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Aleksandar Duric

Football has given Aleksandar Duric everything he had hope for - now it is his turn to give back to the sport.

After a trophy-laden career, Aleksandar Duric now spends his time imparting life skills to his younger charges through his role with ActiveSG Football Academy. Photo: The Picture Suite

There was a time when the sight of Aleksandar Duric on a football pitch would strike fear in those around him. Towering slightly over 190 centimetres, the striker cut an intimidating figure as he bullied defenses into submission and plundered close to 350 goals for club and country during his 15 years playing in the Singapore Premier League and five years donning the national colours of the Lions.

These days, however, Duric is more a lovable figure than a marauding attacker. Not that it is a bad thing.

Now, 51, Duric is prolonging his time on the football pitch as the Principal of ActiveSG Football Academy (AFA). An initiative of national sports agency Sport Singapore, AFA has close to 2,000 youths, boys and girls, playing football at least once a week at 13 centres islandwide. The youth are split into three age groups - Preschool (3-6 years old), Cubs (7-12 years old) and Youth (13-16 years old) - and have up to three sessions a week.

As head of the AFA, his role is to promote football to young boys and girls regardless of their abilities, overseeing the delivery of the academy’s programmes with a team of partners and coaches.

As a professional football player, Duric was a serial winner, lifting eight SPL titles, a three-time Golden Boot and Player of the Year and was part of the national team that clinched the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup. But while winning is important, he explains that it is also crucial to instill the passion and joys of playing football, especially when coaching young children.

“Everybody wants to win but there is no patience,” said Duric. “I always tell my coaches, academy children and parents that it isn’t always about winning. It is about the performance of the team. Winning is important if you are coaching youth players at the age of 15 or 16. But younger kids should just come and enjoy playing football.”

Duric hopes that sports can feature and be part of every child’s daily life as it instills important character building traits. Photo credit: The Picture Suite

In the age of smartphones and tablets, Duric believes that the role of football, and sport in general, is becoming increasingly important yet absent from the lives of today’s youths.

He said: “Every child should have some type of sport in their life. Sports can shape their lives, especially a team sport. I grew up playing sports and it made me stronger and mentally more resilient.”

In the world of sport, Duric could be considered an overachiever. Apart from excelling in football, he also played basketball competitively in his hometown of Doboj, former Yugoslavia. He was also a champion kayaker. In fact, he was so good that he represented Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the C-1 500 metres canoeing event.

Values like commitment, perseverance, determination, are what Duric honed from his sporting endeavours. Similarly, he hopes young footballers will also pick up important character-building traits at the AFA, which is anchored on the values of discipline, respect and team spirit. AFA kids will also learn more than basic football skills as coaches will instill the importance of valuable life skills including communication, goal setting and problem solving through the game of football.

He said: “We teach the children football skills but we want them to grow up to be better citizens. We want them to have a good heart, succeed in football and studies and be strong men and women who contribute to society.”

“Our programmes are open to children from different backgrounds, cultures and religions. It is more than just football. Parents have come up to me and say that they have seen the difference of how their children behave more positively after joining the programme for six months.”

Duric wants to make football fun and enjoyable for every child even as he hopes to unearth the next football talent from AFA. Photo credit: The Picture Suite

The ActiveSG Football Academy is part of the multi-stakeholder national project Unleash the Roar!, which aims to improve the standards of Singapore football across all levels.

But while Duric would be proud if exciting talents emerge from the AFA, he believes that his first responsibility is to instill the love of football in children.

“Children must love football and from there, the possibilities are endless,” he said. “Maybe at the youth level, they might be selected for the national team but at this age, it is important that football is fun and enjoyable.

“We want our kids to have the passion of playing football and love playing the game. We want them to grow up and continue playing football with friends, watching the Singapore Premier League and supporting the teams or even working in the football eco-system.”

“Not everyone will become a professional footballer. But as long as they benefit from our programme, become better human beings as a result of being part of a team, working with others, that is a win in our books.”

By Jimmy Tan

November 16, 2021

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