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ActiveSG Football Academy sets up centralised development centres to broaden base of young players

The best young prospects in the ActiveSG Football Academy (AFA) programme now have the opportunity to train together under the watchful eyes of the academy’s top coaches.

Dubbed DC+, or Development Centre+, the combined sessions for the best talent across all AFA centres take place every Thursday at St WIlfred Field for the Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 age groups. There are already combined AFA teams for older age groups which feature in competitions like the Puma Youth Champions League.

One of the new elements of the DC+ programme is the introduction of the Under-8 team, which is helmed by coaches Isa Haleem (left in black), Zahid Ahmad (middle in black) and Hyrizan Jufri (right in black). Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

DC+ will be an extension of the Grassroots+ programme, which have also been instituted at all AFA centres across Singapore.

While the bulk of AFA programmes cater to grassroots footballers, who train on Saturdays and Sundays, the best players from each grassroots programme are selected to form a Grassroots+ squad. For example, the best players in AFA Yishun will be selected to form Yishun Grassroots+.

The best from Yishun and across all AFA Grassroots+ programmes will then be invited to feature in the DC+.

Said AFA principal Aleksandar Duric: “We have had the DC programme before, but this is the first time we have a comprehensive programme catering to even the Under-8s.

“We recognise that there are many kids across our centres who display some potential. But training two times a week is not enough. We also need to create the right kind of training environment and surround the kids with others who are of equal or better abilities.”

Coaches Isa Haleem (standing, left) and Farhan Farook (standing, right) with the Under-10 squad. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

Former Lions stalwarts Fazrul Nawaz (back row, left) and Rafi Ali (back row in cap, right) with their Under-12 squad. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

While the combined sessions are currently only for boys, the plan is to introduce DC+ for girls soon.

Duric, who won the AFF Suzuki Cup with Singapore in 2012 and is the Singapore Premier League’s all-time record goalscorer, added that DC+ is to address a gap in the football ecosystem as Singapore ramps up youth development initiatives under the Unleash The Roar! national football project.

Currently, the best boys and girls train in the National Development Centre (NDC) - for those aged 13-16 - and the Junior National Development Centre (JNDC) - for those aged 8-12. Earning a spot in these national elite training squads is by merit, with the squads adopting a revolving-door policy. This ensures that kids who are not up to the mark will be sent back to the academies and clubs while those previously not selected can find their way into the programme.

Said Duric: “We have two primary roles at the DC+. One is to train a group of boys and girls who are ready to be called into the NDC and JNDC. The other is to be a place where kids who fall out of the national elite programme can come and continue to train at a higher level.

“In youth football, kids develop at different levels and speed. It is important to build a football ecosystem where these kids can continue to play and train at a high level throughout their football development, both at the elite level and at the level just below that.

“It creates competition for the kids to be on their toes at all times and also builds a broad enough base such that there are multiple ways to the top. We don’t want to just put all our eggs in one basket.”

Apart from football drills and small-sided games, the AFA sessions also see the kids go through agility and ball mastery sessions. With former internationals like Duric, midfield maestro Rafi Ali and tricky winger Steven Tan among some of the DC+ coaches, the kids get to learn from coaches who are real masters at the craft.

Lucian Ker, in full flight and he breezes through his jumping exercise. Apart from football sessions, the kids are put through agility and ball mastery drills. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

Eight-year-old Crish Goh in action during the DC+ training. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

One boy who has benefitted from the DC+ sessions is Lucian Ker. The 8 year old from AFA Kembangan also plays for the Lion City Sailors football academy.

Said his father Edwin: “Lucian loves the game so every opportunity he can get to learn from others and get better is great for him.

“Personally, one aspect that I really like about the DC+ programme is its good mix of coaches. It doesn’t just have coaches who are great with grooming young kids. But it also has coaches who have played the game at a high level, who can bring that something extra because of their experience and the special attention they pay to technique.”

The DC+ programme brings a good mix of youth coaches and former internationals like Rafi Ali whose experience and focus on technique help build well-rounded young players. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

Added Duric: “Ultimately our aim is to instill a good foundation in these kids such that if the opportunity comes for them to go on to a bigger stage, they will be ready for the challenge.”

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