Polo boys plot Asiad success
Solid foundation, regular exposure to high-quality sparring partners key as team aim for top-four finish
First, the foundational work, from fitness to technical skills and the blooding of youngsters.
Then, regular, quality sparring partners in the new year, coupled with overseas training trips and competitions.
The details are still being worked out, but that is the overarching blueprint for the national men's water polo team in the coming year, as they work towards a top-four finish at the Asian Games in Indonesia next August.
Singapore Swimming Association vice-president (water polo) Samson Tan even suggested, in an earlier press interview, that the team are capable of winning a medal in Indonesia.
The polo boys last achieved a top-four finish at the continental level at the 1990 Asiad, with their last medal - a bronze - coming four years before that.
The team finished fifth at the last Asiad in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014.
"Right now, we are getting the boys to maintain their weight, strength and fitness, and things will start getting tough from November," said team manager and former national player Lee Thin Cheong at the OCBC Aquatic Centre last night.
"Next year, we are planning to invite foreign teams to come train with us, at least once a month, and are looking at a training stint in Serbia before going to a competition in Prague in May."
Lee added that the team had benefited from increased exposure to foreign teams this year in the lead-up to August's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where they won their 27th consecutive gold medal.
Before the Games, the team had travelled to Japan for training and also competed in the Singapore Water Polo Challenge Cup at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in June, which featured foreign squads such as Iran and Serbia's Under-20 teams.
The appointment of former Yugloslavia youth national player Dejan Milakovic as the men's national coach in February also had a positive impact on the team.
"He instilled more discipline in the team, focusing on punctuality and cutting out jokes and unnecessary talking during training," said Chiam Kun Yang, who will skipper the team at the Fina World Men's Water Polo Development Trophy in Malta next week.
"Because of that discipline he instilled in us, our defence was solid during the SEA Games, although we still need to work on the creativity of our attack."
Assistant national coach and former national captain Eugene Teo concurred on the team's weakness, and added that the team had been looking to improve on that aspect ahead of next week's Fina tournament.
Teo and Milakovic are also aiming to blood five new players in Malta next week, with 16-year-old Kai Olafson the youngest of the lot.
Teo said: "This trip also serves as a bridging competition between the seniors and the juniors, such that the juniors can gain more experience and close the gap (in standards) with the seniors.
"This would create more competition (for places) in the team, and everyone can push one another further."
Singapore are grouped with Uruguay, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Austria and Peru in Group A in the Fina tournament, with the Philippines the only other Asean team in the 12-country competition.
Despite the number of youngsters on the team, Teo has high hopes for the squad, in their first competition since their successful SEA Games campaign two months ago.
He said: "We are still looking for a result there, and we have set a top-four target in Malta.
"Every time we go for a competition, it's not just, 'I want the players to gain some experience', we also have to be held responsible and accountable for the decisions we make."