SINGAPORE — The School Football Academy (SFA) initiative - part of the Unleash The Roar! (UTR!) national football project to rebuild the sport's foundation in Singapore - was officially launched at Jurongville Secondary School on Saturday (23 July).
The initiative, which was first announced in November 2021 following a partnership agreement with Spanish top-tier league LaLiga, seeks to uplift and strengthen the football programmes in the schools with 10 such SFAs chosen.
Besides having LaLiga coaches working alongside local ones, other key features of the programme include increased training frequencies – up to four times a week from the average of two - and the application of sports science to training.
More than 100 young footballers took part in a friendly competition at Jurongville on Saturday, with teams coming from all 10 SFAs, as the initiative was launch by Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
"The SFAs are one of the most important building blocks in the UTR! programme – we can only have strong national teams if we have a broad base of players to choose from, as well as young athletes who have sound fundamental skills," said Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and chairman of the UTR! executive committee.
Key pipeline in producing technically-sound footballers
The SFAs will serve as a key pipeline to produce technically-sound footballers at the ages of 17 and 18, when most footballers begin their professional careers.
Through the programme, the number of young players receiving elite training at the Under-15 and Under-17 levels is set to increase to about 1,400 secondary school boys and girls, close to triple the current 500.
SFA footballers will be schooled under the National Football Curriculum, where they will learn to adopt a possession-based, high-tempo playing style that is suited for success in today’s modern game.
During Saturday's launch, parents and stakeholders met the 23 SFA coaches who have been working behind the scenes with the student athletes since January.
Angel Toledano Flores, who had worked as head coach and technical director of Spanish giants Barcelona's academies, heads the SFA initiative. He said, "(The students') passion and commitment to improving themselves is commendable. This is a good start in developing football here.
“I am also excited with the comprehensive approach where I work collectively with all coaches, teachers and sports scientists to help these young footballers fulfil their dreams."
More match opportunities, overseas stints
While it may be early days in the long-term SFA project, there have already been promising signs. For instance, Montfort Secondary School - one of the 10 schools selected to house the SFA - reached the National School Games North Zone B Division football final for the very first time.
Said Montfort SFA’s midfielder Jairus Owl, "We are training more frequently than before, but we also learnt how to take charge of our own recovery and nutrition. My teammates and I are consciously doing this so that we stay focused on the field and in class. This has helped us play better football."
Under the SFA programme, players will get to play more matches and regularly compete with both local and international teams. To that end, a tournament involving SFAs is being planned for early next year at the National Stadium.
The first batch of the brightest SFA talents will also be heading for an overseas training stint later this year, as part of plans to have a multi-faceted scholarship programme to send the best footballers for both short-term attachments and longer-term football scholarships.
In addition to football, student athletes in the SFA will benefit from a curriculum that also emphasises character development such as teamwork, responsibility, discipline and time management.
Former Singapore national defender Baihakki Khaizan, whose son Mika is training at the SFA in Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), welcomes such plans.
"For us as parents, it’s very reassuring to learn of these plans and opportunities that are available for our children," he said.
“As a former player, I am glad that even at this young age, Mika is getting the sports science and analytics help that is often reserved for professional athletes. Such support will go a long way in helping our children progress as footballers, but of course, they must also find that motivation from within to stay the course and be committed."
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