Feature Story – Victor Tan

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Victor is a member of the American Swimming Coaches Association (Level 5)

For over 40 years, come rain or shine this man has been a task master, a father figure, an advisor and a teacher. He conducts tough training sessions and demands absolute dedication and effort from his students. In return, his students respect him and do their utmost to make him proud of them. Coach Victor Tan has a reputation for inspiring his swimmers to do their very best.

Victor sees his students not just as young athletes who he has to train and develop physically, but also as young men and women who he has to nurture mentally and emotionally. Once they join one of his swimming groups they become members of his family. And as the head of the family not only is he committed to teaching them to be competent swimmers but he is dedicated to sharing his life experience and advice with them, in the hope that he can make a positive impact in their lives. He encourages his students to persevere, no matter what! Victor’s goal is not just about producing winners in the pool, it is about helping each one of his swimmers to develop “the right attitude” to life, so that they too can overcome obstacles and lead productive and successful lives.

As a young boy growing up Victor faced many challenges. But it was his swimming sessions at school that taught him how to achieve success in spite of adversity. He recalled that he had two excellent coaches who were both extremely devoted to teaching swimming and who believed in the value of strict discipline. Victor endured many rigorous training sessions where he honed his technique and improved his speed as he worked towards achieving success. As a young swimmer he competed in many races and won numerous medals and trophies. However, he explained that it was the memory of his three year old brother drowning when he was just five years old, which made him determined to excel at swimming and to teach others.

He believed that if he could teach people how to swim then his brother’s death would not have been in vain. Hard work, the ability to learn the best coaching practices from others and a clear vision of his purpose in life soon saw Victor rise up the ranks to become a Leading Coach. He said, “Back in those days I would leave the house early in the morning when my children were asleep and return late at night.

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Victor and his wife of 27 years Liew Szekhiung. SzeKhiung is always at Victor’s side supporting, reassuring and taking care of their family – which includes the swimmers.

I hardly saw my wife and kids but I had to work hard to provide for my family.” In 1994, opportunity knocked and Victor was offered a job with the Department of Welfare, Youth and Sports as the National Swimming Coach. He explained that “I accepted this position with great enthusiasm because I had a dream which I wanted to turn into a reality. My dream was to produce the best swimmers for Brunei.”

When he took on the role of National Coach, swimming was not a high profile sport in Brunei. He immediately set out to revamp the swimming program and to transform the attitudes of his swimmers. In order to do this, he insisted that all of his swimmers were punctual, self disciplined and 100% committed to their training sessions. He did this because he firmly believed that having “the right attitude” would enable his swimmers to reach greater heights. Between 1994 and 1996 he would prove that his training philosophy was right because he produced many notable swimmers including Fadillah Ismail. Victor beamed with pride as he recalled those early years. He said that, “Fadillah won one bronze medal at the 1994 SEA Age Group (Singapore), two gold medals at the BIMBEAGA Games (Philippines) and two bronze medals at the Arafura Games (Darwin, Australia).” Victor then went on to coach at Mabohai Sports Centre for nine years where the number of his swimmers increased and included students from both JIS and ISB. It is there that he started his first squad in 2002 to prove to his critics that his years of experience and techniques were still a winning formula for success. During that time he entered his first regional competitions and achieved success with gold medallists Christopher Cheong and Daniel Kong.

He is also proud of the fact that he has trained a list of other great Bruneian swimmers, among them Olympic swimmer Anderson Lim, Amanda Liew and also Maria Koh. Victor then moved to the RBRC in 2005 and is still currently coaching there. Victor’s breakthrough came again when he guided Christian Nikles to win a Bronze medal at the 2010 SEA Age Group Swimming championships (Philippines) and one gold and one bronze medal at the 2011 Arafura Games (Darwin, Australia). In addition to this success Victor also played an instrumental role in training many of the current top Bruneian swimming stars before they were absorbed into the National Swimming Team Program a few years ago. These days he’s busy training a new generation of swimmers including His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Muntaqim and current local swimming stars Ashley and Andra Chai, Desmond Yong among many other up and coming winners. But for Victor coaching continues to be more than just about improving technique and timing –it is about encouraging his swimmers to have a “never give up” attitude! With a smile on his face, he explained “Past swimmers still thank me today for helping them to develop a strong character because they believe that this has contributed to their current success”.

After 40 years in this profession Victor is as passionate as ever about coaching. When he is not teaching the older children or training his squads, he is having fun with the younger children who he teaches from the age of five. His patience, gentleness and kindness make it easy for these children to bond with “Uncle Victor”. He has also coached children and adults with disabilities. Coaching them is very special to him because he genuinely believes that “Every child deserves a chance to take part in a sport.“ When asked about his dream for the future, he smiles and says, “Maybe to one day train children with disabilities for the Olympics.” And knowing Coach Victor Tan, anything is possible!

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Victor with his RBRC Squad A Swimmers

This article was published in the Jan-Mar 2015 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!