Harjeet Singh: Hockey Ambassador for Singapore

Harjeet, a determined son of a welder and housewife, continued playing football whether in slippers or barefoot because resilience runs deep.

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| Singapore | 21 Oct 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Harjeet Singh playing for English National League Club Indian Gymkhana in London.
Harjeet Singh playing for English National League Club Indian Gymkhana in London.

As soon as one starts listening to Mr Harjeet Singh’s life story, the movie, Speedy Singh, immediately comes to mind. Like the lead character in the movie, Harjeet is passionate about sports. And as in the movie, this passion unfortunately has not been equally shared by his parents, especially in his early years. However, unlike the reel, the real is much more monumental than a film could offer. A list of accolades is tagged to Harjeet’s name and he has become synonymous with hockey in Singapore.

Born to a welder and a housewife, and the younger of two children, Harjeet was subjected to a firm upbringing. This also meant tough love especially when his passion for hockey was not shared by his parents as he first began playing sports. Once in primary school, he injured his wrist while playing football with his friends under the void deck. The firm father threw out his only pair of football boots and the only pair of running shorts. However, the determined son continued playing football whether in slippers or barefoot. Resilience runs deep in Harjeet.

When in secondary school, Harjeet tried his hand at badminton before he had his first shot at hockey when he was 14 years old, upon the encouragement of a teacher and classmate. The rest it is said is history. It did not take long for Harjeet to be recognised for his finesse and prowess in hockey. Less than two years later, he began his sports journey as a national player. He secured a place at the National Under-16 trials and was selected for the national junior squad. Having succeeded here, Harjeet then had to convince his parents who viewed hockey as a dangerous sport.

Harjeet did very well with the junior side and soon, he found himself training with the national senior team and playing for Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) in the Premier League. For the next few years, a typical day for Harjeet started at five in the morning. He would shoot off to school, then attend training and he would only return home late into the night. Members of the national senior team attest to his dedication and grit that, even on days when he was unwell, he would still turn up to watch them train and play. Harjeet realised early on that he had to make sacrifices if he wanted to succeed in the sport.

Harjeet’s talent in hockey, coupled with his hard work, also opened up opportunities for him to train in the Karnataka State Hockey Academy in Bangalore and play in several other overseas competitive hockey leagues in such places as Malaysia, Hong Kong and England.

Harjeet, who at this time was captain of Singapore’s Asian Games squad, also played the role of Hockey Ambassador for Singapore, representing the island state in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India and Australia. At the international arena, Harjeet made a name for himself as being an accomplished and versatile athlete.

Harjeet also served Singapore by grooming the nation’s next generation of athletes. As captain of the national team, he ensured excellence on the field even if it meant he had to be hard on the players. The rationale behind it was simple as he said: “My objective was to push each player to play at his level best. I made it a point to get to know all the players and understand their personal characteristics so I knew which buttons to push. Each time I trained or played with the national team, I did my best to apply the learning I gained from my seniors. I took training sessions and matches very seriously.”

Apart from his commitment to the national team, Harjeet also gave his time to popularise hockey with the youth in Singapore. For instance, SRC started the practice of adopting local secondary schools with its coaches leading the schools’ hockey teams. Harjeet took the lead in coaching the students although this added to his already gruelling schedule. Despite the supposed disciplinarian style adopted by Harjeet, he was clear, whether with his team or students, that they were equals on the field. Off the pitch, he was a friend to all the players.

SRC’s coach, Mr Jude Felix, who had been on some of the world’s greatest stages such as the World Cup, Olympics and Commonwealth Games, approached Harjeet for a stint in England. The six-month stint made him the first Singapore national player to play in England.

The experience was extremely valuable. Harjeet stated: “It was an eye-opener as European hockey is played very differently compared to Asian hockey. Athletes in the former are more agile and aggressive.”

This however did not keep Harjeet from shining. In his first match, he scored two goals for the team and, needless to say, many more during the league. In England, Harjeet also met his future wife – another victory for him albeit off the hockey field. Since then, they have settled in Australia.

The rather shy Harjeet chooses to be humble when describing the types of qualities he personifies. Rather than providing a laundry list of attributes which made him a household name in Singapore and overseas, he earnestly divulged: “Nothing will be presented to you on a silver platter. If you want something badly, you have got to make it happen for yourself.”

He further stated: “I do not think I am good at what I do, because if you think you are good, there will always be someone better than you.”  Needless to say, these views highlighted the virtues of a true leader.

Harjeet started playing hockey in spite of reservations from his parents who were worried about him getting hurt. He shared: “The funny thing is that, till today, even after I am married; my parents still ask me when I am going stop playing hockey.”

As such, his advice to parents is that they should support the passion of their children. In fact, they should learn the sport themselves so as to engage with their children more directly and meaningfully.

Fortunately, back then, Harjeet’s determination, coupled with some degree of persuasion, ensured that Singapore eventually benefitted from a Sikh hockey star who helped to raise Singapore’s hockey profile internationally.

 

final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com

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