Sport turns to police boot camp to reverse decline Officers putting players through their paces in bid to catch up with neighbors
JAMBI, Indonesia — A police boot camp complete with shooting lessons may not seem like a natural training ground for sportsmanship, but Indonesia’s sepak takraw team is hoping that militarystyle discipline will help them achieve sporting glory.
The sport, which combines elements of football and volleyball, is native to Southeast Asia but the region’s biggest country has long lagged behind its smaller neighbors in the battle for dominance.
Now the country’s top players have taken the unusual step of “embedding” with an elite police unit on Sumatra island, where a crack team of officers are helping the 15 male and female athletes get into shape by overseeing exercise sessions.
“This is the perfect place for them to train,” Indonesian sepak takraw chief Asnawi Rahman said about the decision to send the team to Jambi in mid-March, ahead of the Southeast Asian Games in August.
“They can get mentally and physically prepared,” he said.
The players are training with the Mobile Brigade, the police’s special operations unit which is involved in counterterrorism and riot control.
While the officers can offer little in the way of sepak takraw expertise, the team can pick up skills such as firing weapons, which the experts in the game believe helps to focus the players’ minds.
The centuries-old sport was originally played with a grapefruit-sized ball fashioned from straps of rattan with 12 holes.
It was traditionally played with two teams of three facing each other on a court about the same size as a badminton court, with a raised net. Players kick and head the ball, which is now made of synthetic fiber, over the net, but aren’t allowed to touch it with their hands or arms.
In recent years Thailand — where sepak takraw has a bigger following than in Indonesia — has dominated the sport at regional tournaments, while Myanmar has also been gaining ground after investing money in training and development.
Rahman has called for more funding and said the country has fallen behind because their players are not as well prepared physically and mentally as their rivals.
He hopes the police training will make a difference.
The arrangement involves significant personal sacrifice for the players, who are forced to live a hermit-like existence for the five months they are at the base.
They are not allowed to leave the compound — which is closed to members of the public — at all on weekdays and are only allowed out at weekends accompanied by officers.
Still, the players think it’s worth it.
“I like it here, more than training at previous places,” said Dini Mitasari, a 23-yearold female player who is also an army officer.
“Mobile Brigade officers are highly disciplined, and they’re also highly motivated — it affects us and our motivation as well.”
A member of Indonesia’s sepak takraw team performs an overhead kick during a training session at an elite police force base in Jambi, Indonesia.