Matt McEwan: Gain Without Pain

In this week’s Teacher Profile, we highlight Matt McEwan, Athletics Director and Head of Physical Education at Yew Chung International School of Beijing. New to China, Matt shares the story of what led him to leave behind a comfortable life in Scotland and make the move around the world.  He also speaks of what inspired him to become a PE teacher, the many sports opportunities on offer for YCIS Beijing students, and even offers advice for parents who want their children would be more physically active.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Matthew McEwan, from Perth, Scotland, and I am the head of PE and athletics director here at YCIS Beijing. 

What led you to come to Beijing, and how do you like it here? 


I came to Beijing for excitement.  My girlfriend and I were well set up in Perth, both with jobs, a car and a comfortable house, but more and more we began to ask ourselves if that was all there was to life.  We thought that there had to be something more.  So, one day we just packed up and came over.  

And I’m so glad that we did – I’m loving it here. Beijing has four times the population of Scotland (just in Beijing!), so the difference between Perth and Beijing is wild.  If you want to do something, no matter what it is, you can always find it in Beijing.

What inspired you to become a Physical Education teacher? 

I was inspired by the first teacher I ever remember having, Ms Hargreaves, who was one of my Primary teachers.  And she was very, very cool.  She certainly was a big influence on me. 


But also, PE was the subject in school that made me feel best about myself. And I enjoyed going to school because I was able to do PE there. My inspiration for becoming a teacher was to try and bring that self-confidence and happiness to other students.  

What aspects of the teaching profession are most rewarding? 

The most rewarding aspect of teaching is to witness students during their other classes and extra-curricular activities.  For example, seeing my students honoured during the IGCSE Awards, or spending time with them during the community atmosphere of the Welcome BBQ – it’s wonderful to see students in other contexts.

Every day I see students during PE class, but it’s awesome to see them engage in other activities because I can see that they’re fantastic at those things as well.  


What sports opportunities are there for students at YCIS Beijing?

There are two main associations that we’re member of, the first of which is the International Schools Association of China (ISAC).  This is a Beijing and Tianjin based association, made up of about 18-20 schools. The schools are then divided into divisions, and we play within our division in each of our three core sports – volleyball, basketball and football.  There are regular matches each week, and each of the three seasons lasts for about three months.

The second association we’re a member of is the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS).  This association is larger, with schools all over China and Mongolia, and sports opportunities through ACAMIS involve travelling to other cities for several days to compete in sporting events. It’s a great opportunity for students to get away for a few days with their friends, stay in a hotel, and meet other kids the same age all over China.

Why is it important for all students to be physically active? 


Aside from the obvious health benefits, there are also many things you can learn through sports that are transferable to other aspects of life. When playing sports, you learn about the value of hard work, about independent practice and learning, and about working as a part of a team. If you take these skills and apply them to your academic life, it can start to make a real difference. 

It’s also important for kids to find out what they’re good at and enjoy, because, from a health point of view, knowing that you enjoy something, you’re much more likely to take it through your whole life.

What tips would you offer for parents who want to encourage the children to be more physically active?

I remember one of the things that stuck with me in university was when one lecturer said, “The worst statement in sports or fitness is ‘No pain, no gain’” because he thought that that mentality put so many people off of sports.

But you can have so much gain without any pain. Sport doesn’t have to be going from the couch to running a marathon. Instead, it could be simply getting off the couch to walk the dog. So, parents can remind children that sport doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

If children want to play football, it doesn’t mean they necessary have to join a team or even understand the game. Just giving it a try is a great first step as well. If you want to play badminton, go to the park and play with no net.  Or children could pass the football around with their friends without any goals.  Encourage children simply to give things a try.

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