NATIONAL Sports Institute (NSI) chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz believes that athletes should know about sports science from a young age. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Hence, he has taken on the challenge to educate and empower athletes about sports science. Here, he tells StarsSport’s RAJES PAUL just how he intends to do that.
Q: One of the main challenges faced by the NSI is the athletes’ lack of knowledge about sports science. Why?
A: NSI offer services to national athletes. We attend to them when they come to us – usually they are in their 20s. Most of the time, we have to re-educate them. We spend a lot of time instilling the right attitude in embracing sports science approaches.
We have to explain to them about fitness testing, conditioning, fitness development, correct mental approaches and training, and different aspects of sports science that can lead to their success. It is like having a bunch of people learning to ride the bike for the first time. Initially, it was a big challenge for us.
Q: What is the ideal age to educate an athlete on sports science?
A: If one can start understanding it before 10 years old, that would be great. South Korea, Japan and even Thailand are more successful because their athletes are exposed to sports science at an early age. They are exposed to physical education – the real sense of teaching – at a young age and that gives them a good foundation. When they move up to the elite squad, they are able to withstand higher intensity trainings. Our athletes have to start from the basics again.
Q: Have the NSI done anything to overcome this?
A: When I first became involved in the NSI in 1992, the lack of education for athletes on sports science was evident and a huge challenge. Fortunately, students at the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) and Bandar Penawar now study physical education.
The NSI have been looking into various pilot projects. School is the ideal place to get the masses involved and exposed to sports science. We are now going big on screening Year One pupils (seven years old) to gauge their potential under our Talent Identification Programme. This is the right juncture to start.
For some sports, like gymnastics and track and field, the approach could start earlier. We are working closely with the Education Ministry (MoE) on this. Most sports will benefit from general screening. It can lead to some pupils being selected for specific programmes.
Q: What would be the ideal situation?
A: The MoE’s move to introduce the “one child one sport” plan is a good start. I would go one step further and encourage all schools to have a “sports-mover” within a school. Every school can have a sports secretary who will take on a good idea and execute it effectively. He can equip physical education teachers so that they can educate the young ones and expose them early to sports science. Coaches at this level should be educated too.
Education on sports science should not only be directed at the students, teachers or coaches. Parents are also key people who can make a difference. Engaging parents through sports activities and educating them on many aspects of sports science would be the way to go.
Q: What are the significant changes you have made in the NSI?
A: Many experts and key people have come and gone. We engaged foreign consultants to conduct an external review in 1999, which I think, was great and really put the NSI on the right track. In 1999, we had a great influx of foreign experts to transfer their knowledge to locals. It took time as not many were receptive. One key turning point for the NSI was the formation of the integrated service system, which eventually saw the birth of HPT (High Performance Team). Now, our approach is more specialised, with every sport having a team to look after.
In 2001, Malaysia won 111 gold medals at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. We played quite a significant role in this. To us, it was the time when we realised our worth. It gave us a lot of confidence to continue with our work. We knew we were on the right track.
Q: What are your significant accomplishments?
A: I have been involved in hockey for a great deal of time and there has been a good working relationship with them. They were one of the early groups to embrace sports science. I will also not forget the collaboration with our two physiotherapists to help world No. 1 shuttler Lee Chong Wei recover from his foot injury within 65 days. Chong Wei then went on to win a silver medal at the London Olympic Games. It was a success story of rehabilitation.
Despite my busy schedule, I’ve been able to keep my family together. If not for their support, it would have been tough. I used to travel a lot – sometimes I’m away every two weeks in a month. I remember taking my five children and wife for hockey matches to make up for lost time. My wife is a plastic surgeon and, sometimes, during matches, she would stitch their injuries. She has treated players like Gary Fidelis and K. Gobinathan – one hardly can see their scars. At least, she was happy to be there and also see her husband working and not galavanting (he laughs).
Q: Where is the NSI heading now?
A: We are still in the pioneering mode – it’s very much like crossing the bridge while building it ... while other countries have moved forward. I know that we cannot afford to do the same thing and expect different results. In the past, our focus was on developing ways to provide the best services for our athletes under the national programme. Now, we want to go from doing the best we can to doing the best possible.
We are looking at every optimum human and finance resource. We want to get the best Malaysian experts to do the work – or else we will look outside. We want to help the athletes win gold medals at the Olympic Games, World Championships, etc. What we want to achieve is not rocket science although we are dealing with scientific approaches. Our aim is straightforward – we need a better culture. By that, I mean having the best people working in the best working environment and executing the plans in the best possible way.