SSI Coach Development An Art and a Science
TSL speaks to Troy Engle, Director of Coach Development at the Singapore Sports Institute and recently appointed to the USA Track and Field Team as Assistant Coach for Distance for Rio 2016.
Troy Engle has been involved in the U.S. track and field circuit for years, including as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Championships, 2011 Pan Am Games and 1995 World Indoor Championships. He is a previous chair of USATF Coaches Education and was the associate director of the Paralympic Division of the USOC before his head coaching stint at Army from 2008-14 and his current role at the Singapore Sports Institute.
TSL: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I have spent my entire adult life as a coach – probably destined to do so as the son of two teachers. I have tried to step away from the field a couple of times – first as an academic fundraiser in the mid-80s, then as a sport administrator (Director of Sport for the nation of Papua New Guinea in the early 90s) and then into high performance for the Paralympic movement in the early 2000’s… Track and field coaching kept calling me back. I just couldn’t stay offthe track.
TSL: What sports do you do/follow?
I remain a huge track fan but also love to follow boxing – I have always felt that track and boxing were the purest athlete-on-athlete competitions. I spent the last week or so riveted to the TV watching the IAAF World Championships in Beijing and lamenting the performance of the US team.
Locally, I have developed an interest in the S.League and the Young Lions (which is a lot for an American unaccustomed to “football”). I will always remain a loyal Army fan since I was last coaching at the United States Military Academy at West Point
TSL: Why did you make the choice to leave your previous role in USA and come to Singapore?
I honestly wasn’t looking for a move but when I saw the advertisement for the role, it provided a very interesting opportunity. I have always been active in coaching education in the US (and was chair of Coaches Education for USA Track & Field) and thought the concept of shifting from coaching athletes to coaching coaches was intriguing. Moreover, the timing was great for my family – it gave my youngest children an opportunity to experience life in a country that truly is a unique paradise. We suspected that Singapore would be a great place for our kids but have absolutely fallen in love with everything about this great nation. I literally don’t think there is a better place to raise a family in the world!
TSL: What are your broad thoughts about the Singapore sporting landscape?
There is SO much potential! We have incredible hardware in the new Sports Hub, in SSI and in the entire network of Sports Centres through Active SG. The software is also here – you have some very committed folks who really want to see sport take steps forward. What we need to harness is the energy and interest and provide guided opportunities for experience in sport to be groomed; the sporting culture (particularly in coaching ) is really in its infancy. We need to groom a generation of Singaporeans to take leadership roles in sport direction to help us move in the right direction.
TSL: Are there any differences between the coaching in the Singapore sporting environment and the American – what are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
The economic structure of coaching here has made the coaching community very competitive – it is the least “sharing” community of coaches that I have ever encountered. Sadly, that forces almost all coaches to re-invent the wheel because no one here seems interested in sharing best practices or learning from others’ mistakes. Without a community of practice and learning, the development of our top coaches will never be as smooth as it should be. The reality is that there are no real coaching secrets – the internet has made sure of that! The only way that coaches improve is by mentoring or being mentored, by collaborating with sports scientists or peers on performance enhancement and by committing to personal growth and development.
I have heard a lot about “the fear of losing” in Singapore and how that contributes to a reluctance to share. To a fault I would say in American sport, we don’t fear losing – we HATE it! As coaches, we literally get physically ill after setbacks. I’m not convinced that is much of step from a traditional fear of losing. We, as an American coaching culture, have channelled that extreme dislike of losing into, at worst, a “win at all costs” attitude but at its best it has forced many of us to work like madmen to get better and to realise that we cannot do that alone – we have to develop a network of coaches and peers and beg, borrow and steal ideas from anywhere we can.
TSL: Tell us about some of the initiatives that the department currently has/is planning for the Coaching side.
We plan to focus our attention on two primary areas – continue to strengthen our formal education programmes in conjunction with the NSAs and to develop a vibrant, robust programme of continuing professional development opportunities for our coaches. While formal programmes tend to focus on “what to coach” and assess minimum knowledge or qualification, the real improvement in the standard of coaching comes through guided practice of the trade and improvement in the realm of “how to coach”. Ideally, the NSAs will take the lead in the nuts and bolts of the sport and we (Sport SG) can focus on the art of coaching and development of the industry standard (both in terms of coaching competency and promoting coaching as a viable profession).
TSL: We understand that for SSI, you are spearheading the ASEAN Para Games (APG) initiative. Tell us more about why you are heading the initiative and the plans and steps taken to date for the SSI.
I am passionate about the idea of ‘Sport without Boundaries’ and have been involved in Paralympic sport at the international level for about the last ten years. I think we have a rare opportunity to showcase a second group of Singapore’s elite athletes and to host a wonderful follow up elite sport competition to the SEA Games. The ultimate goal though is to provide the spark for persons with disabilities in Singapore to become more involved in sport and fitness activities. We have a very large percentage of our Team SG contingent to the APG who will be debutantes on the world sporting stage – our goal in SSI is to provide them the same level of support and preparation as we did for our SEA Games group so that they have a great competitive experience.
TSL: Lastly, what are your personal aspirations for Singapore for sports and as a Nation?
Singapore is notorious for becoming a world leader in anything we try – my goal is to play a role in putting Singapore on the regional and world map for our expertise and prowess in sport coaching. In the short term, that has to start with a game-changing, world class coach training and development programme. We have plans in place that frankly are already gaining international attention as we have introduced some tried and true methods in combination with some things that we believe can capitalize on the unique sporting culture of Singapore. It is going to be a very exciting next few years!