they are also either Singapore Sports School students or graduates.

All of them were part of the pioneer batch of students who joined the Sports School when it opened in 2004, and part of the 12 students who formed the Netball Academy at the School.

If I’m not mistaken, Suhailah is now in a top junior college after aceing her O levels last year while Melody and Povaneswari are Secondary Five students this year.

Even if they do not make the final Nations Cup cut on 5 Aug, I think their selection for the national open squad still marks a significant milestone for the Sports School.

I must admit being really sceptical when I first heard, back in 2003, that the Sports School was including netball as one of its eight core sports. Why netball, I wondered.

Sure, it may be the most popular girls sport in Singapore, but I had often wondered what was the point of including netball when there is no professional playing career path for the girls after leaving the Sports School. 

I mean, Netball Singapore’s Super League is strictly amateur and lasts only a couple of months each year. And even world netball powerhouse Australia doesn’t have a professional league.

In fact, Netball Australia has, according to its website, a tie-up with global employment agency Adecco, to help provide its elite players with workplace development and employment opportunites.   

In contrast, one can see why the School started a Football Academy – after all, there are possible future professional playing opportunities for the student trainees in Singapore’s domestic S-League.

But netball?

What’s more, the netball students are only given the option of going to the polytechnic or junior college after completing their O levels at the Sports School.

In other words, not only will they be returning to the mainstream education pathway, they will also no longer enjoy the Sports School’s flexible academic curriculum which had enabled them to grow and develop as players.

But the inclusion of Suhailah, Melody and Povaneswari has now caused me to look at the Sports School’s Netball Academy in a new light.

I mean, look at it this way: if this was the announcement of the Lions’ World Cup squad instead, you can be sure there would be a huge media buzz over the inclusion of two 16-year-olds  and a 17-year-old into the squad.

When was the last time you heard of a 16-year-old being included in the senior Lions squad? I can only think of one – Harris Harun, who made his international debut for Singapore in the Lions’ 2-1 win over North Korea in June last year.

Even national skipper and striker Indra Sahdan – once touted as Fandi Ahmad’s successor, only made his national team debut when he was 18 – in Singapore’s 0-4 loss to Kuwait in a 1997 World Cup qualifying match.

Three national squad members out of a pioneer batch of 12 students – that’s effectively 25 percent of the number of Sports School netball trainees going on to represent the Republic at senior level. Hey, that’s not a bad return at all on investment.

What this means is that the Sports School is effectively helping Netball Singapore to raise the bar in playing standards by producing a stream of young athletes who are not only better players than most of their peers but who are also able to compete against older, adult players.   

This can only augur well for the national team as it seeks to improve on its world ranking and break into the top-10 eventually.

I guess the main challenge now for Netball Singapore is to find ways to ensure that this growing pool of young Sports School graduates do not slip in their playing standards or drop out of the game once they are back on the mainstream educational path because of school pressures.

Maybe this is where Netball Singapore can take a leaf from Netball Australia’s book, and seek corporate partners who can help to provide further education, career development or employment opportunities for these young women once they leave the Sports School.

A start could be to get these young promising athletes enrolled into the Auckland University of technology’s sports diploma programme which is currently being hosted at the Sports School so that they can continue to study and train under the type of flexible academic curriculum that they have been used too since Secondary One.

I hear that Netball – and Football Academy – trainees are not eligible for Sports School scholarships to enrol into the diploma programme. So perhaps NS may want to look for a corporate partner ( Fisher & Paykel? ) to provide similar scholarships for these girls so that they can be part of this diploma programme.

The ball, as they say, is in Netball Singapore’s court.

In the meantime, the Singapore Sports Fan congratulates Suhailah, Melody and Povaneswari on their inclusion into the national provisional squad and hopes that they can make the final cut for the Nations Cup.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

P.S: Picture taken from Netball Singapore’s website. Povaneswari is second from left on the top row while Suhailah is thrid from left in the bottom row. Melody is on the right of the second row.

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