By Yvonne Robertson, Newswire
Swimming is more than a sport at the International School of Beijing (ISB).
What happens in the aquatic space located on the lower level of the school transcends the pool’s four walls, permeating throughout the school and into the surrounding community.
It’s a direct result of the approach ISB takes on its aquatics programming, which incorporates the whole child, as well as the whole-of-community, fostering a supportive team culture.
At ISB, a whole child approach to learning means looking beyond pure academics and integrating approaches such as experiential learning and socio-emotional learning, as well as developing life skills such as critical thinking, leadership, and collaboration.
Together, these three pieces prepare a student for the rapid change of the 21st century and are incorporated into every aspect of learning at the school.
And the swimming program is no different.
“ISB has been at the forefront of swimming developments amongst the international schools,” says the school’s Aquatics Director Nic Wilson (pictured below, left).
“We believe the only way ISB can benefit, and other swimmers in our community can benefit, is if we help the rest of the schools and community have more opportunity to showcase their swimming abilities. We want everyone to go out there and have fun, and build friendships.”
Wilson, himself, is no stranger to the international swimming community, hanging up his goggles in the early 2000s after competing in the All Africa Games representing South Africa in 2003, as well as stints on the European circuit.
Building a strong swimming community
He hopes to continue and maintain ISB tradition of developing a sense of community within the international swimming community, as well as the local and school swimming communities.
Five years ago, the school hosted its first swim invitational as a way to develop swimming in the area and encourage healthy competition amongst international schools and communities.
Now a staple of the school year, the March event sees about 500 swimmers participate, bringing all the Beijing international schools together as well as others across Asia.
Besides attracting international communities to ISB, the school opens its doors to the local community, where its pool is used for after-school and weekend programs to allow community members the opportunity to swim.
Even within the ISB ecosystem, the pool is regularly and consistently enjoyed by students, teachers, and staff, offering year-round, competitive and non-competitive programming, during and after school.
“It’s incredibly important that we support wellness amongst our staff here,” says Wilson. “If we’re promoting a life balance to students, our teachers and staff need to follow that. We offer a Master’s swimming program to staff in the evenings, which is just another example of where the school tries to make sure staff members are happy in the workplace.”
Throughout the year, ISB’s swim teams are active participants on the international school swimming circuit, competing in various meets and competitions across Asia.
These competitions culminate in the APAC Swim Meet every January, where the school often sees great success. The boys’ team has won 10 out of the 12 years the school has competed, while the girls have seen gold eight times.
“The results are really just the cherry on top,” says Wilson, who began his time at ISB as a head coach five years ago. “What really makes us realize we must be doing something right is the amount of swimmers enrolled in our aquatics program.”
Bringing a whole-child approach to swimming
In total, approximately 1,000 to 1,200 of the 1,600 ISB students participate in the swimming program, either competitively, or non-competitively.
“We have a place for everyone to swim if they want to.”
Of this figure, approximately 180 students are enrolled in the competitive, year-round programming, according to Wilson.
And with approximately 30 students enrolled in Baby Dragons this year, ISB swimmers run the age gamut, from Pre-K to Grade 12.
Wilson attributes these numbers to both ISB’s whole child approach to swimming and a very supportive parent population.
“Parents really buy into it as well, and really support the children. They see the positive benefits of the sport. We have about 100 parent volunteers who help out and we couldn’t do it without their support. It’s a huge partnership with parents, teachers, and coaches.”
Through the programming, Wilson and his aquatics team develop skills that will follow the students throughout their time at ISB and beyond, while also fostering a healthy culture of sportsmanship.
“We follow an athletic development model where we foster a long-term approach,” he says. “We encourage patience. Sometimes we think we have to start a sport so early in order to find success or be competitive. Here, we promote the long-term. We feel there’s a lot more time. We make sure we foster that love for the sport as much as possible.”
Students learn a variety of strokes and distances without specializing until they reach high school in an effort to encourage an appreciation for all aspects of swimming.
“We have a wonderful team culture and we’ve worked really hard to establish that. The students really find that love for swimming, forge wonderful friendships, and then continue to swim because they have good mates. It’s an infectious atmosphere. We find this has a ripple effect into quality of life and wellness.”
The skills the students learn through the aquatics program feeds into a wider skillset that fall under ISB’s life skills: developing their sense of discipline and work ethic, leadership, collaboration, and time management.
Possibly more importantly, the promotion of mental and physical wellbeing is invaluable.
“Sometimes, academically, school becomes intense,” says Wilson. “Swimming offers a release from all of that. It’s a sport where you escape from things, your head’s in the water. The water offers such a wonderful medium to be free from everything else. It gives kids that ‘me’ time, which many enjoy.”
While swimming can be seen as an individual pursuit, one is also part of something bigger, part of a larger team working towards a common goal. Within this context, students work individually and simultaneously adopt team spirit.
Wilson’s own team consists of an assistant coach, two instructors, and a former double Olympian-cum- upper level swim coach—a recent addition to the team.
“We have some great coaches on our staff,” says Wilson. “The culture has kind of fed off itself and just sort of snowballed. We’ve enjoyed being part of that and developing it over time. It’s always busy down here. We have lots of fun.”