SINGAPORE – Finding activities that both her sons could do together has always been challenging for Regina Chong as many programmes were unable to take in her older son Ayden, who is on the autism spectrum.
But since January, Ayden, 10, and his younger brother Nicolas, six, have been attending football training sessions at Victoria School on Saturdays as part of the HotShotz Programme, a community football initiative by the Old Victorians’ Association (OVA), the alumni association of Victoria School and Victoria Junior College.
Speaking at the official launch of the programme on Saturday (April 17), Ong said: “They were able to take my two boys together which was important for me because it’s very hard to be able to find a programme that’s able to take both of them together.
“They don’t spend a lot of time together on weekdays because Ayden is in the afternoon session and the younger one is in the morning session, so it’s good that they are spending the weekends together.”
The initiative is the brainchild of OVA member Shahul Hamid Abdul Majeed, who wanted to find a way for children to embrace sport. But the Tanjong Katong Primary School teacher and football coach also wanted to make sure that it gave children with special needs and those from lower-income families the opportunity to play.
So the 39-year-old worked together with former Brunei and Laos technical director Mike Wong, former national goalkeeper Stephen Ng, who is the national women’s team coach, and the OVA to come up with the programme for children aged five to 12.
He said: “My wife is teaching in a pre-school that is integrated. From there, I realised that some of these kids do very little sport, not because they don’t want to, but because the access is not there. When we wanted to start this, besides it being a community programme, it had to be inclusive.”
The programme, which has 32 participants, is free to attend although participants have to pay $60 for training attire and insurance. But the OVA covers the cost for those who are unable to afford it.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) unveiled a new national project called “Unleash the Roar!” to grow local football with the aim of sending the Lions to the 2034 World Cup last month and its general secretary Yazeen Buhari believes programmes like HotShotz play a crucial role in encouraging youths to play the sport.
He said: “If you look at academies, not just this one, it’s for the purpose of the kids getting out there to play. But what this does is that it gives a clear indication that there’s a pathway for a kid coming in at this age group, at five, and this is the progression you make.
“I am both heartened and thankful to see Victoria School stepping up to offer its facilities for a worthy cause. If we want to create an ecosystem of a football-playing nation, academies like HotShotz form the cornerstone for our youth players to start their journey into the sport.”
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