08 June 17 The Straits Times by HO CAI JUN
The national water polo men's team will be counting on insider knowledge at this week's Singapore Water Polo Challenge Cup which starts today.
Two players Yip Yang and Chow Jing Lun spent three months in January training in Serbia, footing the bill themselves, to improve their skills ahead of the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
Serbia is a powerhouse in water polo and won every major title (European Championship, World Championship, World Cup, World League and the Olympic Games) last year.
Their Under-20 squad, Iran's senior team and Australia's University of New South Wales West Magpies water polo club are in town for the round-robin tournament at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. The top two will advance to Sunday's final.
The three-month stint was hugely beneficial, said Chow. He and Yip trained with VK Radnicki Kragujevac and played in the Serbian Water Polo League B, just one tier below the top league.
Chow, a 23-year-old Nanyang Technological University student, said: " The kids there are extremely disciplined. Every day 30 minutes before training they'll be there on the dot to start warm-up. If you're one minute late, the whole team will scold you."
He noted the Serbs have more competitive experience despite being younger. At 16, the Eastern Europeans were playing six leagues a year while most Singapore players participate in half that number.
Generally, their game sense is better than what we have here. If you have more game sense, you can recognise situations faster; you're reacting faster than everyone.
CHOW JING LUN, who with Yip Yang trained in Serbia for three months.
Chow said: "Generally, their game sense is better than what we have here. If you have more game sense, you can recognise situations faster; you're reacting faster than everyone."
Singapore coach Dejan Milakovic, who coached Serbia's youth and B teams, is a product of this system and hopes to use this experience in his new role.
This is the 34-year-old's first big tournament since his appointment in February. He said: "When it comes to a high level of competition, we still don't respond too well compared to the Serbs because they're together for a longer time in the clubs and national team, and they are following a system that we're still making (ourselves)."
His other immediate task will be to preserve Singapore's winning streak at the SEA Games in August. The Republic's men have won every gold medal (26 in a row) since 1965.
He said: "For the SEA Games, this team will be ready. These boys are motivated, they're training more than ever in their life.
"It's much more important to be (at a) higher level. What we're missing the most (to be better) is quality training against quality teams."
National captain Loh Zhi Zhi said: "Preparation under coach Dejan is entering full swing, we look forward to the challenge in KL and to make our nation proud once more."