Part-time players, full-time passion
SINGAPORE — At the end of a regular workday, it would not be unusual to find netballer Premila Hirubalan making a quick dash from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to the Sports Hub’s OCBC Arena for evening training sessions with the Singapore team.
The veteran defender is a medical officer at SGH’s Department of Anaesthesiology and may be involved in as many as five operations a day. Her experience is typical of what the 12-strong national netball side goes through as players juggle training, work and school ahead of the South-east Asian (SEA) Games.
And managing part-time instead of full-time athletes has turned out to be the most tricky aspect of national coach Ruth Aitken’s job since she took up the role in August 2013.
“I have never coached part-time netballers before this and what I think is the hardest for Singaporean netballers and a lot of the Singapore athletes who are not full-time is the late-night training sessions,” said Aitken, 58, who coached her native New Zealand to victory at the 2003 World Championships.
“Taking the MRT after 10pm, then getting up early the next morning to go to work bright-eyed — I certainly realise the commitment these girls preparing for the SEA Games are giving to be part of the squad.
“For example, Kimberly (Lim) has exams in the week leading up to the tournament on Sunday and, luckily, they will finish just before it starts. We also have teachers in our team who are preparing their students for exams. I have to get the team pumped up and competition ready soon.”
When Aitken notices that some of her charges look worn out at training sessions, she would introduce games as part of their warm-up. Some would also approach her for advice on school and work, and she would provide a listening ear.
“I believe you coach the person and not just the netballer. Often, you can see some are tired or just down (when they arrive for training),” she said.
“So I start with something light-hearted such as different ball games — probably those that primary-school children play — and then progress to more strict and intensive training.”