This Singaporean dad turned his son into one of Asia’s best table football players – by letting him train only when he wants to

Tan Kok Wee, 48, passed on his love of table football to his son Yi De, 12.
Karcher Singapore

For many competitive gamers, practice makes perfect. But for one young player from Singapore, there is no regular practice – he only plays when he feels like it.

In fact, activities like tuition and family outings outrank training sessions for 12-year-old Tan Yi De, who in 2017 became Asia’s top table football player in the under-12 category.

The primary school student nabbed the title at the tender age of 10, after clinching the top spot at the Table Football Asian Cup in Tokyo.

Table football – which is different from foosball – is a tabletop game that mimics a football match. Two players take turns using their fingers to flick mini figurines across a board to score goals, using the same rules as football.

Also known as “Subbuteo”, the game was popular in Singapore in the 80s, but interest waned when its maker, Waddingtons, stopped producing the game after being bought over by toy giant Hasbro in 1994. 

Nevertheless, table football still enjoys a loyal following of about 50 players here – and at its forefront is none other than Yi De’s father, Tan Kok Wee, who is largely credited for reviving the sport locally.

Tan, who began playing the game around 1985, is the president of Singapore’s Table Football Association – and even won the open category at the same Asian Cup as his son.

The pair are looking to compete again in this year’s Asian Cup, which is being held in Singapore.

Event sponsor Karcher said the game, which was once played along corridors and in void decks, would bring back “fond memories for Singaporeans” of the days before console games.

Tan and his son Yi De wearing Team Singapore jerseys at the Table Football Asian Cup in Tokyo, 2017.
Tan Kok Wee

Despite raising an award-winning player, Tan – a 48-year-old training development manager – insists he has not coached Yi De much, apart from explaining rules and demonstrating basic moves.

Tan’s elder son Yi Xiang, 14, does not play, but his younger brother quickly picked up the game after accompanying their father to a weekly practice match organised by the association in 2016.

Tan then advised his son to pick up his opponents’ strategies, and encouraged him to play against “uncles” (experienced older players who, being fond of the boy, often share tips with him). This eventually snowballed into his participation in the Asian Cup.

As the family does not own a game board, the pair play only at the association’s sessions, which they attend roughly once or twice a month.

Yi De also skips training when he feels tired, or is simply not in the mood.

Despite the impending competition, his parents have no plans to install a regular training schedule.

“Of course it would be better if he could attend more training sessions, but we don’t want to push him to the point that he loses interest in the game,” Tan said.

“Many parents will push their kid to go for weekly training, dictate how hard they must work in order to win – but we don’t believe in that,” he added. “You have to honestly ask: who really wants this award: the kid, or the parent?”

Tan said that in situations where parents decide on goals for their child, the child ends up working towards the target simply to make the parents happy.

This will kill their interest in an activity once they achieve the target, he cautioned.

“Maybe the kid won’t say it out, but that’s what they’ll feel. They’ll be thinking: ‘Here’s the award you wanted. Are you happy now? Am I free to do what I want now?'” he said.

“We don’t want this to happen. If Yi De has the interest, he’ll be able to excel on his own. My job is to maintain his passion for the sport. Winning is just a bonus.”

Read also: 14 successful people share the best advice they ever got from their dads

Tan said that Yi De’s own desire to win is already sufficiently motivating the boy – who has mild ADHD – to improve his focus and attention span.

He is also gaining key social skills, such as how to be a gracious winner and loser, and how to communicate with players of various ages and nationalities.

Most importantly, the game has brought father and son “much, much closer”, as they now have a common activity and a shared circle of friends to talk about.

Tan says he has observed that fathers often make one critical mistake when trying to bond with their children: they don’t actually participate in activities together.  Instead, the fathers often hang back, just watching – and become less engaged in the experience.

His advice? Dads should pick an activity both parent and child are interested in, and make the effort to take part fully.

He also cautions against choosing video games as a bonding activity – as it mostly involves “staring at a screen, with each person pressing their own controllers”.

Read also: