Adapt or Get Sidelined

The Future of International School Sports in a Post-Covid World

One year ago, Covid-19 was just beginning to enter the collective consciousness of people around the world. Few of us foresaw the unprecedented impact this pandemic would have on all facets of our lives. While almost every person had to fundamentally alter their way of life to some extent, schools around the world were burdened with the difficult task of delivering quality programming in the midst of a pandemic.

At a time when many schools around the world can’t even have in-person instruction, we are very fortunate at TIS (and in Macao) to have started this school year with students in classrooms. But to say that this has been a year like no other is an understatement. In an age where government pandemic control regulations dictate what we can and cannot do, discretionary travel and sports trips are usually the first casualties.

For the past decade, TIS has built a reputation as a school that places a great deal of emphasis on a holistic approach to education. Our comprehensive competitive sports program has always been a pillar of the TIS experience. We are a part of four international sports conferences and participate locally in Macao DSEJ events every year. In a typical school year, TIS athletes would travel overseas to compete in more than 40 tournaments in the greater China region and Southeast Asia. These overseas tournaments have become the culminating experience for most of our sports seasons and are critically important to our program.

The overwhelming benefits of youth participating in sports is well documented. Unfortunately, for many schools in the region, border and regional travel restrictions have put a sudden halt to interschool sports competitions. TIS is no exception. At the time of writing, all overseas sports tournaments for the 2020/21 school year have been effectively canceled. With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, many school sports programs are clinging on to life.

The silver lining for TIS in all of this is that Macao has managed to fare extremely well in preventing community transmission of Covid-19 and as a result, DSEJ sports is proceeding as planned this year. But this isn’t enough for us. The lasting effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. It simply isn’t enough to just survive this year, we must find ways to thrive despite the challenges we face and adapt to the new realities of 2021 and beyond. 

While we’re very fortunate to be able to compete locally in Macao, most teams/athletes will only compete in a limited number of events. For example, the core sports teams (basketball, volleyball, football) typically play 3-4 DSEJ matches per year and other sports (track and field, cross country, swim, etc) only have one competition every school year. Traditionally, it has been the combination of DSEJ events and overseas tournaments that form the basis for meaningful seasons for our coaches and athletes. In the absence of overseas tournaments, which make up the bulk of our competitions, we have shifted our focus to opportunities within Macao.

Instead of relying heavily on our traditional tournaments abroad and waiting to see what happens, TIS has decided to create new opportunities within our communities. In October 2020, TIS established Macau International Schools Sports Association (MISSA) along with Macau Anglican College and School of the Nations. While our three schools have had regular contact through DSEJ events and friendly exchanges, this is the first time we have entered into a formal partnership for the betterment of our students.

In November 2020, the first MISSA event was held for U20 Girls Volleyball. In February 2021, a U12 Boys Football tournament was held. With high school basketball and middle school football slated for the spring seasons, MISSA has quickly risen to be the marquee event for many of our teams.

The pandemic has forced us to reflect on the way we do things and has motivated us to reexamine the sustainability of our previous model. The shutdowns and closures were so sudden that many schools were forced to react quickly. Going forward, TIS can’t rely so heavily on international travel for our sports program as we’ve seen how quickly it can all be taken away from us. 

Creating MISSA is definitely a step in the right direction, but the work doesn’t stop there. As the leading international school in Macao and the region, TIS must take proactive steps to ensure the sustainability and stability of our programming. Even though we are all eager to go back to the days of traveling freely in the region and competing in PRC, SCISAC, ACAMIS, and CISSA, it is wise to adapt to the changing world and create more local options for our students. Not only will this approach strengthen our ties to local schools and further cement our reputation, but it will also allow us to be proactive in how we deal with adversity in the future.

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