In land-scarce Singapore, the biggest challenge for any private football academy is to secure enough pitches to run their programmes. For Jimmy Beh, founder of First Kick Academy, that is where Sport Singapore’s Associate Partner Scheme (APS), has been a big help in enabling him to provide his young footballers with the space and opportunities to continue their football development.
APS partner First Kick Academy utilises Punggol Secondary School as their training facility. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
Said Mr Beh: "We were drawn to the Associate Partner Scheme due to its alignment with our core mission of providing quality football development for young players. The stability of having dedicated training facilities was a major consideration for us, and in October 2021, we officially became the first football academy to be recognised as an Associate of ActiveSG Football Academy. This partnership allowed us to secure a consistent and reliable training ground, enhancing the training experience for our players while fostering a sense of camaraderie among the parents."
The APS was one of 15 recommendations made by SportSG in 2019 under the V2030 initiative, which aims to help people lead healthier, happier lives through sport.
The key components of the APS include:
Grow number of quality and affordable children/youth programmes
Extend reach island-wide and at community level
Enhance vibrancy of events & competitions
Improve coaching standards
Jimmy Beh, Founder of First Kick Academy, assisting at a training session. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
Before joining APS two years ago, securing appropriate and consistent training venues was often a challenge for First Kick Academy. It had to resort to operating at various venues on an ad-hoc basis. This posed uncertainties in training schedules, and occasionally, disruptions occurred due to non-availability of training facilities. This situation made it difficult for them to provide a seamless training experience for their youth footballers and families.
"The partnership has significantly transformed our operations at First Kick Academy,” said Mr Beh. “With the assurance of a dedicated training facility provided by SportSG (for eg, Punggol Secondary School field on Saturday afternoons), we can now focus entirely on delivering quality football training. This has led to smoother scheduling, enhanced program delivery, and improved overall experience for both players and parents. Our coaches have also benefited from priority access to coaching courses, which has further elevated our coaching standards.
First Kick Academy trainees hold a rallying call during their training session. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
With the APS partnership, First Kick Academy now has immediate access to booking fields under the Dual-Use Scheme, which comprises 49 outdoor fields and 128 Indoor Sport Halls, located in primary, secondary schools and junior colleges.
Added Mr Beh: "The feedback from parents and trainees has been overwhelmingly positive. The stability offered by the APS partnership has instilled a sense of trust and reliability in our program. Parents appreciate that their children can pursue their passion for football without disruptions due to venue availability. Trainees feel more motivated and committed as they can consistently engage in training, leading to visible improvements in their skills and development."
Key mechanisms of Associate Partner Scheme. Image by Sport Singapore
Mr Beh urges other private football academy operators like him, to see how APS can help their programmes."I strongly encourage other academies to seriously consider joining the APS initiative. This program goes beyond addressing the crucial requirement for consistent training facilities – it acts as a springboard to bolster credibility and gain access to invaluable coaching resources. By becoming an APS partner, academies can devote themselves wholeheartedly to nurturing players, while simultaneously contributing to the broader advancement of football in Singapore.
Moreover, the APS scheme has significantly elevated our academy's standing, a feat that has stemmed from its recognition by SportSG. As APS partners, we undergo a thorough assessment from SportSG, which leads to us being acknowledged as reputable contributors to football development in Singapore. This recognition serves to reinforce the attractiveness of joining the APS initiative, as the public holds it in high regard.”
Jimmy Beh having a casual discussion with the parents of the Academy trainees. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng
As the founder of First Kick Academy, Mr Beh also believes there are a few additional aspects which could be implemented in the APS scheme, so as to enhance its impact even further.
(1) Enhancing Community Engagement
One suggestion for the APS scheme's future development is to facilitate collaborative events or workshops among APS partners. This approach would foster a stronger sense of camaraderie and shared learning within the academy community. By coming together, we can exchange best practices, innovative coaching techniques, and strategies for optimizing player development.
(2) Empowering Outreach Initiatives
An exciting prospect is for First Kick Academy to take the lead in organising outreach programs that target the broader community and underprivileged children. Football has the potential to create positive societal impact, and by leveraging the support of SportSG in terms of funding or co-funding, these initiatives could be greatly expanded. This effort would ensure that more young talents, regardless of their socio-economic background, can access and benefit from our structured training programs, thus opening doors for their growth and development.
APS participant Soaring Dreams Football Academy utilises Canberra Secondary School as their training facility. Photo by Soaring Dreams FA
Another APS participant is Soaring Dreams Football Academy. It's one of the fastest expanding football academies in Singapore, with training specially designed for kids aged between 5 and 12.
Deniel Ong (CEO & Academy Director), explains their journey with the APS : "Our main objective is to provide a training environment as close as competitive matches, for our competitive team. Previously, we have been having our sessions at sheltered pitches around Singapore. Then last year, we started to form our competitive classes and competed in the ESPZEN League last season. As our competitive teams prepare for the various tournaments, we want them to have a training experience similar to the outdoor conditions as what they would experience in those tournaments."
Soaring Dreams FA, under the APS tieup, has managed to fully utilize the pitches to full extent. This is by incorporating, not just the competitive squads but also the developmental classes. These are largely made up of students staying in the neighbourhood around their Canberra Sec School training ground.
A group of kids training at Soaring Dreams FA. Photo by Soaring Dreams FA
As to whether APS requires any new amendments, Deniel feels an online system in place, could be much better, than the current manual process. Bookings can be done online with real-time updates so academies can know immediately if the venue is available or not.
APS partner Real Madrid Foundation Football School trainees at Dunman High School. Photo by Real Madrid Foundation Football School
Real Madrid Foundation Football School has also benefited from APS
The APS Scheme has also helped Real Madrid Foundation Football School (RMFFS) in their efforts to reach more children. The School's Director Chau Wei Jiea said that the APS tieup benefits both parties.
He said, "Real Madrid Foundation Football School could gain enhanced access to Singapore's growing sports market, while SportSG benefits from the expertise and resources brought by an internationally acclaimed football institution. The partnership established is expected to firmly root a global sporting powerhouse in Singapore, and to create new opportunities for the local football community and foster the growth of the sport in the region.
The Real Madrid Foundation is known for its world-class coaching programs and the Real Madrid Foundation Football School is the only football school in Singapore that has UEFA Pro Coaches. By partnering with SportSG, access is enabled to top-notch coaching expertise, which aligns with SportSG's goal of developing football excellence in Singapore. Singapore's football landscape can also benefit from exposure to international best practices. The involvement of Real Madrid Foundation Football School can introduce Singaporean players, coaches, and fans to the club's successful footballing philosophies and methodologies.
The RMFFS often engages in community outreach programs globally. Being an Associate Partner with SportSG allows the Real Madrid Foundation Football School to extend its community initiatives in Singapore further, promoting the values of teamwork, discipline, and healthy living through football. We are also desirous to extend the partnerships to basketball. This year, 2023, the first Basketball School of Real Madrid Foundation has been established in Singapore."
A group of trainees and their parents at Dunman High School in Tanjong Rhu. Photo by Real Madrid Foundation Football School
How has the APS scheme benefitted the Foundation’s needs?
Mr Chau highlighted that through APS, the Foundation gains access to designated DUS football fields on weekends. He said : "This access provides the necessary infrastructure to conduct our football training sessions and events. The APS allows for consistent availability of field usage. This predictability is crucial for planning the Real Madrid Foundation Football School's football training programs, ensuring that we can meet the needs of our participants, whether they are youth players or aspiring coaches.
Real Madrid Foundation Football School can use the allocated field time to run our football development programs. These programs include training sessions, coaching program, and talent identification initiatives, all of which contribute to the growth of football in the local community. The availability of football fields through the APS enables the Real Madrid Foundation Football School to engage with the local community. They can organize events, open training sessions, and friendly matches to promote the sport and instill values such as teamwork and sportsmanship among participants."
So far, in the pilot stage, the Real Madrid Foundation Football School has been granted access to one football field on Sundays. And at the allocated DUS field where they train weekly, they have attained great success especially in their Inaugural Galacticos Challenge. That is where players, and several first timers, can experience competitive football.
Ultimately, the APS scheme has aligned with the Real Madrid Foundation Football School's mission of promoting football excellence and values. It provides them with a key training resource, allowing them to positively impact the local football community.
A group of trainees at Real Madrid Foundation Football School's DUS facility - Dunman High School. Photo by Real Madrid Foundation Football School.
Acknowledging that the APS needs to also balance public opinion, RMFFS' Director Mr Chau has suggested potential changes (see below) that could be considered to enhance the partnership scheme:
Extend Field Availability to Weekdays: Providing weekdays field availability would allow accommodating a wider range of participants, in particular more competitive players who need to train more than once a week. This will also allow them to enhance their engagement in community related programs like the Delta league.
Jointly Operated Facilities: Partnering with SportSG to operate football facilities could be of mutual interest. It provides partners with high-quality facilities, thereby contributing to better training experiences and encouraging more youth to engage in the sport. With an able partner that can well utilize the facilities, multiple elements, such as high performance training, adoption of training technology, fan engagement, community engagement, can be adopted to expound the sporting appeal of Singapore to the world-at-large, potentially elevating the global optics of Singapore as a sporting hub.
Community Engagement Support: Additional support from SportSG for community engagement initiatives could include collaboration on grassroots programs to expand our social outreach. Perhaps the local engagement criteria of the APS can also be adjusted to promote social integration,which is also a PA promoted initiative, to support social harmony by having a platform where social mingling between locals and foreigners is encouraged.
Collaborative discussions with SportSG would likely be the ideal approach to assess and implement any modifications to the APS scheme in the best interest of both parties and the local football community.
For the list of free-to-play DUS fields that are available on most weekends, click here
Story by Raj Kumar