In May, Singapore athletes did the nation proud by hauling home 51 gold, 43 silver and 64 bronze medals from the Southeast Asia (Sea) Games in Cambodia.
THE CHALLENGE WITH SELF-FUNDED SPORTS
Singapore has traditionally excelled in water sports, such as swimming and water polo.
Unfortunately, underwater hockey was not included in the most recent Sea Games.
Even though this was a bitter pill to swallow, my teammates and I continue to train together with the Underwater Hockey Association of Singapore to make this little known sport more accessible to the wider public.
But doing so also requires surmounting several sizable hurdles placed along our way.
For one, as a self-funded sport, each one of us has to cough up our own funds to purchase equipment and engage overseas coaches, even as we are all on the national team.
That also means having to attend overseas training camps in Australia, which are a fundamental part of our Sea Games preparations.
Over the six-month period leading up to the Sea Games, I had to fork out about S$15,000, which is a substantial sum for anyone.
The issue of sports funding is a tricky one, because there are realistically only two avenues where funds can come from — public and private.
But for lesser-known sports like underwater hockey, private sponsors aren’t necessarily keen, whereas public funds need to be directed judiciously to various sports.
Much has been said earlier this year about uphill challenges faced by self-funded athletes, such as the Singapore’s women tchoukball team that became the world number one despite the fact that the sport is also entirely self-funded.
I’m no expert on the nuances of sports funding, but I know what it is like for sportsmen to remain competitive in such an environment.
While most of my teammates and I could simply rely on the pay cheques from our day jobs, I know that some of my younger teammates struggled to raise funds.
One of them, in particular, was still schooling and she had difficulty paying for her flight ticket to competitions.
She would have lost the opportunity of representing Singapore, were it not for a few of her teammates from the women’s national team who came together and offered to help with her expenses.
The “catch” was that she had to pay it forward, and commit to coaching the next batch of promising athletes.
Funding isn’t the only challenge that we face.
For one, we need to train in the deeper middle section of swimming pools of Singapore, but because most pools only allow bookings along the length, and not the breadth, it’s hard to find suitable training venues.
It was frustrating having to contend with these logistical issues while also trying to be at the top of our game, such as the case for us in the 2019 Sea Games.
Despite all these challenges, which at times made me contemplate leaving the sport, I chose to stay on, because I firmly believe the future is bright for the sport.
JUGGLING WORK AND TRAINING
For me, I am also not spared from needing to juggle a corporate career with my sporting endeavours. As someone working in a bank, I have demanding nine-to-five work schedules.
Luckily, my employer DBS provided me with additional paid leave, which gave me the peace of mind and financial security to remain focused on the task of competing for Team Singapore.
But even then, the training commitment is significant. During non-competition periods, I still train about three to four times weekly. The frequency increases to about seven to 10 times weekly as we get closer to major competitions like the Sea Games or regional tournaments.
When there were tight work deadlines to meet, I would resume work after training, often from 10pm onwards.
As such, I am very grateful to work in an organisation and environment where everyone has been very supportive and understanding. It also helps that DBS’ family-friendly work culture and productivity tools enable me to work efficiently and effectively.
Juggling work commitments and pursuing your sporting goals may be tough, but not impossible.
First, make sure you surround yourself with a good support and social network.
For example, I worked out a win-win arrangement with a friend who happens to be a nutritionist, who can help me out with meal preps for the week.
Second, be flexible and adaptable.
This may involve rescheduling workouts to accommodate an important work meeting or modifying your training regime.
For team sports like underwater hockey, this may be easier said than done as I had to accommodate my schedules with others, who also have their own jobs or classes to contend with.
While keeping a flexible schedule may not be easy, it helps to be organised and be clear about one’s priorities, so that sudden changes and demands do not become a source of stress.
Which leads me to my final point, which is to learn how your body works and adapts to physical and mental stress, whether it is from work or from training.
Showing up for training is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining the discipline to monitor your vitals daily such as your resting heart rate, so that you know when to tailor your training and work schedules to the limits of what your body can withstand.
Knowing your body and adapting to its condition is instrumental to consolidate any gains to reach your sporting goals and at the same time, help to maintain energies at the workplace.
To me, this is the most important advice I can give for anyone who finds themselves in this position of being a full-time office worker and a part-time national sportsman.
Because if I do not get the balance right, all of this would be unsustainable, and I would have to eventually give up on my dreams.
As long as it is physically possible, I will continue to do my best to bring Singapore glory in the pool, while striving to achieve my personal career goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dale Liu Dongliang, 38, is a member of the Singapore Underwater Hockey National Team. He is currently working in DBS Bank’s Institutional Banking Group.