Feature Story – Victor Tan


Competitors swim in the women's 200m butterfly heats during the London 2012 Olympic Games
Photo credit: GREENLIGHTPT

In this issue we look at how a positive mindset can help individuals to overcome the most difficult situations‭. ‬And this is the‭ ‬reason why we decided to conduct a follow up interview with Coach Victor Tan because this is what he truly believes‭. ‬As a coach‭ ‬he does more than just teach children how to swim‭, ‬he teaches his students about how to adapt and overcome failure‭; ‬and also about what it means to be seriously committed to whatever you do‭. ‬Here Coach Victor shares a few personal insights about how he’s learnt to deal with some of the challenging situations in his own life‭.

“I learnt to be like bamboo flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking.”

“By the age of four my mother was an orphan. Growing up as a child I remember that she was a very humble person of few words. I will also never forget how my mother was bullied by other people in her life.” Victor explained that in spite of the unkindness and hardships which his mother endured, she was a caring and responsible parent who worked hard to support her five children. Every day she would walk endless miles from the small shack which they lived in, through the swampy area to get to her two cleaning jobs. He said, “My mother’s patience and refusal to be defeated by the dire circumstances of her life combined with her strong sense of responsibility to my family – is something that will stay with me forever.” This memory would later on help to sustain the young Victor as he walked 16 kilometres every day to the pool to do his training. Victor acknowledged that his parents were the ones who first taught him that “As long as you are honest and hard-working, nothing and no one can defeat you – you can be true to yourself and you can succeed!”

“Having an unwavering commitment to coaching enabled me to re-start again and again, from Zero.”


In 1990 Victor had to quit competitive coaching because he could not earn enough to support his family. He then helped to manage a sports store but still continued to do voluntary coaching. While doing this he produced notable competitive swimmers which eventually led to his return to full-time competitive coaching with a new group of swimmers. Fast forward, it’s now 2016 and Victor’s career has undoubtedly gone from strength to strength thanks to the support of many parents and students in Brunei. However, he admitted that, “In the 42 years spent coaching in both Malaysia and Brunei, I’ve had to overcome many challenges such as: starting over again at various clubs; training top swimmers only to have them opt to change squads or leave the country to pursue their studies; and weathering negative criticism – but throughout all of this, I have remained committed to teaching swimming because I love what I do and am happy to see my students succeed in sport, as well as in life. Recently, some parents who I coached as children, approached me as a group to coach their own children – this is one of my greatest rewards and for this I am truly grateful!”

“No matter what happens good or bad, my family is my strongest foundation.”

Victor remembered a time in his life when he was a young father who was eagerly expecting the arrival of his second child. His wife was eight months pregnant and doing well when he went to do a ten day coaching clinic for the swimmers in Sandakan. In the middle of this, he got the news that could have plunged him into an abyss of deep despair. Victor’s wife had miscarried their second child. He admitted that “This was one of the lowest points in my life because I wanted to be at my wife’s side. But my wife reassured me that she would be OK and that I should stay on and honour my commitment to the team.”  Now thinking back about this incident, Victor said, “I am reminded that it is the steadfast love and support of my wife and family that has helped me to weather some of the darkest storms in my life.”

“I believe that where there’s a will, there will always be a way.”

One of the people who has taught Victor a great deal about adapting to life’s circumstances and being ready to grasp opportunities when they arise, is a very good friend who started off selling newspapers and collecting bottles. This gentleman became a salesman and is now a successful property developer. Victor explained that “His life story inspires me because it proves that firstly, you should never underestimate your capabilities; and secondly, when you choose to see adverse situations not as “brick walls” but as “speed bumps” – you recognise that they might slow you down, but that you can get over them and find a way to reach your final destination. “Since I’ve known him, this friend of mine has always shared his knowledge with me and given me frank advice which has proven to be invaluable – and it has helped me to achieve my own personal goals.”


“Never, ever let adversity define you!”

During swimming sessions Victor shares many thought provoking sayings with his students such as this one, “V can stand for victory and victim. Which one are you going to be?” Victor says that this is very important choice that everyone has to make when the going gets tough. He then explained that there was once a young girl who many people had given up on because of her deviant behaviour. However, she started training with Victor and during those sessions he would take the time to talk to her and encourage her – today, that same young woman is the CEO of a company. Her parents recently contacted Victor to express their appreciation for the positive role that he played in helping to motivate her.

As a father and coach, Victor believes that real life experiences such as this one proves that it is vital for him, to teach his children and students that they should not let any adversity define them or stop them from reaching their full potential. Victor revealed that his daughter and son who are now young adults, have at various times in their lives been involved in accidents which involved physical trauma. However, neither of them allowed these incidents to deter them from achieving their goals. This is why one of Coach Victor’s main aims will always be this – to teach his swimmers life lessons that will help them to adapt, survive and to succeed!

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!