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Football to swimming: How his three academies are transforming sports training in S’pore

It is easy to name Singapore’s top athletes, but do we know the coaches who supported them through their failures and made tremendous sacrifices to nurture their athletes towards triumph? After all, behind every great sportsman is a dedicated coach — a pillar of strength that provides unwavering encouragement and mentorship.

No one relates to this on a personal level more than Ray Kua, the visionary founder of three private sports academies in Singapore: SwimRay, GoalKick, and Triple Threat.

Growing up in a modest neighbourhood with sports as his refuge, Ray noticed that the existing training frameworks and resources for athletes in Singapore were falling short, although the city-state was furnished with well-kept facilities.

“Insufficient funding and inconsistent use of facilities, lack of coaching quality, methodologies and opportunities to perform have left many aspiring young athletes without the guidance they need to thrive,” he explained.

In contrast, global sports superstars who grew up playing in humble settings, such as the favelas in Brazil, have managed to carve out successful careers despite having limited facilities. Similarly, even counterparts closer to home, such as Thailand and Vietnam, are excelling in team-based sports like football and basketball while equipped with sub-par facilities.

It became evident to Ray that Singapore’s well-kept and well-equipped public spaces could be utilised more effectively to provide quality coaching to aspiring athletes conveniently — leading him to establish SwimRay, GoalKick and Triple Threat.

Equipping Singaporeans with tangible sports skills

Prior to Ray’s establishment of his sports academies, private coaching sessions in HDBs and Condominiums were primarily conducted on a freelance basis. However, this came with several risks and challenges, including difficulties in tracking and ensuring the progress of clients.

As such, Ray wanted to establish a robust accountability system for coaches, while also prioritising the acquisition of new skills and cultivate genuine interest among clients.

“Our primary focus was to ensure that [clients] develop tangible sporting skills that could lay a strong foundation for their future growth. My dream was to create academies for every possible sport, delivering high-quality coaching experiences to anyone, anywhere,” he said.

Through SwimRay, an academy that specialises in private swimming lessons, Ray’s students are equipped with essential water survival skills.

Meanwhile, Triple Threat provides basketball coaching, with an aim to raise the overall competitive level of basketball in Singapore to produce results across all levels of the sport.

Goalkick, on the other hand, focuses on football training. Despite the recent criticisms surrounding Singapore’s football standards, the academy aims to play a significant role in enhancing grassroots football by providing top-notch coaching sessions that are accessible anywhere and everywhere.

Bringing sports training to your doorstep

All of Ray’s sports academies adopt a unique “school to you” concept, where coaches are dispatched to the clients’ doorsteps or any preferred location, ensuring convenience and accessibility.

To guarantee the highest quality of coaching, the academies’ backend teams work tirelessly, providing round-the-clock support and conducting regular reviews of coaching performance. All academies also undergo rigorous evaluation within their respective industries.

This allows its clients to experience the same level of professionalism and accountability they would find in a venue-based academy.

“Each academy operates independently, with a dedicated team of nearly 140 coaches collectively, ensuring personalised attention and creating a nurturing environment for our students,” Ray added.

In recognition of their commitment to delivering top-notch services and setting industry standards, SwimRay was awarded the SME100 for 2023 — the only sports academy in Singapore to obtain the award — while Triple Threat was awarded the SME500 2023.

However, when starting up the academies, Ray struggled to find funding for starting a private coaching venture.“As a traditional freelance industry, coaching services were often perceived as unstructured and unreliable by parents. I had to fork out most of my personal savings,” he said.

To combat this perception, Ray and his team sought to demonstrate that their coaches were of the highest calibre and that enrolling in their academies was akin to joining a venue-based sports academy. He also worked on building a strong in-house coaching system to ensure that coaches were well-prepared before engaging with students.

Creating a comprehensive sports platform

Following the success of the three sports academies, Ray plans on further expanding on their offerings. “With more sports academies sprouting up and the quality of Direct School Admission improving, we see a golden opportunity to [grow] this field and foster healthy competition among private academies,” he said.

Most recently, Ray launched Active Souls, an academy that offers holiday-based sporting programs. Active Souls aims to elevate athletes to new heights through intensive training, as well as foster a dynamic environment where clients from all of his academies can interact and learn together.

The new academy also gives participants the chance to “sample” and “try out” various sports under the guidance of the best coaches in each field. “Unlike conventional holiday camps that adopt a one-coach-teaches-all approach, we ensure a specialised coaching service tailored to each camper’s chosen sport,” Ray said.

Beyond establishing more academies for traditionally-played sports like badminton, Ray plans to open academies for lesser-played sports, such as rugby and inline skating.

Ultimately, he aims to unite all the academies under a single umbrella, in a bid to become the go-to professional coaching option for every sport imaginable, ensuring access and top-notch coaching quality are available to anyone, anywhere.

Feature image credit: Ray Kua/ Triple Threat

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