Sport schools: Shaping world-class athletes

Education Ministry sports director Dr Mehander Singh

Malaysia has produced remarkable and outstanding athletes using a 60-year-old triangle method

Grooming seemingly ordinary individuals to become world-class athletes is not for the faint-hearted, but the Education Ministry, working hand-in-hand with national sports bodies, has the eye to identify a diamond in the rough early on.

Utilising a 60-year-old triangle method of having a large pool of students sifted upwards as they excel, our national schools have produced athletes who have flown the Jalur Gemilang high and proud in foreign lands.

From this, five sports schools alone have produced more than 50 Olympians since the first one, Bukit Jalil Sports School, was opened in 1996.

This proves impressive for a baby nation of 32 million people, although still on the road to clinching its first Olympic gold medal since its involvement in the Games some seven years after achieving independence.

Education Ministry sports director Dr Mehander Singh told the New Sunday Times that churning out world-class athletes year after year was something people outrightly demanded, but they were clueless on the complexity of achieving it.

“Our pyramid system begins with the school population of roughly 5.2 million students, who compete at the most basic level, between classes and houses at their individual schools.

“As they go on, 800,000 of these student athletes manage to compete at district level, and subsequently 100,000 of them at state level.

“At the very top of the pyramid, at the national level, 12,000 to 14,000 student athletes in the country vie for a place as the nation’s best.”

This stable pyramid system ensures the best athletes start from the beginning, he added, identifying them early on and harnessing them to glory.

A prime example of this is Southeast Asia’s sprint king Khairul Hafiz Jantan, who rose from the ranks as an athlete at school level to international level.

The 19-year-old Melaka native ended Malaysia’s 14-year drought of a gold medal in the men’s 100m dash at the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games last year, clocking in 10.38 seconds.

Mehander said the country’s sports development had come a long way, paving the way for a cluster of today’s future athletes.

He also stressed that an element that would not be overlooked in the process of developing athletes was education, which was the reason sports schools primarily take academics very seriously.

“We try to find a balance between academics and sports. If their sports career does not pan out, they need something to fall back on.

“Their career track should be diversified and education should be for life.”

Zainal Aba

Zainal Abas

The ministry’s sports deputy director, Zainal Abas, said an athlete’s career was akin to high-jump; the athletes must have something to land on after they have reached their peak.

“While their sports career will not last until they are 50 or 60, their education lasts for a lifetime.

“This is why we prepare a platform for them in academics in addition to sports,” he said.

A typical day in the life of a sports school student, he elaborated, started as early as 6.30am, when they begin their two-hour training.

Their academic classes start from 9.30am and ends about noon. Three hours later, they start training again. They spend their nights studying and making up for those lost contact hours due to competitions.

“We want thinking athletes. If Brazil can have a medical doctor in its World Cup team, Dr Socrates, why should we deprive our own student athletes of education?” he said, adding that even during their international travels, student athletes had academic modules with them to ensure they were not left behind in their studies.


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