OFF THE COURT: More needs to be done for athletes in transition

I HAVE been in the sport scene for a long time.

I was 12 when I joined the junior programme and I’m now 32. It has been 20 years. Oh my! I do feel old, indeed.

But the good thing is that I’ve seen many things unfold in our sports. I have grown up with the system, so to speak.

To be honest, our system is not too bad. We always see the grass to be greener on the other side but we do have an “okay” structure as far as the junior and senior programmes are concerned.

What is lacking is the focus on some of the basic things – like tightening up the transition from the junior to the senior ranks; ensuring a good future for the athletes; and winning the trust of the parents to encourage their children to take up sports.

In squash, the Egyptians are doing it the right way by pushing their youngsters to the fore. Previously, Egypt were nobody in squash. Now, they have a big pool of players at the highest level.

Our juniors are not even in the top 200 of the PSA (Professional Squash Association). We don’t see many beyond Nicol David, Low Wee Wern and Delia Arnold in women’s squash.

There is yawning gap. We need to encourage and empower our juniors to step up to the plate.

I work with the juniors now (through the nationwide squash academies) and I find that many parents are not supportive of their children’s sporting careers. 

After some time, the juniors give up to concentrate on their studies.

I don’t blame the parents, though.

They’re afraid to make any commitments because they do not see any security for their children in sports.

If an athlete makes it, it’s great. But that’s rare. If they don’t make it, they are in cold storage. 

So, what is the incentive for parents?

I believe there should be career counselling for every athlete. And this should be established at the National Sports Council (NSC).

There is a welfare department in NSC. That is good. But I think we should provide career counselling too for every athlete so that they know what to do – whether they make it or not in sports.

This career counselling should be introduced at every level – universities, clubs, academies and at state and national levels. They should be provided with career opportunities.

Athletes need not necessarily become coaches or physical trainers after their retirement. Theere are so many options – they can be involved in event management, business, teaching etc.

Someone needs to drive this at NSC. A former athlete at the helm would be great.

I am sure parents will allow their children to participate in sports if they know beforehand their children’s career paths. After all, the athletes’ life span is short and a detailed plan for their future is quite comforting.

I was an athlete before and I know how crucial this aspect is.

Out of 10 athletes, maybe two may make it. What about the rest? All cannot get a job at the NSC.

So, where have our former players gone? Remember former national No. 1 Leong Siu Lyn? She ended up being the deputy national women’s head squash coach in the United States.

Where are former pros Kenneth Low and Yap Kok Four? They have disappeared from the planet.

These former players could have done a great service to the nation by empowering the younger generation of players. 

That is why I like our Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s stand on local coaches. Khairy supports the local coaches and even encourages the associations to give them the same pay as the foreigners.

It also pays to increase the prize money for some of the sports events to keep our athletes interested and involved in the game for a long time.

I have managed to increase the prize money for all the junior circuit under my purview – to make it exciting and competitive. This is my way to support SRAM (Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia) because there is only so much that they can do.

Corporate sponsors usually do not want to be associated with development programmes, but this is where we need them most. If we want them to invest, we have to do our part and make our development programmes viable, marketable and worthy enough for them to be our partners.

It takes work, passion and dedication from all – the athletes, parents, coaches and sports officials – to make it happen.

If only we can fine-tune and tighten all these nuts and bolts, Malaysian sports can be a thriving industry.
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