Gone are the days when a Singaporean boy gets to hone his soccer skills only in the dark, cement gray confines of the void deck.

Last Friday (20 Mar), 40 Singaporean boys of ages 13-19 developed their finishing, first touch and other aspects of their soccer skills at the Nike Ignite Challenge, held at Marina Bay’s floating platform, where an artificial pitch was installed for the event.

Jointly organized by The New Paper (TNP) and Nike, the Ignite Challenge seeks to spark speed, precision, control and touch into these budding soccer stars. The challenge involves the participants undergoing specific drills to build up the aforementioned skills, guided by a group of accredited professional coaches, and Nike seeded footballers.

The latter was probably the highlight of a fun-filled morning for the boys.

Luminaries in Singapore’s soccer scene – from local hero Indra Sahdan Daud to naturalized English-born stars John Wilkinson and Daniel Bennett – were present to impart their footballing wisdom and technical expertise. They arrived with native footballers Hariss Harun and Noh Rahman, and Nigerian-born defender Precious Emuejeraye.

Indra was very impressed. He thought the boys were “fourtunate” to have been given such an opportunity to develop their game under the guidance of such experts. “They didn’t have this kind of thing during my time,” the 30-year-old striker mused.

Indra, along with John Wilkinson, led the boys in a shooting drill. In it, a one-two would be played off Indra, beyond John, and the boys would be left to finish a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper.

The Nike seeded footballers were very constructive and positive during their time at the Ignite Challenge. During the shooting drill, John Wilkinson encouraged the participants to be more enterprising in getting the ball into goal. “Try something different. Be creative,” John urges aspiring football stars.

Indra also has advice for anyone who aspires to be a professional soccer player. “Finish what you started,” he says, “See your soccer journey out to its fullest potential. Stay healthy, train and keep the passion.”

Other drills in the challenge included trapping airborne balls, dribbles around cones, and controlled sprinting.

The best performer of the day was 17-year-old ITE Clementi student Stanely Ng. Stanely, whose soccer idols include Spanish superstar striker Fernando Torres and Indra himself, shows the same qualities as his role models: crisp finishing and a calm, composed disposition on the ball.

Stanely, who aspires to play for the Young Lions in the S-League, did not expect to win the Ignite Challenge. “I just came here to enjoy myself,” he admits. “I’m surprised I won. It feels amazing.”

While unprecedented, the Nike Ignite Challenge is obviously very good for the development of soccer here in Singapore. It teaches all the flicks, finishing and finesse most Singaporean kids learn at the void deck, without the law-breaking.

Nike Ignite Challenge- Stanely Ng takes a shot of the ball at the TOUCH station

Nike Ignite Challenge- Nike seeded local footballers striking a pose with Nike seeded football teens and coaches

Nike Ignite Challenge- Overall winner 17 year old Stanely Ng showing off his nifty footwork on the pitch at the CONTROL station.

Images by Nike Singapore.