Leaving no child behind at HotShotz football clinic
School teacher launches free football training programme for underprivileged and special needs kids
While budding young footballers in Singapore can choose from a plethora of academies to hone their skills, teacher-coach Shahul Hamid felt there was a lack of an inclusive, free grassroots option.
One that is open to special needs kids and those from lower-income families who may be priced out of private academies.
So the primary school teacher and football coach decided to plug the gap. In January, the 39-year-old launched HotShotz, a 1½ hour mixed-gender football clinic for kids aged between five and 12 on selected Saturdays at Victoria School.
To make it happen, Shahul, who has had success coaching the Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) football team, roped in his coaching mentor - former Brunei and Laos technical director Mike Wong - and contacted his alma mater via the Old Victorians' Association (OVA).
Former national goalkeeper Stephen Ng also helped get HotShotz up and running, before taking a back seat after becoming the national women team's coach last month.
Shahul told The New Paper: "We wanted to do something a bit different, more for the community and people who don't have access to sports. Because sometimes when you talk about school sports, it's basically the 16-20 that are chosen who get to go for training.
"So we are looking at those not chosen, those that don't have access to training...
"My wife works at an integrated pre-school which has special needs kids... (and) I noticed most of the time, they tend to lose out... I pushed for this programme to be inclusive because I want these kids to play football and have access to sport...
"Covid was a blessing that actually allowed us to conceptualise the idea and make it more concrete.
"Being a member of the OVA, I also knew they wanted to do something similar, so I tried to merge what OVA wanted to do with our expertise, in a sense."
To help the eight-member HotShotz coaching team learn how to tailor the programme to kids with special needs, Ng attended Republic Polytechnic's Introduction to Disability Sports course last year.
Shahul intends to take the course soon as well.
Among the 27 boys and five girls in the HotShotz programme, are two who are on the spectrum.
One of them is Ayden Kok, 10, who has high-functioning autism, and attends HotShotz together with his six-year-old neurotypical brother Nicolas.
Their mother Regina, 38, who works in human resources said: "As much as possible, I'm always trying to find opportunities for them to get exposed to different sports and get active.
"And another thing is to find somewhere both of them can go together so that they continue to have that shared experience.
"It's very rare to find opportunities and coaches who are able to cater to special needs and neurotypical kids."
Muhammad Ridwan - who signed up his grand-nephews Aliff Darda'i, 13, and Noh Emy Andiqa, six, - believes the free nature of the programme is important as "football shouldn't discriminate between the rich and the poor".
Participants pay only a one-time $60 fee for training attire and insurance. Shahul added that the OVA has offered to cover the cost for those who cannot afford it.
Ridwan, 48, who works in the hospitality line, added: "Their parents are happy they joined because they are more disciplined now. They are so excited that they get their gear prepared the night before."
While Shahul admits his coaching methods for the HotShotz kids are different to those he employs at school level due to the entry-level nature of the programme, he hopes to eventually adopt some of the techniques he uses with his TKPS team.
He led TKPS to the National School Games junior (Under-11) title in 2010 and 2017 and senior crown (Under-13) in 2018, before winning the U-10 division of the Inter-School Futsal Challenge in 2019.
Shahul, who teaches maths and science, utilises innovative methods such as employing drones to take videos during training to help his players visualise positional awareness.
He also gets his players to program Micro:bits - a small processor that pupils use to learn coding - as a step tracker so they can monitor their distance covered.
He said: "HotShotz is entry-level, we don't expect you to be able to even kick a ball, so it's quite different from coaching a school team...
"But Micro:bits is something we want to try in the future because I have seen that it is something that excites kids."
- For details, visit www.ova.org.sg/hot-shotz