Some women in their 60s and 70s are making a splash playing a game similar to water polo
On Thursday mornings, at a time when students are having their first classes of the day, much splish-splashing can be observed in the shallow pool at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.
Excitement is in the air as bodies bob up and down in the water, vying for a distinctive yellow ball.
This could pass off as a water polo match played by youngsters, except that those making a splash are, in fact, women in their 60s and 70s.
"Ah Ma Flippa ball", as it is affectionally known, was started in 2016 by Mr Teo Chin Lor, a lifeguard at the swimming complex, and former complex manager Yvonne Tan. They wanted to see older swimmers engage in an activity together.
He got the idea of getting them to play Flippa ball - a simplified version of water polo - after watching Flippa ball classes for kids at Pacer Water Polo Academy. He got the support of Sport Singapore, the agency that promotes sports, and roped in Pacer founder Ting Kum Luen, who volunteered to provide free logistical support.
In Flippa ball, players wade in a pool about 1 m deep - much shallower than the adults pool which is usually about 1.8m deep. This allows people to build their water confidence, well within safety limits.
The aim of the game is almost identical to water polo, where players score goals by throwing a ball past a goal post, though the Ah Mas base their game on a version where most of the rules have been tweaked for their convenience.
Two, sometimes three, goalies instead of one are allowed to guard the posts, and the Ah Mas are allowed to throw the ball with two hands instead of one and to walk while holding the ball.
Most of the 18 female Flippa ball players are regulars at the swimming complex. Most have seen an improvement in their health after playing the sport.
"I feel more energised and my joints don't hurt as much," said 72-year-old Tia Ah Kew, who has five children and 15 grandchildren.
Although the game can get pretty intense and physical, it is conducted in good spirits.
Madam Grace Yeoh,72, who travels from Bukit Timah to play the game, said: "We fight too sometimes, saying the games are not played fairly, and then we complain to our coach, Mr Gan... and he'll say, 'It's okay. No need to follow the rules, so long as everybody is happy with what you are playing.'"
For now, Toa Payoh Swimming Complex is the only place with regular Flippa ball sessions for the seniors. Pacer's Mr Ting hopes to reach out to more of such swimmers from pools in different parts of Singapore. "Hopefully one day we can organise buses to bring the elderly players to different pools to play and compete and to meet new friends," he said.
At the beginning, some older men had also joined in, but they slowly stopped playing.
But on a recent Thursday at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex, some male seniors were looking on curiously as they took a break from dipping in the water to enjoy the crisp morning air and chat with friends.
When asked whether he would play, one cheeky uncle replied: "Got three balls in the water, I don't know which ball to catch! "
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.