Shaping the Culture of Winning

It is a well-known fact that coaches play a pivotal role in shaping the culture of winning in teams that they lead through the way they communicate and inculcate values. Mike Krzyzewski, the USA gold-medal winning basketball team head coach shared that “effective teamwork begins and ends with communication”. Aspiring rookie Coach, Khairul Anwar, speaks to 2 renowned national coaches to find out about their secrets to shaping this culture of winning.  

Sergio with coaching staff

Sergio with coaching staff

Sergio Lopez, Head Coach, Singapore Swimming Association 
Hailing from Barcelona, Spain, Sergio Lopez Miro attached a strong personal meaning to swimming as the sport has given him a path in life, something that is beyond ordinary.  In 1988, he won the bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Sergio started his coaching career at a small club, teaching children at various age groups. He then moved to the United States of America and went to coach at The Bolles School where he stayed for over 7 years. Stepping down as the Head Coach of Bolles in 2014, Sergio inked a 5-year contract as the Head Coach of Singapore Swimming Association (SSA). 

Shaping Culture

Sergio feels that coaching is more than a job, it is a ‘calling’ and a way of life as it is a round-the-clock commitment.  Known as Coach Sergio to his charges, he believes that being a coach is not just about training an athlete. The ability to plan ahead of schedule, work hand in hand with sports scientists and going the extra mile to study the swimmers performance beyond working hours are important attributes a coach should have. Being a thinking coach who is able to understand the swimmers and know what obstacles are faced by the coach and athlete is also important. Sergio shared that creating a positive coach-swimmer relationship is important through sharing and counselling. Coaches need to proactively engage with both the athletes and their parents. They need to make time to educate the parents to establish an understanding with them; and be willing to learn from the feedback and opinions given to them. 

Sergio with Team Singapore

Sergio with Team Singapore Swimmer

Recruitment of the Right People: Traits of a good coach
With a strong belief in empowering people, Sergio shared three important traits a coach should have. The first important trait of a good coach is having the love to talk and share their experience and opinions. The second trait is the willingness to learn from past experiences. The third is not to be afraid of hard work. Sergio encourages coaches to communicate and give feedback, paving a two-way communication between athletes, parents and coaches so that they can understand each other better. 

Coaching Philosophy:
When asked about his coaching philosophy, Sergio stated that it is not about telling the athletes what to do but to customise the coaching methods to what they need.  It is important to understand the key influences within an athletes’ life as they are part of their identity and support network.  Two other key factors include the knowledge of behavioural science and sports science. Behavioural science helps to understand the athletes’ behaviours and motivations. The understanding of Sports Science allows coaches to analyse and improve performance. However, Sergion emphasised the need to strike a balance, “Neither allow science to take over you nor forget that science can help you out”. 

Neo on the sidelines by Brandon Wong
Neo Beng Siang, Head Coach, Singapore Slingers
Not many will switch from football to basketball or vice versa. But one man actually did, and now he is the current Head Coach of the Singapore Slingers. Neo Beng Siang, who is also known as Coach Neo, participated in multiple sports during his secondary school days. Neo’s foray into football was prematurely terminated by his parents due to the social stigma of mixing with bad company. He decided to switch to basketball and managed to qualify for the school team.  

Coaching Journey
Coach Neo started his basketball career at a club level and was promoted from junior to senior team. His coach told him to assist in guiding the junior team and it spurred his interests further. Coaching became a calling for Neo when he retired  as a player. He was then approached to coach the Singapore Police Force’s Basketball Team. 

Neo on the sidelines in the huddle

Shaping Culture
Using his past experience from his former coach, Neo always works on the basic fundamental drills, techniques and practices. When asked on how he keeps the team together, Neo said that it is more of a reinforcement and adaptation to their needs. He converses typically with individuals and teams to understand their roles and motivations. He feels that there is a need to establish a sense of control as some players tend to behave inappropriately or arrogantly. Besides the usual routines in basketball, Neo includes cross-sports learning such as badminton and rugby, for the players to bond and improve their movements.

Coaching Philosophy
Two words that are repeatedly used by Coach Neo are “Believe” and “Trust”. He shared that as a coach, you must have a strong desire, fighting spirit and willingness to learn from others. For Neo, he would seek advice from his former assistant coach and mentor, Michael Johnson. He believes in harnessing the powers of Sports Medicine and Sports Science for performance enhancement,  particularly in the areas of nutrition, sports psychology and strength and conditioning – of which he thinks have contributed to the Slingers’ success. 
Neo believes that there is a need to develop more young talents and grow the number of quality players for national team and Singapore Slingers. His belief in youth development led him induct a few youth rookies into the ASEAN Basketball League. 

As a rookie coach, I learnt from my interviews with Coach Sergio and Coach Neo that maintaining an open communication channel is one of their key attributes to cultivate a winning culture.  They had avail themselves to their athletes, the athletes’ parents, fellow coaches and other support staff. Their sheer willingness to share and commit their time is deeply admirable. I hope that this will inspire not only fellow young coaches who have just embarked on their coaching journeys but also motivate current coaches to reflect and improve on their own coaching practice. 

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