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Star Ex-footballers helping to groom next generation of players

It was a lineup that left football fans excited. On the wings, Steven Tan, the supersub from the Malaysia Cup days, and Samawira Basri, who once scored against English giants Tottenham Hotspur.

In midfield, you had two of Singapore’s most cultured playmakers in recent years, Rafi Ali and Lee Man Hon pulling the strings while Isa Halim, a hard-tackling former Singapore captain, provided the steel in the middle.

In defence, evergreen Daniel Bennett was a pillar of strength, and in attack, one of the most deadliest strikers to put on the Lions jersey, Aleksandar Duric led the line.

ActiveSG Football Academy Aleksandar Duric briefing participants at the first-ever three-day skill specific football holiday programme during the June school holidays.

The lineup of some of the who’s who in Singapore football gathered on the same pitch two weeks ago not for a football match, but for perhaps something even more important – grooming the next generation of Singapore footballers.

The ex-internationals, now all coaches with the ActiveSG Football Academy (AFA), along with other prominent former players-turned coaches like Richard Bok, Hyrizan Jufri, Zahid Ahmad, Jeremy Chiang and Tina Afrida, were some of the star coaches in AFA’s first-ever three-day skill specific school holiday programme.

The coaches put over 100 children from the ages of 8-12 through the paces of dribbling, passing and shooting from June 12-14 at the Jalan Besar Stadium. Coaches focused on teaching the youths the finer art of each skill for a day before playing in small-sided game to apply what they have learnt.

Parents could opt to attend all three master classes or select specific ones that suited their kids’ needs. They could also send their children to half-day or full-day classes.

The young footballers also participated in classroom football sessions where they were shown examples of good passages of play and quizzed on football trivia.

The flexibility of the programme was very attractive to parents such as Mdm Phua Chiew Khim, whose sons Joban, 8, and Jeevan, 10, were among the enthusiastic participants of the programme.

Said Mdm Phua: “I like how parents could choose to pick one day, two or even all three days. As a holiday programme, I also found it very helpful that I could drop my kids off in the morning and pick them up at the end of the work day.”

The one thing that parents and participants were unanimous about was how it was nice and comforting to see that so many recognisable names behind the development of the young players.

One of the perks of having famous ex-footballers like (from top left) Zahid Ahmad, Lee Man Hon and Rafi Ali as your coach is that you get to learn from them as well as take pictures with them, as eight-year-old participant Jakob Lim did here.

Said Jakob Lim, 8, who hopes to become a national footballer one day: “My father showed me some of the goals my coaches scored when they were playing for Singapore.

“It is cool that I get to train and learn from them.”

Mr Fakhruddin Md Hanapi and his wife Chan Ying Ying said their children Nur Fatehah, 8, and Noor Khalifah, 9, found the sessions very enjoyable.

Said Mr Fakhruddin: “It’s a great to see the kids so engaged for all three days. Credit to the coaches for making the sessions both informative and fun.”

It was not all work and no play as coaches such as Jeremy Chiang (top left) and Zahid Ahmad made sure to introduce fun elements in their training to engage the young footballers.

AFA principal Duric said that he has received positive feedback from parents about the camp and will be planning for a similar session during the year-end school holidays.

He said: “It was our first time doing a three-day full-day camp. But I think the response showed that both the parents and children found it useful.”

Duric added that while the first masterclass programme was for young footballers of varying abilities, future ones could be tailored to players of different skill levels to ensure the children get the most of the sessions.

He said: “With the Unleash The Roar! initiative, we want to make sure young players have good fundamental skills before they become 13. Such masterclasses, by some of the best players to wear a Singapore jersey, can be a great complement to the training they are already getting at their academies and schools.

“Our coaches can both demonstrate how to do a skill well, and also give them advice of how to apply it to a game setting as they have all played at a high level.”

One other benefit of having former star players coach the next generation of football hopefuls?

Easy access for selfies and wefies.

Said Mdm Phua, as she posed for a selfie with Rafi: “I used to watch Rafi play at the National Stadium all the time during the Malaysia Cup. Last time, it was not so easy to take selfies.”

She then added with a laugh: “But now, with all the big names coaching our kids, it’s a treat to be able to meet and talk to them.”

ActiveSG Football Academy has opened registration for the AFA 2023 Season 3 programme. Members of the public may register via the ActiveSG app. Visit for more details.

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