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Thilaka bids adieu to national netball coach role
Friday, December 22, 2017
Thilaka Jinadasa is leaving the national netball team as head coach. – FADHIL YUNUS

BRUNEI Darussalam’s national netball coach Thilaka Jinadasa will be leaving her current role after a seven-year stint in charge of the team.

The Sri Lankan, one of the longest serving foreign coaches in Brunei, was initially due to finish her spell earlier but stayed on and the team was able to compete in the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Thilaka will return to coaching the Sri Lanka national team for the 2018 Asian Netball Championships which was her previous role prior to her appointment as the national netball coach for Brunei Darussalam.

Thilaka first took charge of the national team in 2011 and her immediate task was to rejuvenate a team whose recognised competitive appearance internationally was in the Arafura Games in 1993.

Her time in the Sultanate began after her application for the top job in the Sri Lanka national team did not go through despite leading them to Asian Netball Championships glory in 2009.

“I lodged my application in 2010 but I never heard anything about my application. They were looking for a coach around 2009 and that was the year when I finished the Asia Championships when we won,” said the outgoing coach in an interview with the Bulletin yesterday.

Thilaka was responsible in Sri Lanka gaining qualification for the 2011 World Netball Championships in Singapore after winning the continental title with the finalists automatically confirmed a spot.

“In the end of 2010, I received a letter from Brunei offering me as a coach. It was a crucial time for me to go out of the country (Sri Lanka) because of the issues. I say why not go do something in Brunei but I never have any clue coming to Brunei.

“I did not know anyone. I only knew one Sri Lankan who is the only personal contact I had. I never heard about Brunei in the netball field.

“When I came here, the first impression I was given was that team sport has difficulties surviving in Brunei because they play only for leisure and they didn’t want to commit to play at international level.

“It was a dilemma on what to do and I was coming to Brunei being an Asian-winning coach.

“(Before I came) I was (thinking) whether I made the right choice or was coming to the wrong place. It was my thinking at first but somehow I managed to build up slowly.”

During Thilaka’s early days as head coach, the national netball teams previous notable international commitment was the 1993 Arafura Games.

“There was no national team and they only had local tournaments. They weren’t even thinking about going to international tournaments.

“So, in the very first meeting with the Brunei Netball Association (BNA), they said they have been looking for a coach and they were happy that they got a coach.”

Thilaka’s first tasks as national coach were providing coaching courses and umpiring development programmes.

Currently, Brunei has one umpire certified with ‘B’ grade coaching certificate, the only country to achieve this other than Singapore in Southeast Asia as well as three ‘C’ grade certified umpires.

It was a new territory for Thilaka whose first international appearance as head coach for Brunei was in the 8th Asian Netball Championships in Colombo, three years after lifting the crown with the Sri Lanka national team.

“No one ever knew how Brunei played. I also never had any clue because Brunei did not compete internationally. I had to do a lot of damage control because in 1993, they went to Arafura without any proper training and without official arrangements and lost badly.”

Brunei lost by a big margin and Thilaka had to convince the then-Director of Youth and Sports, Haji Abdul Malik bin Haji Mohammad that it would not be the same story in the Asian Championships.

“And that was around the same time that I told him I’m going to take responsibility that Brunei will not be finishing last in Asia,” the Sri Lankan adamantly said.

The national netball team drew the attention of the regional netball community after holding much-fancied Maldives, a side which is a regular in the competition, to an unlikely draw.

“The media, especially the electronic media, praised how Brunei played. That was the beginning and everyone was inspired on how Brunei played.

“That was where we made our mark in Asia and other countries were going after Brunei.”

Thilaka, who was the first known professional coach to take charge of the team in an international tournament, shared that they went to exposure games in Singapore in 2011.

Without any funding, the team had to rely on building their own bankroll to facilitate their own exposure games and initiated activities such as garage sale.

“We managed to go to Singapore and they helped us a lot and we played club tournaments and club matches. After that, we went to the Asian Championships and before we played in the major competitions, we played against few clubs.

“At international level if you arrive early, you play with local clubs just to keep your momentum going and get some experience and keep the competitive spirit.

“It was a very successful year (in 2011) and looking back to the other years, I have a lot of passionate players.”

Thilaka advised that players must have both commitment and sacrifice to make it as international level players adding that they must dedicate at least five years in preparing for a major tournament.

“When you commit yourself, you’ll need to get stuck in it. Sometimes you get injured; it is part of the package of being an international athlete, getting disheartened, getting scolded and shedding tears. All these things are part of the package of an international athlete.

“You will grow mature with these issues so you get experience. You meet people, you will get scolded, and then you fall and then you get up, get injured and recover. It is part of the journey but some athletes tend to take it personally.

“In Brunei, that’s the big challenge that I found. I have mentioned national athletes have to possess the mentality and commitment for the country at least for a minimum of five years (before going) to the Asian Championships.”

During Thilaka’s reign, the 2019 SEA Games was identified to be a long-term plan for Brunei netball at a time when the country was expected to host the regional sporting event, before the decision was made that they will not be hosting it during the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in 2015.

“I convinced the athletes to build their mindset. I did early morning sessions at 5.30am so nothing is impossible.”

The outgoing national coach also revealed that she lost a number of good players from 2015 in her national squad in 2017.

Thilaka said that her biggest challenge during her seven-year spell was seeing players come and leave the squad due to obvious reasons adding that proper support and assistance should be extended to these national players.

With the national team is now looking for a successor, Thilaka hopes to see her former team in the Asian Netball Championships in Singapore next year.

“I hope to see Brunei players play in the Asian Netball Championships and my advice to the girls is ‘if you are playing for the country, you need to be able to commit yourself at least a minimum of five years’.

“It is not (only) the coach’s responsibility to organise the team, to have national pool of players and to maintain them. I think you have to allocate certain individuals for these,” she said.

In her parting message, she also reserved special mention to His Royal Highness Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah and Her Royal Highness Princess Fadzilah Lubabul Bolkiah.

“His Royal Highness Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah inspired the netball players and he came to every single game in both SEA Games. His Royal Highness gave a lot of moral support to the players. I am also thankful to the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports,” she further added.

She also expressed her gratitude to the President of BNA Datin Paduka Hajah Intan binti Haji Kasim.

“She really believed in me and whatever I said in my programme, ‘Datin, I have to go for this team-building in Temburong and Kota Kinabalu, whatever it was’, she would always encourage and support.

She also praised the Department of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports for giving “us faith in what we did”.

Courtesy from Borneo Bulletin