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Singapore Sports Institute - Fostering Breakthroughs



As host country Singapore was expected to do well at the 28th SEA Games. When the Games came to a close after 12 heady days of competition, the final score left the nation amazed. Pint-sized Singapore had outclassed its larger neighbours by winning 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze medals – second only to Thailand in the gold medal tally and highest in the share of medals amongst the 11 competing countries. It was Singapore’s best performance at the SEA Games.

As the nation celebrated, few were more delighted than the team at the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI). As the team around Team Singapore, they had worked tirelessly with the athletes to realise their dreams.

Raising the Game
Set up in 2011, the SSI’s primary goal is to prepare the national athletes of Team Singapore and get them “as close to the podium” as possible. The institute’s initial presence was modest but with the completion of the Singapore Sports Hub in 2014, the SSI under its chief, Robert Gambardella, scaled up its capacity and capability enabling it to provide a holistic eco-system to help athletes optimise their talent and essentially reach an environment of potential and consistent breakthroughs.

At its 3,000-square-metre facility, the SSI’s 124-strong team applies “science and art” to enhance athletes’ performance through the direct application of leading-edge science, performance testing and monitoring, applied research, athlete counselling, career assistance and education.

Some of the key departments include:
• Sports Biomechanics – the study of professional athletic performance using sophisticated video and computer modelling techniques to help the athlete and coach to assess performance relative to an ideal model or performance target;
• Sports Nutrition Unit ensures athletes are getting the proper nutrition during training, competition and recovery by helping them to plan their diets;
• Sport Physiology studies and evaluates athletes’ body response to training, information which is invaluable in enabling physiologists to introduce training interventions to accelerate recovery after training or competition;
• Sport Psychology analyses mental and motivational factors that may limit sporting performance and helps apply strategies to overcome such factors;
• Strength and Conditioning looks at overall physical preparation to complement sport-specific skills development for better athletic performance; and
• High Performance Analytics provides a central database for collecting and sharing athletes’ data and videos, to impact objective decision making and efficient sports organisation management.

The SSI’s Sports Medicine Centre focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of injuries associated with athletic training and participation. Staffed by a multi-disciplinary team, which includes physicians, physiotherapists, sports trainers and sports masseurs, its range of services include acute injury management, competition medical support, injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Scaling Up
The SSI’s toolkit is being expanded. At its Human Performance Laboratory, two recent additions will further enhance athletes’ performance.

The Altitude house – a 100-square-metre live-in facility which can accommodate up to 16 people in four bedrooms – was completed in October 2015. It uses compressors to simulate a high-altitude environment. The thinner air forces the body to work harder to produce more red blood cells, which transport oxygen to the muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation and hopefully, better athletic performance, especially in endurance sports.

Next to the Altitude house is the environmental chamber, which allows athletes to train in high temperatures and in hypoxic conditions. Training in high temperatures ranging from 38 to 40 degrees Celsius helps athletes to do more through increased and faster blood circulation. It can also aid in their recovery by triggering muscles to protect them during high-intensity training.

Hypoxic training, which refers to training in low oxygen levels, allows athletes to carry more oxygen in the blood by increasing the amount of red blood cells. This enables them to push their bodies further than if they were to train at sea level.

Fostering Quality Partnership
As the “team around the team”, the SSI endeavours to smoothen the pathway for athletes beyond training. As athletes often have to juggle the dual demands of sport and career, the institute in late 2013 set up the spexBusiness Network to serve as a vehicle for the SSI to build quality relationship and mindshare between Corporate Singapore and Team Singapore.

Since its formation, 33 companies have come on board to create career development opportunities for athletes. Through the network, Team Singapore athletes today find themselves supported by a range of career options, from permanent positions in companies to apprenticeships and internships.

The SSI is continuing to build on this. Its latest initiative – spexEthos – is a teambuilding programme involving Team Singapore athletes and partners in the spexBusiness Network. It is a half-day session involving senior management and c-suite level officers and incorporates three components:
• Team Building Activities through sports such as dragon boating, kayaking, volleyball and even dance sports
• Corporate Wellness such as the SSI’s nutrition workshops and strength and fitness segments; and
• Interacting with Team Singapore athletes, hearing first-hand what motivates them in their quest for excellence

Following a successful pilot with committed partners Osim, Sequoia Group and Adidas, the team-building programme with a sporting excellence difference is being rolled out across the network, one company a month.