An APAC tournament diary

For students at the International School of Beijing (ISB) pursuing their passions in sport, the middle of April was packed with peak moments and chances to show all the qualities and values they have developed as ISB Dragons.

The Asia Pacific Activities Conference (APAC) offers Grade 9-12 students from 12 international schools in the Asia Pacific the chance to compete across the region in a range of sporting competitions, as well as to collaborate in various performing arts. These prestigious events are an integral part of ISB’s High School co-curricular program. And for most High School Varsity athletes, they’re the highest level of competition they will experience in their lives.

Between April 17 and 21, ISB’s girls and boys track and field and soccer teams were in Shanghai, and the girls and boys badminton players were in Seoul, for their respective APAC tournaments. ISB’s Rebecca W entered the inaugural APAC golf event in Shanghai in the days after that.

We wanted to get a really good look at how co-curricular activities help empower students with purpose and compassion, and to find out in practice how a group of students engaged in a particular pursuit at school learn and grow through that engagement. While students in all the APAC sports made ISB proud, we knew we couldn’t present an in-depth case study on all of them. Selecting largely at random (but taking more than a little inspiration from the hit documentary TV show Welcome to Wrexham!), we chose to follow the boys soccer team through the challenges and joys of their tournament.

At quality schools, profound learning occurs on sports fields, stages, and in plenty of other places as well as in the classroom. Knowing that all APAC athletes and performing artists have similarly enriching experiences, the following is a case study in the powerful role that co-curricular activities play alongside academics in ensuring that these young adults have integrity, strength of character, and excellent prospects after graduation.

Departing with excitement, nerves, and community wishes

For most of the athletes, it was an early departure from ISB for their train to Shanghai on Wednesday, April 17. The soccer boys boarded the bus with plenty of emotions, led by their three team captains – Yonas M, Alex Z, and Jonathan C, all Grade 12.

“Mentally, amid preparation for our IB exams, it was a stress reliever to be getting away from school,” said Yonas, “but it was also an anxious moment because we were going to represent ISB and face a test against other schools.”

“We had so many people from ISB wishing us good luck, from teachers to parents to the badminton players on their way to Seoul,” added Jonathan.

Departing with excitement nerves and community wishes Departing with excitement nerves and community wishes An APAC tournament diary

The captains had organized for cards to be distributed to every player. Inside were handwritten personal notes from their teammates. This is a new tradition in ISB sport. Coaches know how meaningful such off-field moments are and how they will boost players’ camaraderie and stick with these students long after the sporting action.

As they settled down on the train, some of the players took a practice physics exam. The tourists knew that they would have to keep up with their studies, with every student at ISB balancing their academics with passions outside of the classroom.

A thrilling comeback and a birthday with the ISB family

The squad woke in their hotel beds on Thursday, April 18 eager for the first game. A tough tie against one of the top teams among the 12, they performed creditably in a 3-1 loss. ISB were reassured that they had qualities and areas for improvement that could make them very competitive in the rest of the tournament.

As any football fan will know, big tournaments generally involve a group stage and then knockout ties. For this APAC weekend, ISB had been placed with three other teams in a group, playing each of them for a final group ranking. The eight top-placed teams in the groups would progress to quarterfinals, the remaining teams to playoffs.

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The second game for ISB was against Concordia, one of the two Shanghai schools hosting the boys soccer tournament. ISB dominated but struggled to score. Worse still, Concordia took the lead on one of their rare attacks. Soon, Concordia had a second goal. With two losses, ISB would be looking at a low finish in their group and an exit from the main tournament.

But the ISB Dragons persevered. They got one goal back and then equalized in the final minute of the game. The players celebrated raucously and the families who had traveled in support breathed sighs of relief.

“Coming back to draw against Concordia was one of my happiest moments in my journey at school,” said Raymond J, Grade 9, who had worked hard in training to win selection alongside older players in the squad for APAC. “It showed resilience that we wouldn’t have had earlier in the season, and it reminded me why I love being involved in sport so much.

On his 18th birthday, Alex Z scored two of ISB’s goals on April 18. That night, his dad brought a birthday cake for the squad to enjoy. Alex said, “At first, I was disappointed not to be able to celebrate my 18th with my family back in Beijing, but it turned out to be so great to celebrate with my teammates – this other family I’ve made playing football.”

Calm in the eye of the storm

On day three in Shanghai, ISB had a clear target. Based on other results in their group so far, they knew they needed to win by four goals in their third and final group game to progress to the quarterfinals.

Their opposition had lost all their games so far and were a relatively inexperienced team. ISB, hitting their stride after all the training and team bonding, won 8-0 and marched on to the quarters.

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A thunderstorm delayed the kickoff of ISB’s quarterfinal. The players stayed ready in the gym and paced nervously. The additional time was an opportunity for a bit of extra strategizing and game analysis, the coaches helped by team manager Frithjof T, Grade 11. Frithjof was injured before APAC and ruled out of playing, but he traveled to Shanghai in this team manager role.

“I liaise between players and coaches, work on logistics,” he explained. “It’s nice to have an extra pair of hands, someone who’s not playing but who sees from the players’ perspective. I know how the players are feeling, any frustration or issues emerging.”

ISB went down 1-0 in the quarterfinal, losing to the eventual winners of the tournament. It was a very solid performance, and the players were disappointed but driven to succeed in the remaining playoff games to finish as high as fifth in APAC 2024.

ISB does a lot of work to make sure its students are socially and emotionally strong. “Of all the teams eliminated from the main tournament, I think we were the ones with the most motivation to keep going,” said Jonathan.

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‘So much more than sport’
On the final day of play, ISB beat Concordia 2-0 and then won 2-0 again to secure fifth place.

The APAC awards ceremony that night was a special occasion. The ISB players mixed with their counterparts from other international schools around the Asia Pacific, setting aside their friendly rivalries to enjoy a warm sense of community.

Meanwhile, the ISB girls soccer team finished seventh in their tournament, winning three of their matches. In track and field, the ISB boys finished third and the girls seventh, with numerous individual and relay successes, including:

  • Silas B dominated the boys distance events, winning the 800, 1500, and 3000 meters.
  • Sophie L and Carina L finished first and second in the shot put.
  • Josh T won the 110-meter hurdles.
  • Ryan H won the javelin.
  • Over on the badminton courts in Seoul, the ISB girls finished second and the boys tenth. ISB’s Justin Z came sixth in the boys singles.

At the Shanghai Links Golf Club, Rebecca W was an excellent ambassador for ISB, showing real commitment to travel to the inaugural APAC golf event as ISB’s sole entrant. She won the girls event, finishing an amazing 11 shots ahead of her closest rival!

More important than the sporting success of all these individuals and teams, however, is the challenging and joyful learning experienced by so many students who take part in extra-curricular activities at ISB.

“This is about so much more than sport,” said Grade 9 soccer player Raymond. “I’ve learned not only the face-value skills of the game but also skills of collaboration and building bonds. I’ve made so many connections. I see teammates, some of them three years older than me, and there’s a look in our eyes when we stop and talk in the hallways on campus. That would never have happened without playing sport here at ISB.

“The skills I’ve learned on the soccer field also help me in my schoolwork. I’m so motivated to do this all over again next year.”

Thank you to Christina L, Grade 12, and other ISB community members for the photos in this article.

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International School of Beijing

International School of Beijing

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