Singapore national water polo team will be facing their biggest test since the start of the pandemic as they will take on tougher opponents in the Asian Water Polo Championship 2020 from 7-13 November at the Assumption University Aquatic Center, Samut Prakarn District in Thailand.

The men’s team are in Group B alongside Japan, China, Kuwait and Hong Kong. The hosts Thailand are in Group A with India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Korea. The women’s team will face off the challenges from China, Kazakhstan, Japan, Thailand, Uzbekistan and South Korea.

While they may be one of the top teams in the Southeast Asian region, it is a different level at the Asian stage. But for the men’s team head coach Kan Aoyagi, he believes that they are able to improve on their 2018 Asian Games performance.

“We are aiming to at least go one better than we did at the Asian Games and shoot for a top-five finish. This will be the first time in over two years that we have participated in such a large international competition, as many events have been cancelled due to the COVID,” said coach Aoyagi.

Our main target is to see how the rest of Asia teams are doing and where our current level stands in Asia. Singapore was ranked sixth in the last Asian Games, so we are looking at Iran (3rd), China (4th), and Korea (5th),”

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“We had good preparation since September. We were fortunate not to have any injuries or anyone down with illness, and we’re all eager to participate.”

With an average age of 23 years old in the men’s team, captain Loh Zhi Zhi (32-year-old) is the most senior in the squad and he is tasked with guiding his younger teammates. Apart from routine physical preparations, they are blessed to receive other forms of training and guidance before they head for such championship.

“We have received great support from the SportSG’s Singapore Sports Institute to prepare holistically for the tournament, covering aspects such as sport psychology and nutrition so that we are not only physically prepared but in all those different areas as well,” said the multiple SEA Games gold medalist Loh.

“Together with our coaching staff, they continue to iterate and improve the different aspects of our training, complementing it with workshops and testing protocols to track how we progress across the season.”

Loh also shared that there had been an increased number of competitive matches played during the year, in organised league matches and in sparring matches with overseas teams.  These contribute to the physical and tactical components that prepare the team and give them the best practical experience in developing their routine and preparing them for their tournaments.

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For the women’s team captain Koh Ting Ting, it is also a mix of seniors and young players in her team with nine out of the 13 players being below the age of 25. But for Koh it will be a good experience for them as they look forward to more tournaments next year.

“We’re all very excited about the upcoming Asian level competition given the pandemic which pretty much limited the team from opportunities. Even though our opponents could be stronger, faster, more experienced, it would be a good exposure for our team leading up to bigger competitions in 2023 that have been lined up,” said 31-year-old Koh.

This sentiment was echoed by her coach Luo Nan who said, “We mainly hope to improve our team’s game experience and examine some young players through this tournament. We also hope to improve ourselves by playing against other strong teams.”

Luo who was previously the assistant coach, took over the women’s team earlier this year in April and achieved their target of defeating Thailand and winning the inaugural National Cup in May. In the recent training, their main focus was on tactics and individual skills, and she feels that the players have worked hard and improved in that area.

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As in any team sport, it is important for every player to keep a lookout for each other and not let any obstacle hinder their progress. As a captain Luo has an added responsibility to ensure every player is able to manage themselves well.

“Every player on the team has their own struggles ranging from managing a relapse of an injury, juggling with work, studies. Most important of all (especially during this pandemic) is being responsible and accountable to the team not to let any external factors stop us from training regularly and consistently but also putting the extra training or self-monitored program all because of the team’s goal in mind,” explained Koh.

The men’s team will start the Asian Water Polo Championship against Kuwait on 7 Nov, before taking on Hong Kong the next day. The women’s team will open their campaign against China on 8 Nov and will face Korea the following day. You can find the full fixture for Team Singapore below.