ALMOST seven days a week, Kalisa Kaur can be found bouncing a ball or shooting hoops ever since she got hooked to netball at eight years, joining the CCA (Co-curricular Activities) programme at St Hilda’s Primary School.
If there’s a word “netball-holic” it perfectly fits this 13-year-old, who has set exalting long-term targets to play for Singapore.
Her inevitable itch is to be like her role model, Charmaine Soh, the national vice-captain also from St Hilda’s School. This is firing her heart and mind. She adds: “I want to play at the highest level every time and I know I’m capable of, if I work very hard at improving myself.”
Charmaine has 69 caps at 26 years, played at the World Cup, Asian Championships and SEA (South-east Asia) Games. Kalisa says: “She’s very good academically and professionally in her career and at netball and I want to be like her.”
Netball Singapore (NS), which runs the women’s ball sport, says hundreds of schoolgirls are queueing up to play, inspired by Singapore’s recent success at the Asian Youth champion when they beat Malaysia 47-43 at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in South Korea, to reclaim a title the country last won in 1994.
For the record, Singapore is ranked No 19 by INF (International Netball Federation) out of 36 competing countries and rated No 1 in Asean.
Kalisa knows she has what it takes to reach top-ranks. Her coach at St Hilda’s School hails her as a “netball prodigy”. She is tall, talented, thorough and top-drawer material. She’s simply mad about netball. Her mum even says she’s an “eat-sleep-breathe netball’ type of sporting fanatic.
Yes, just 156 months out of the cradle, this little blonde Sikh girl has one compelling dream: To bounce the ball for Singapore.
For the moment, she’s in the right place as she has been selected to be a junior academic-professional at the Singapore Sports School, the only specialised full-time sports institution in Woodlands that nurtures future sports personalities in more than 10 sports.
“She works extremely hard on and off the court,” says her mum, Kawal Kaur. “She’s so fanatical that she eats, sleeps and breathes netball in order to realise her ultimate goal of representing Singapore one day.”
Her teacher-coach Zanizam Zaini says: “She found it challenging at first and didn’t enjoy the competitive element. She wanted to give it up. It was all too much for a nine-year-old. But I quickly saw the raw potential and didn’t let her give up. She shows remarkable skill and tactical abilities well beyond her years. She’s a real fighter on the court, never wanting to lose.”
Kalisa was part of the St Hilda’s Primary School team that won the gold medal at the National Championship last year.
Moving the boarding-school-way at the elite Singapore Sports School was initially a little upsetting, says Kawal. She recalls: “Kalisa missed home and family as she had to board in. But the desire to be at her best in netball and to play for Singapore one day overcame this.”
The secret to Kalisa’s flying success comes from her sports-crazy family.
Her grandfather, retired Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Amarjeet Singh, was an all-round sportsman representing the Singapore Police in hockey and football. He also excelled in badminton as the singles and doubles badminton champion of Police Training School in 1960. Playing hockey for Singapore Sikhs, he was also the Chairman, Sports for the Singapore Khalsa Association from 1989 to 1996 and the Executive Secretary for S-League Home United Football Club.
Mum also was a prolific netballer at St Hilda’s Secondary School and fired away at athletics, too, in the 200m, 400m,4 x 100m relay and long jump. Her elder brother Matthew Rashpal was a gold and silver medalist in the National Taekwando Championship and has a second-dan black belt in the sport. Another brother Mark Ravinpal, represented St Patrick’s School in cricket ad now plays for the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC). He is also an assistant cricket coach for the juniors on the SCC Padang.
Kalisa’s twin brother, Adrian Amarjeet, is an avid hockey player, a centre-forward at St Hilda’s Primary School, like his grandfather.
“I’m blessed to have a very sporting family. My mum is exceptionally supportive, as a former netballer. I would like to thank my coach, Mr Zanizam, without him to I would have never have excelled in netball,” says Kalisa. “Mrs Jeline Tan (Primary 6 form teacher) was extremely supportive, offering make-up classes when I was out at competitions.
“The immense support I get at my first year at Singapore Sports School has been overwhelming, too, and it sets me up for positive career, to combine academics and sports.”
For the moment, the 1.65m and 43kg Kalisa is relishing time at SSS. She says: “I hope to gain confidence, broaden my netball IQ, learn as many things as I can, and be the best player I can be. It will give me the skills and knowledge that will further my career.”
Highlighting her longer-term self-improving role, she adds: “Not only defensively in the games, but goals win (matches), so you’ve to ensure that you take down the ball to the goal shooter so that your team can score. So you’ve to be on the ball, you’ve to be ready for anything.”
Kalisa, who hopes to be either a lawyer or in the sports-media industry after she graduates, also wants to add to her physical assets. She explains: “A little speed, I want a little more speed, a little more drive, that special push.”
Going on form and longer-term potential, Kalisa, who plays as a shooter and is also training in goalkeeping and defence, is likely to be one of the most valued assets in Singapore netball franchise in the years to come. It is also the duty of the administrators at Netball Singapore (NS) to stand up for such future prospects and help them to develop in their game.
Her coach at Singapore Sports School (SSS), Geraldine Ng, a former Singapore Under 21 stalwart, says Kalisa is making “very good progress” with her contemporaries. She says: “She’s still young and trains very hard. She has the potential to rise to higher age-group levels if she continues with her diligence and discipline in training.”
The SSS works closely with Netball Singapore to groom the younger netballers, who then compete with other schools in the national zone competitions. She adds: “We’ve a core group of players, about 20 at every age-group level, who’re being groomed for higher-level competitions in the years ahead.”
As I revel in Kalisa’s extraordinary potential at 13 years, I’m reminded of the words of former world tennis queen Billie Jean King, who once said: “Champions keep playing till they get it right.”
Little Kalisa, in my opinion, will keep playing till she gets in right and one day fulfill her dream of playing for her country.
Suresh Nair is a journalist who has written on local and regional sports for over 35 years. He finds Kalisa Kaur an extraordinary 13-year-old netballer with the real fire-in-the-belly to excel.