The power of one: Louise Khng and the female floorball revolution
Former head coach Louise Khng’s emphasis on cohesion propelled the national women’s floorball team to new heights by encouraging them to think and act as one.
By Prabhu Silvam
When Louise Khng took on the role as Head Coach of the national women’s floorball team in 2017, she knew that to move ahead, they would first have to move as one.
After all, most of the players belonged to different teams at the local league level. This meant different allegiances and intense rivalries.
To drive home the importance of unity, Khng, who was crowned Coach of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards 2020 — the first woman to clinch the award — decided to instil a one-team mentality.
On top of understanding their own playing positions on the court, she made sure that the players were also aware of the roles and responsibilities of their fellow team members.
Besides honing adaptability, this strategy ensured that they knew how to react and respond quickly when they found themselves in another players’ position during strategic plays.
The message is clear: No one is bigger than the sum of the team.
The team went on to win the inaugural Asia Oceania Floorball Confederation (AOFC) Cup in 2018.
In 2019, they not only retained their gold medal at the SEA Games, but also secured 12th place at the World Floorball Championship in Neuchatel, Switzerland – their best showing to date on the world stage.
“When I first took over, building strong team cohesion was the most important factor for me. In fact, it was at the top of my list,” said Khng, 37. “Before they could play together, they needed to first trust and respect each other.”
She stepped down from her coaching role late last year due to personal reasons and the former lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic is now a senior coaching development manager at Sport Singapore’s CoachSG division.
By stressing unity and giving each player a stake in the team, she rallied them around a common goal and pushed them to greater heights.
To Khng, a coach’s role is more than about harnessing players’ sporting talent. It is also about moulding them into holistic individuals.
Aside from fitness and nutrition, she also emphasised the importance of strategic thinking.
She would conduct occasional lectures to help the 30 players, aged 18 to 31, identify personal milestones in order to improve their game.
To ensure that they stayed on track and to understand them better, she would then check in with them individually before and after training sessions.
“At the national level, all players possess the necessary traits to perform at the highest level. So as a coach, what you can also do is to focus on other aspects that can help them maintain this momentum and push themselves further as athletes and as individuals,” she said.
Next, she focused on instilling a sense of belonging in the players.
For example, while the unspoken rule was for the captain or vice-captain to conduct warm-up sessions, they drew up a roster so that all players would have a chance to do so.
Aside from developing their leadership capabilities, this also showed the players that everyone was important to the team.
When it came to overseas tournaments, they were tasked with different responsibilities. From ensuring the safe transportation of the team’s equipment to purchasing and preparing food for consumption before and after training sessions and competitions, each player had a role in ensuring a smooth journey for all.
“The idea was to create this culture where everyone feels a sense of purpose in the team — where everyone matters just as much as the other person beside them,” she said.
A lasting legacy
It didn’t take long for her efforts to reap dividends.
For example, whenever a player experienced a dip in performance, her teammates would seek to find out what was bothering her.
By putting the team above all else, the players built strong bonds fortified by mutual trust.
As a result, they were willing to go the extra mile on the court and encouraged one another to push themselves beyond their limits.
For national player Fariza Begum Binte Mohamed Zabir, it is this sense of unity that has fostered a winning mentality within the team.
“At training sessions, we always placed the team before ourselves and this was the concept that was drilled into our minds. This translated into our performances during (competitions like) the Czech Open, SEA Games and World Championships, where we knew that nothing could break us and that we had to look out for each other both on and off the court,” said the 31-year-old teacher, who is the team’s goalkeeper.
“This transformed our gameplay entirely and made us realise the bigger meaning of playing for our country and team.”
Though she no longer coaches the team, the values Khng has instilled in them will no doubt endure. After all, these are her own guiding principles in life.
“In life just as in sport, we all know that we can’t control how things turn out,” she said.
“But what we can control is how we focus on the process as a collective team to help each other pull through good and bad times together.”