Amanda Wisbeck — football player and soon-to-be NCAA Division 1 athlete — sharing her high school athletic journey and on being awarded an athletic scholarship
Having just graduated from Hong Kong International School (HKIS), Amanda is soon embarking on her next big chapter in life: attending university in the US on a NCAA Division 1 soccer (football) scholarship. Originally from Sweden, Amanda lived in Shanghai and attended Shanghai American School (SAS) before moving to Hong Kong 2 years ago. She had also spent some time living in Shenzhen. During the school year, she played football for Hong Kong Football Club. As if studying and playing for a local HK club team wasn’t enough, Amanda is a tri-season athlete, i.e., she plays for HKIS year-round in 3 different sports; the other two sports being rugby and basketball. This past year Amanda won the All-APAC, an award given to the top soccer player in the APAC Tournament (Asia Pacific Activities Conference). This year was a special situation where all 12 schools in the APAC Tournament played each other.
It’s not often that you hear of students from schools in HK winning NCAA Division 1 athletic scholarships to the US. Can you share the experience of how it happened and what you had to do to secure this scholarship?
I was living in Shenzhen, China when my then middle school soccer coach told me of an opportunity to go to Hong Kong and train and be evaluated by a recruiting agency called Upper90. I went; I was the youngest one there, but was told that if I was going off to college there and then, they believed I could play Division II. We kept in contact with them and my sophomore year we began working on a highlight video I could send to colleges. Upper90 worked with me to reach out to the contacts they have (over 1,000 college coaches), we put together another highlight reel, sent out my transcripts and standardized test scores, and during my senior year I was contacted by five Division 1 schools.
I visited Canisius College in Buffalo, New York over my October break. I was lucky
enough to spend a day with the team and coach and really get a feel for what the campus was like and how the soccer players lived. I had to apply academically first and once I was admitted I was offered both academic and athletic scholarships to cover half of my tuition to both study and play soccer at Canisius College. This of course set Canisius apart from other schools; however, it wasn’t the only school that offered me scholarship money.
I feel a strong and special connection to Canisius because Todd Clark, my future coach at the college, reached out to me personally after Upper90 had informed me that the coach from Canisius was interested and that I should reach out to him to set up a call. The fact that Todd contacted me personally made me feel he was truly interested. In his email he told me he had coached a fair share of Swedish players, and in fact, had coached the current captain of Hammarby. Hammarby is the Swedish football team I grew up supporting with my father and my grandfather, so that was really cool to hear!
I was also planning my trip to the US for October break and planning on flying into Florida first to visit two Division II schools there before flying to Buffalo; unfortunately, a hurricane hit Florida which meant my father and I were stuck in New York City for a couple of days. I emailed Todd that night and told him that we would be flying to Buffalo the next day and only staying the day to visit Canisius College, and that I realised it was short notice and understood if he could not meet with me. But, to my surprise he was able to arrange an entire day for me to tour the school where I met with an admissions counsellor and even some professors. I met the team, had lunch with them and Todd gave us a tour around Buffalo! It was an amazing experience. I was blown away by the incredible visit that Todd and Canisius were able to schedule within just a few hours.
You’ve been on the varsity team at HKIS since you moved here, and previously you played at SAS. What are the differences between being on the team at HKIS versus in SAS?
I played on the varsity soccer team at SAS for two years. My freshman year I was extremely nervous trying out. SAS was a much larger school than my previous school
and I had never really played with other experienced, passionate football players. During my time at SAS, we had an incredibly strong team — we won Super APAC my freshman year and APAC my sophomore year. But high school sports are very unpredictable as players come and go all the time whether it’s because they are moving away or graduating. I was lucky to play for SAS when I did because there were some strong and experienced players. SAS also took their athletics very seriously, we practiced five times a week and had the entire field at least twice a week; we were respected just as much as the varsity boys’ soccer team and I definitely took that for granted.
When I moved to Hong Kong I was honestly shocked at what a gap there was between female and male athletics even at the high school level. My first year at HKIS we had a total of 12 practices if I remember correctly, the team was selected by age, not by skill and practices were slow and frustrating to me because many of the players did not take it seriously. Having said this, this past year our girls’ program really stepped up. I, with the help of some other players, were able to start a pre-season, as early as November. Our athletics director was able to find a soccer coach outside of our school faculty and the team this year was much more well-rounded. Practices were held even if we had days off of school, we were expected to be there unless we were sick and we were expected to put in 100% effort into every training. Although my experience with soccer at HKIS did not live up to my expectations in my first year, I feel this past year has shown a lot of growth and hope for our girls’ program.
What did you learn from this experience at HKIS? How did you take this disappointment in stride, and not let any frustrations or when things don’t go your way affect you?
Thankfully I was playing club soccer at Hong Kong Football Club as well. I have to admit I don’t think I learned much my first season at HKIS, besides how to keep a cool head, and work with people who did not want to put in the extra work or who did not have the same passion for the sport or the winning mentality. At one point I felt that I was becoming a worse soccer player, so I considered not playing for school the next year (2017). But I kept playing, and as I said earlier, this past year was much stronger and I think we have built a strong foundation for years to come.
What have you learned from being a “star” athlete on your high school sports team? What do you think were the two to three skills that enabled you to get to where you are now sporting achievement wise?
I am extremely competitive and I think that is a quality that has gotten me to where I am today, sports-wise. I mean, I love to win, and I must say that my competiveness has come down a little bit with age, but I am still very hot headed and I get very caught up in the matches I play. With the competiveness comes aggressiveness which is not always something you find in female athletes, at least not in Asia because of the way a lot of girls are raised in the sense that they are not encouraged or exposed to athletics as much as in western cultures.
I am very lucky that I was born fast because that has differentiated me from other athletes and helped me with all the sports that I have played. My coaches have told me that I am very coachable which makes sense because I love feedback so I can try to change my technique or form to improve. I think that has been a strong quality in my athletics because it has allowed me to learn and improve quickly, at least during the transition from middle school to high school soccer, when the field doubles in size and there are 4 more players on the field.
Lastly, because I am so competitive I push myself very hard and I don’t give up easily even when things get really difficult and I feel like I should just stop because I’m not getting better. I think it’s important to realize there will always come a barrier that you need to push through and it might take more time than you want it to.
You’ve obviously spent some time growing up in HK, and experienced schooling in HK, albeit at an international school where there is more focus on balancing academic performance and extra-curricular such as sports than at local schools. What’s the importance of “play,” being active and being on a sports team to you?
I grew up playing sports and I know that was weird to some of my other friends who were girls, but I was a tomboy growing up and I got on better with boys which really led me to sports. Secondly, I’m Swedish and where I’m from it is as normal for girls to partake in athletics as it is for boys, so I never felt out of place when I was the only girl on a football pitch. It wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong that I realized what a privilege that has been.
Sports have impacted me so much and have truly shaped the way I am. It has allowed me to grow in confidence, in leadership, in my ability to work with people and my character. I can honestly say, as chessy as it is, that I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for sports.
You just graduated from HKIS and had to partake in the AP exams. How did you fit in your sporting endeavors while studying for the exams?
Luckily, I had already secured my spot at Canisius College before the AP exams, so the AP exams were not as stressful for me as it was for other students with conditional offers to universities. However, I did feel pressure from my teachers, my parents and my peers. Seeing my friends studying and stressing out about the exams caused me to also stress. The morning of my first exam, AP Macroeconomics, I thought I was going to pass out; I was so nervous! But I can’t focus or study if I haven’t done any exercise that day and especially if I haven’t done any in the past few days. Exercise is a way for me to clear my head and to release stress and other negative energy I am carrying, so I always make sure to fit in exercise in between my studies.
Research in the UK and US have shown that girls are likelier to leave sports starting in middle school than boys. Have you experienced that amongst your friends around you? If so, why do you think that is, and what would you say to those girls who may be thinking about leaving sports?
I have experienced that amongst my friends and I think it may be because many girls haven’t found “their sport” and also because for boys, sports are a way to socialize and make friends. Whereas many girls don’t feel that same connection because of the social pressures to fit in with other girls who may not spend time on sports, but spend time on other things such as art or theatre or fashion.
Honestly, I have no idea why girls are likelier to leave sports than boys, but I would tell girls who may be thinking about leaving sports to stick with it, as long as you are enjoying them. Sports is such a great way to make friends and learn things about yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t. If you don’t enjoy the sports you are involved with now, switch! High school is a great time to try new things, I tried rugby my junior year and I loved it! It allowed me to meet so many new fascinating people and it taught me so much about my drive and strength.
You’re off to college this coming Fall. What’s in store for you? Do you have any goals or aspirations in terms of your sporting career and endeavours while in college?
I am just so excited to have this opportunity to compete at the Division 1 level. As it will be a big transition I am only hoping to learn and improve as much as possible my first year, from there on I will begin to set goals. But my main aspiration was to play soccer at the Division 1 level and I am ready to work hard and grow as an athlete and as a person at Canisius this coming Fall.