Tommy Koh: It's a problem that many of our leaders lack faith in local talent

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The following answer was posted in Quora to the question, ‘What do Singaporeans feel about Joseph Schooling winning Singapore’s first Olympic gold in the 100m butterfly?’.


02Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large for the Government of Singapore, has said in a Facebook post that “many of our leaders in both the public and private sectors lack faith in our own talent”, and that it is a problem.

Prof Koh was commenting on what National Swimming Coach Sergei Lopez said about Singapore lacking belief in themselves.

“The problem with Singaporeans in general is that they don’t believe in themselves, as coaches, as individuals, that they can be the best, or lead people to be the best. There is no secret potion, or secret recipe (to success).

“I’ve said before: Singapore can become like Hungary, like Denmark — you can become one of the best (in swimming). You are a small nation, but we have proved in 18 months too that somebody like (Quah) Zheng Wen can go to two Olympic semi-finals (100m, 200m butterfly). He had the talent before too, but he was not in the environment of believing that he could do it.

“So somebody like him (Quah), and the NTC (national training centre) squad kids, they now believe in that (making their mark on the world stage). They have been exposed to that (way of thinking) for the last two years almost. It is a matter of continuing to nurture that.

“(But) people only support people when they’re on the top. It’s important for (the athletes) to know that you support them all the time. You guys have a lot of possibilities (if you do that).

“(What I hope to see improved) is for Singaporeans to believe in Singaporeans. The answer is not a foreign coach,” he said. “And I’m not just talking about swimming. You don’t just import a foreign coach and make things happen.

“(The candidates) are thinking that, oh Singapore is a rich country and I am going to make a lot of money. People come here to make money, some of them are old coaches, and it is the last job in their lives. So why not?

“But once they face issues, they leave. So you are going into a vicious circle of not allowing your own countryman to lead. Take a chance (on your own man).

“But if Singaporeans believe and think, I can be like Bob Bowman (American swim king Michael Phelps’ long-time coach for over 20 years), why not? You need to work hard, fall down, stand up and repeat. That is most important.

“People asked me how they can find a substitute for me. Gary (Tan) has a lot to learn, but he has coached many kids to be successful for many years. Gary, in the last 18 months, has a slightly different thought process now. It is not about a different kind of training, or the science behind training. It is how you deal with somebody. When you create an understanding with your athlete with that human touch, the by-product of that is success.

“I am not trying to put anybody down (but) the Chinese culture is that — is about numbers. When the kids don’t produce results, you go on to the next kid. We cannot be like that. You are a small nation with about five million, you have to nurture everyone. How could you have built such a powerful country in 50 years? Because somebody believed and somebody pushed very hard. It was one person.

“I sure hope Singapore capitalises on what has happened (first Olympic gold medal) and establishes itself as a top sports nation in the world the same way Singapore has done financially and educationally.” – Sergei Lopez