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From Hong Kong to Hockey Wales – the coaching journey of Singh Jasminder Bal

Singh Jasminder Bal has an online clip of him lobbing a goalkeeper that has been viewed over 12,000 times, but still believes his biggest impact will come as a coach.

The video of the Penarth Hockey Club player - nonchalantly flicking the ball up with his stick and tapping it, with his back to goal, over the head of a flailing keeper - is impressive and worth checking out on Twitter.

But then so, too, is the coaching journey undertaken by the 27-year-old who was recently appointed as a development coach to the Wales U16 and U18 boys, alongside Ieuan Bartlett.

Sometimes in sport, players feel the pull of coaching long before it’s time to hang up their boots, spikes, racket or hockey stick and Jasminder – who moved to Wales 10 years ago from Hong Kong – is straight from that mould.

Jose Mourinho always wanted to coach in his 20s, Wayne Pivac turned to coaching at 28 following knee problems, while New Zealander Mike Hesson – one of cricket’s most successful current coaches – was just 20 when he decided to teach others how to use a bat rather than wield one himself.

Jasminder’s first love was athletics and the high jump, but then he switched to hockey after two years engrossed in the family business when he first arrived in Wales.

He joined Llanishen and Caerphilly Hockey Club and when they were short of coaches he decided to put on a tracksuit, pick up a whistle, and get involved.

Coaching and Playing

“I had no experience of coaching whatsoever, only playing, but I have a passion for the sport and I found I enjoyed watching players develop,” says Jasminder.

“I like the way people can learn about life and relationships through sport. Sport teaches people how to support and improve each other and if you’re a coach enabling players to do that then it’s very satisfying.

“I have always tried to volunteer when opportunities have come along, done my coaching courses and just tried to improve at every stage.

“I’ve never agreed that coaches have to be former players. Why wait until you’ve stopped playing? I’m still a player, but also a coach. The two go together and help each other.

“The way I look at it, if I got injured tomorrow, then I would still be in touch with the sport straight away through coaching. I wouldn’t have to start again.”

Llanishen and Caerphilly paid for their ambitious young coach to take his early courses, before he moved on to coaching roles at the University of South Wales and collected further coaching qualifications in England.

With a level two award in his pocket, he’s gone on to gain more coaching experience with Howardians Ladies and a spell as assistant coach to the Wales Over35s men’s side.

Now, Jasminder is to link up with Wales age group teams as he combines a sports coaching course at Cardiff Met with his level three International Hockey Federation qualification.

As well as that lot, he still finds time to play for Penarth. Or, at least he was until the pandemic brought hockey to a standstill.

The same hurdle has so far delayed his ability to get on the training field with the Wales youngsters, although Zoom sessions online have allowed him to at least oversee some skills, drills and fitness programmes.

That just about leaves time for one other project – Alien Hockey, a hockey supplies and equipment company of which Jasminder is a director.

Singh Jasminder Bal playing hockey
Singh Jasminder Bal shooting at goal

The Importance of Competition

“Hopefully, we can soon get on the pitch again very soon because the U18s have European fixtures we want to be able to play this summer.

“We are engaging with players online, but everyone wants to just get back out there now.”

For the new age group coach, when it comes to youngsters, hockey as a participation sport is only scratching the surface, but it needs schools to broaden the choices on offer if it’s to prosper in more than its traditional locations.

“Schools should arrange more tournaments among themselves. It doesn’t have to be football, rugby or even hockey. It could be dodgeball.

“Why can’t schools have inter-school competitions across a range of sports? If you introduce a sport like hockey for six weeks, but have no competition, then kids just forget about it and move on.

“You need competition so they can get excited about improving and winning and that comes from being competitive.”

Competition, he insists, makes the mastery of skills more fun – which brings us back to that clip of his goal in a training session organised between Penarth and a Wales girls age group squad.

“I had seen this video of a South Korean player (Lee Nam-young) scoring in a penalty shoot-out against India, where he flicks the ball up over the goalkeeper.

“So, I was messing about before training and thought I’d give it a go. It was a bit of fun and that’s what sport should be all about.”

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