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Interview with Macky Singh: Indian women's football could make a positive impact in the international arena

Harmit Kamboe
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 18 Feb 2013
Exclusive

Macky

Macky Singh is a classic soccer wanderer. Born in an Indian family in Malaysia and having coached in his homeland, New Zealand and Canada, he brings a unique perspective to soccer and coaching. Macky is less than 40 years old and has already been a coach for 19 years. He holds a Bachelor in Sports Coaching and Diploma in Sport Psychology along with coaching certifications from New Zealand and Canada (B License, A License underway).

We were fortunate for the time Macky spared to speak with us.

Please tell us about your family and early childhood.

I was born in Malaysia and have a younger brother. Our parents were like many Sikh parents who want their kids to do well in education. The more successful their kids are educationally, the more status they have within the Sikh and Indian community. Unlike my cousins, I was the opposite. I was more interesting in physical activities and playing sports. While most kids were in their house studying, I was out in the park playing football or if the weather was bad, I would be in the house playing football with a tennis ball or balloon.

Was soccer the main sport that you were exposed to as a child in Malaysia?

Yes it was, along with badminton. Football is the national sport in Malaysia but Badminton is a sport Malaysia excels in, ranked in the top 5 in the world. I played both sports a lot when I was a kid in the backyard with friends.

Did your parents ever follow the traditional Indian dictum of pushing you towards studies to the extent of suppressing your interest in sport?

Their parenting style was somewhat balanced, though there was always the pressure to focus on education. As the status within the Malaysian Indian culture is being successful at studies, it did somewhat limit the opportunity for me to play competitive soccer in Malaysia. Once we migrated to New Zealand, my parents’ approach changed as they felt if my brother and I were to do well, we should be able to be active in sport yet education is still a very important part of growing up.

Tell us about your coaching career and how you started coaching while still in school. Why did you start coaching at such a young age? Was playing not more appealing to you?

I started my coaching career when I was 19 years old while in my final year at high school in New Zealand. The school wanted to start up a senior girls soccer program but there they couldn’t find a coach. The Sports Coordinator approached me to see if I was interested. I was still playing football at that time for the school and club, along with badminton and field hockey for the school. So it was already a hectic schedule and then adding studies to it, I didn’t have much time. However, I felt I couldn’t let the girls down. If I didn’t step in the coaching role, they would have not had a soccer program. I think, looking back, if I hadn’t accepted the coaching role, I don’t think I would have specialized in coaching women’s football.

Tell us a little bit about soccer in Malaysia please. Is it the main sport, how popular and organized is the main league and how has the national team been over the years?

People in Malaysia are crazy about football. They have a strong following of the English Premier League in particular. If you walk down any street in Malaysia, you will find many kids and adults wearing an EPL jersey. Malaysia has a professional league but the lack of a professional approach in terms of the way the clubs are run and players not understanding what is it to be a professional footballer is hindering the quality and standard of football. The national team has improved over the last 5–6 years. They are ranked around the 150’s in the FIFA rankings and because the professional league is weak, the national team struggles to perform at the international stage.

What has held Malaysia back from being a top performer at the Asian level? Are there any programs underway, that you’re aware of, that may change this in the future?

The lack of grassroots and development initiatives, programs and structure has not helped in developing kids effectively at a young age. The majority of the financial resources are invested at the professional level, therefore the lack of quality players has a negative effect on the standard of football in Malaysia. Unfortunately, for programs to be implemented nation wide to help in the development of the game, the mind set of the administrators and people in power will need to shift considerably.

There are a number of private for profit academies that are doing their best to fill that void, however their ultimate goal is generating revenue, hence the program quality and curriculum for age-appropriate development with a focus on long-term player development is inconsistent between academies.

When your family migrated to New Zealand, how easy or hard was it for you to adapt? Did playing soccer help in the adaptation process?

When we migrated to New Zealand when I was 15, my parents’ approach and parenting style changed. They understood if my brother and I were to be comfortable and be accepted in a new culture and country, we needed to be involved in sport and extra curricular activities. Definitely, soccer significantly assisted me in the transition and being able to adapt to the Kiwi culture quickly.

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What differences did you find when comparing New Zealand to Malaysia when it comes to playing, coaching and how soccer is organized?

New Zealand is far ahead when it comes to the structure and organization of football compared to Malaysia. Some of the notable differences between NZ and Malaysia are:

In New Zealand

    • Clubs cater for all ages, levels and both gender. Hence you can play football from the age of 5 till 70, be it recreational or competitive.
    • Football is very organized and constantly evolves to adopt the best practices to help develop footballers at all levels.
    • Female football is very strong and the age-groups and senior national teams have been very successful at the international stage and it has a National Women’s League.
    • There is no professional league but there is a National League and Youth National League and one professional team (Wellington Phoenix that plays in Australia in the A – League).
    • There are many players from NZ currently playing professionally all over Europe and US, both men and women, and many players have also gained full university football scholarships in the US.
    • The coaching structure and certification is not well recognized internationally, unlike in Malaysia, their coaching certification comes under the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) coaching pathway.

    Tell us a little about how soccer fares against sports in New Zealand and about the league there.

    Football is the number one participation sport in New Zealand while rugby is the national sport. Football popularity is growing particularly with both the men’s and women’s national teams performing very well at the international stages with recent involvement in the World Cups and Olympics with very positive performances.

    Tell us about how you were able to coach winning teams in both the New Zealand Boys and New Zealand Girls school soccer championships (at separate times).

    When I started coaching the high school boys teams, I was still very young; I think I was 22 at that time. So I was still learning and developing as a coach. So, many of my coaching knowledge and skills were limited to my experience as a player. When I look back now and review my coaching then compared to now, there were many things I did then I would never do now. I led the Wellington High School boys team to their first ever Premier Nationals High School Championships. I was lucky as I had a very good team who had the believe, passion and underdog mentality that got us there.

    When I returned back from Malaysia after spending a year as the National Team Coach with the Malaysia Women’s National Team, the Wellington East Girls College coach Trevor Oosten (who is also a very good friend of mine) approached me to help him coach the team. I really enjoyed coaching them as many of them were either currently identified for age-group national teams or playing for the top club team in the region and age-group provincial representatives. It was refreshing to have had the opportunity to coach high quality and motivated players. These players were training and playing football roughly 8 – 10 months a years, hence I focused my efforts on the strategic and tactical organization of the team.

    In 1998, you were appointed the National Technical Director for the New Zealand Universities Football Council and the Head Coach of the New Zealand Universities Women’s National Team simultaneously. What were the main programs that you implemented over your 10 year stint that you are most proud of?

    When I was appointed, my first goal was to turn the university women’s national team into a respected program and part of the player pathway to the senior national team. This process took time, however, by 2003, we competed at the World Universiade Games (WUG) in Korea for the first time ever for the program. This was a great turning point for the program. New Zealand under my leadership went on to compete in two more WUG in Turkey and Thailand in 2005 and 2007 respectively.

    I guess, for me, the proudest moment is the opportunity to have led the NZUWNT to three WUG. In terms of success, that would be  in 2005 when the team finished 9th with 4 wins and 2 losses with some great performances. Three players from the team went on to represent the full New Zealand women’s national team in the 2007 Women’s World Cup and 2008 Olympics.

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    What made you move from New Zealand to Canada?

    It was time for a new challenge for me as a coach and I started looking for coaching opportunities all over the world. The opportunity to come to Canada with Soccer New Brunswick as the Regional Technical Director was a very exciting prospect for me so I jumped t the chance.

    What differences did you find in Canada when it comes to how soccer is played, coached and organized versus New Zealand?

    In fact, there are many similarities between Canada and New Zealand in terms of the user-pay system, girls/women’s football is well established, heavily reliance on volunteer coaches at the grassroots level.

    I guess the difference is that Canada geographically is massive so it hinders the opportunity to establish cost effective national leagues unlike NZ which has a National League for both men’s and women’s and a men’s youth National League as well.

    You have been the Head Coach for the women’s team at St. Thomas University since 2009. What have the highlights of your team been so far?

    I always wanted to coach at a university program in North America as it is part of my coaching ambitions. So when the opportunity came along to coach St. Thomas University women’s soccer program, I accepted it. For me, the major highlights are firstly being able to develop and provide life skills to the student-athletes so when they graduate they have all the valuable tools needed to survive in the real world.

    In terms of football, I would say leading the program to the Atlantic Collegiate Athletics Association (ACAA) conference playoffs for the first time in 10 years in 2012.

    The Canadian women’s team has done so much better than the men’s team at the global level. Any thoughts on why and what needs to be done so that in the men’s team we stand a realistic chance of at least making it closer to the final qualification stages of the World Cup qualifiers?

    I think firstly the coaching structure should be recognized and appreciated and that there are full-time qualified coaches coaching at grassroots levels. The professional clubs need to establish academies throughout Canada to identify and train more youth that have the potential to possibly achieve national or professional opportunities. It has to be at the cost of the professional clubs, not a user-pay model as many very good players are not getting identified due to the financial pressures.

    Have you ever watched any Indian teams play? If so, what are you thoughts or general impression of Indian soccer?

    I have watched a little of football played in India via the internet but not much to provide any impression on it. From reading reports and articles on Indian football, there is a huge potential and India is a sleeping giant but the structure and the way the sport is run and managed is severely hindering this opportunity. It’s really unfortunate for sure. I would like to head to India and re-structure their women’s program. I think they could make a positive impact at the international arena if it is properly run and organized.

    What are some of the soccer coaching related goals that you have set for yourself in the near future?

    I am hoping to return to the international coaching scene again, coaching women’s teams sooner rather than later. I am hoping to coach in developing nations that are looking to develop and grow the female game. I am very interested in either moving to Asia, the Caribbean or Africa so that I can assist countries in either continent as my knowledge of developing and improving female football will be very valuable and an exciting opportunity and project for me.

    Till that opportunity comes up, my short term goal will be to continue to improve the women’s soccer program at St. Thomas University.

    For those that wish to keep an eye on Macky’s career, please visit http://www.mackysingh.com

    Published 18 Feb 2013
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