Alaska Native Tribal Health consortium
BadmintonGoesViral.org Alaskan Villages Project
The BadmintonGoesViral.org Alaskan Villages Project has shown that when given minimal instruction and motivation, a majority of students want more badminton… more time to play during school, more time to play outside school hours and the opportunity to compete.
Funded by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and piloted with the Lower Kuskokwim School District, this project identified (through student survey) the lifelong sport of badminton as a popular way to improve wellness and health through a physical activity that a majority of youth both CAN and WANT to play.
A key component in expanding this project and enhancing its effectiveness is involvement of village Tribal Councils. This project is an excellent way for the village and educational communities to work together to provide opportunity for youth and adults to be physically engaged in an activity that builds wellness, personal/professional relationships and a sense of community.
The following report describes the project itself, village and school receptivity, lessons learned, identified challenges, suggestions for program improvement and proposals for further development.
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Although not widely known in Indigenous AK communities, Badminton is HUGE among Indigenous populations in many circumpolar countries such as Greenland, Nunavut, and Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories. Through this project, mainly supported by Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Badminton Goes Viral (BGV) “Introduction to Badminton” program has shown that youth in the participating Alaskan villages really enjoy badminton and want to play more… suggesting that this sport would be very popular in the Indigenous regions of Alaska, just as in other areas with Indigenous peoples.
Chinese Proverb: “Teachers open the door,
but you must walk through it yourself.”
The above adage was posted on the wall in one of the schools visited by BGV. In staff meetings, this saying was applied to the introduction of badminton given to the students and teachers during the week. In this case, BGV opened the door and the teachers must walk through. BGV supplied teachers with the tools needed and the survey showed high student interest… now it is up to the teachers to use those tools to make sure the program continues and succeeds.
What Did BGV Do?
With the objective of increasing physical activity and wellness in youth and adults, Badminton Goes Viral.org spent one week in each of four Alaskan villages during the month of September in 2021. BGV introduced the sport of badminton and sparked an immense interest in playing to students, staff and the community, along with providing the tools to sustain a school/community program. Each week consisted of four days of student instruction during Physical Education classes, administration of a student participation survey and ended with sharing of badminton teaching resources at a teachers’ meeting of all school professional staff.
Coronavirus Issues. A fifth village visit was planned, but an upsurge in village Covid-19 Coronavirus cases forced the rescheduling of that village for January 2022. Community events originally planned as part of this project were also dropped due to village/school virus mitigation plans and will be included in future as permitted by Tribal Councils and Health departments.
What Were Village Reactions?
Lots of Enthusiasm!
• Overall: Students were so excited after just one class that they looked for opportunities to play outside of Physical Education class. Several students and
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adults in all villages voiced a desire to have badminton teams in the Lower Kuskokwim School District, along with competing in tournaments in Anchorage and elsewhere in the future.
• Toksook Bay: Students hit shuttles back and forth in the library/commons area when the gym was being used after school. When school athletic teams finished their practices, athletes pulled out the badminton rackets and shuttles and hit for as long as coaches allowed. High school seniors expressed interest in teaching younger students at their school and, if possible, going to the nearby villages of Nightmute and Tununak to teach their students.
• Napaskiak: After the first day of instruction, students came in before school to play.
• Kwethluk: Students asked to be able to play badminton, along with basketball and volleyball, in the gym during lunch time beginning the very first morning of class instruction.
• Bethel: Students repeatedly asked to have an afterschool club both verbally and in written form on the survey given at the end of the week.
Inclusion and Participation.
Of particular importance was the participation of students who are not usually interested in physical activity and/or do not normally participate in sports activities. While an average of 25 to 30 students hit badminton on one side of the gym during lunch in Kwethluk, a conversation with then Assistant Principal, Greg Hampton, revealed that there were many students involved that normally sat in the bleachers during this time. One student with multiple physical disabilities, Mary, found badminton to be a sport in which she could participate well and other students quickly realized that Mary was a great hitting partner. Mr. Hampton is currently a principal at a different school and has asked BGV to come to his new school.
In Toksook Bay, the Dean of Students, reported that several of the students hitting in the library after school were ones that struggled to find ways to fit in with other students and with school activities.
Not only were the kids enthused, several villagers in each community expressed that badminton was a part of their own past… playing when they were in school. Locals were excited to see BGV in their community and happy that children were learning “their favorite sport”. From store keepers to school custodians, there was interest and excitement in the revival of a sport they remembered well.
• Badminton is Fun! At the last school surveyed, 97% of students responded “Yes” badminton is fun. BGV feels this response is indicative of students at all schools. In earlier surveys, multiple answers were possible on this question and most of the time, students only chose one answer choice. Many of those same students wrote that “Badminton is fun” in some form in the comment section.
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• Class Participation. Students were eagerly active in class activities. Rarely was there a student who did not participate 100% of class time.
• Afterschool badminton. Students expressed a high interest in badminton being an afterschool activity and in participating if offered. Percentage numbers wanting to participate represent a large number of kids out of a school’s total population. An average of 75% of students across four villages responded “Yes” they would like to see badminton offered afterschool and if offered, they would participate. When including the response of “Maybe”, the percentage increased to 94% and 93%. Again, this indicates a large number of students interested in being involved with badminton outside school classroom time.
• Badminton in Other Communities. Over 90% of students at all village schools expressed they thought that other students/communities would enjoy badminton. • Comments from Students.
o BGV Favorites
▪ “I love badminton. I was born for this.” – Toksook Bay
▪ “I love badminton. My new favorite sport.” – Toksook Bay
▪ “Badminton and I thick. I’m going to join.” – Bethel
▪ “I wish I could play every single day.” – Bethel
▪ “You made us happy.” – Kwethluk
▪ “You rockstar.” – Kwethluk
▪ “It was the best sport I ever played.” – Napaskiak
▪ “Every time I play, I would get excited!” – Napaskiak
▪ “Though as a person that isn’t accustomed to sports activities,
badminton seems like a fun sport to have in the community.” –
▪ “Come back!” – every school
o Answer Themes from all schools
▪ “I love playing badminton!”
▪ “I am good at badminton.”
▪ “I want to play more badminton!”
• Desire for a badminton team
• Desire for afterschool play
▪ “Thank you for teaching us badminton!”
• “Will you come back?”
• Survey format changes.
o The way some questions on the survey were written, led to different interpretations by students and resulted in some inaccurate responses – in fact, even though student answers were highly positive, the percentage of positive answers is actually lower than it should be on some questions.
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o As BGV staff realized there was a disconnect with some written responses and with verbal responses received, the formatting of some questions was changed to better assess student reaction to the program.
o Due to survey question format changes, comparison between schools is more difficult. However, whatever the format of the questions, the overall student response to the sport of badminton was very high.
• Multiple possible answers. In administering the survey used in this initial project, it quickly became apparent that having multiple appropriate answer choices for one question is not helpful in getting a broad picture of student reaction… many, many students only responded with one choice even though they wrote in responses that were actually an answer choice earlier in the survey. For example, many students did not choose “Badminton is fun” on question 1 where multiple answers could be given, but wrote that “badminton is fun” in the comment section.
• Participation interpretation. This question may have been misunderstood by students. In almost every class, 100% of students were actively participating 100% of the class session. Because students were taking turns, they may have interpreted this as not participating at all times.
Sustainability in Villages.
At each school, there was a person willing to be responsible for the equipment and for future playing opportunities.
• Toksook Bay: Senior students and Principal Michael Robbins
• Napaskiak: Physical Education instructor and local Native Alaskan Rita Joekay & 8th grade teacher and coach Nathan Walker
• Kwethluk: Middle/High School teacher and volleyball coach Nicolas Mills • Bethel – Gladys Jung Elementary: Physical Education teacher Raf Johnson
*Other Bethel schools expressed an interest in the BGV program coming to their school on a return trip.
What Did BGV Learn?
Several aspects of the BGV program had a positive impact on the reception of the program to personnel in the schools.
• Equipment. Once both teachers and students realized that the badminton equipment would be staying at the school, interest in the sport increased immediately.
• Teaching Resources. The provision of digital and online lesson plans, activities, videos and suggestions of how to incorporate academic subject areas (such as math and science) allowed teachers to feel confident about teaching badminton
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and their ability to combine curricular objectives from other academic subjects while students were being physically active.
• Individual School Survey Results. Once teachers saw the appeal of badminton to the majority of students in their own school (indicated by survey results and student verbal comments), they were more enthusiastic about incorporating badminton into their teaching schedule, lesson plans and offering play opportunities.
• Comfort Level with An Outside Program. Any school staff nervousness was quickly diminished upon learning that one of the BGV staff was a retired teacher who was familiar with students, classroom instruction and the constraints of a school system.
While everyone encountered was enthusiastic and supportive, three key areas with challenges were identified.
• Restrictions and Limits
o COVID-19 restrictions only allowed interaction with the students at school during the school day… no after school programs or invitations to invite village parents and adults into the school for a badminton event were possible.
o Gym space and time – gyms are already used for other sports and community programs (under normal circumstances pre-covid).
o A higher quality, longer lasting badminton net system is needed for sustainability. A low-cost design system is available, but needs a local ‘owner’ to request the system and assume responsibility for setting up a durable net system.
o Some coaches may see badminton as trying to replace an existing sport like basketball, wrestling, or volleyball. The addition of badminton to a school sports program is a way to engage more students in a physically active lifelong sport. A leader of the Knik Tribe in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley aptly describes adding to sports programs as a way to ‘complete, rather than compete’.
o The idea that badminton has limited appeal for students. Once leaders see students enjoying badminton and asking to play more, they are much more interested in providing opportunities for play during and before/after school. Also, once leaders see that all students can participate
successfully – independent of size, weight, gender and that children with a variety of mental and/or physical disabilities can find success, they are very supportive of the sport.
o Some local recreation activity leaders might not be receptive to change until you mention that ESPN recently mentioned badminton as the second most played sport in the world based on a report by RealBuzz.com (link at end of report).
• Local Ownership
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o Because AK village schools (not unlike Indigenous village schools in other locales) are often staffed with imported lower 48 accredited teachers and the associated high turnover rate, the community has to be the center of our collective efforts. In Nunavut, the badminton community reports that “when a teacher/coach leaves the village, then there is no one with a key to open the gym after school hours”.
o Schools/Tribal Council interaction may be imperfect, but in the end the Tribal Council relationship is and should be primary.
o The need for local ownership is known. The next step is determining how to find and empower/support the ‘owners’.
What Could be Improved?
In order to better reach the objective of increasing physical activity and wellness in youth and adults, a longer and more involved relationship with the community and local Tribal Council is needed. Family or adult/child badminton should be the primary goal.
Networking. In future, it may be effective to include time to network and build relationships in the community that were not possible this time due to Covid concerns. Some suggestions are to create occasions to meet with various local leaders to introduce Badminton Goes Viral and discuss opportunities for badminton program maintenance and growth. Such as:
• Lunch with village elders
• Meet with the wellness director in each village
• Meet with tribal office and leaders
• Have a community event to include youth and adults
Communication. Keep in touch with schools prior to, during and after travel to the community to make sure things are in place to implement and maintain the program. Some key information to share would be as follows:
• A school or community leader identified as being responsible for sustaining the program after Badminton Goes Viral leaves the community. Having a person identified prior to arrival of BGV allows for an effective working relationship prior to and while in the village, but there is also merit in finding an enthused and motivated person during implementation of the program.
• A list of materials, resources and equipment needed for the program to be initiated and sustained.
• Program sustainability.
o Assess challenges or barriers teachers/leaders see to continuing a badminton program.
o Assist in development of suggestions to overcome identified challenges or barriers.
• Follow up reports from each school/village after BGV leaves.
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Survey design. Better question formatting and wording is needed to address questions and interests in a more effective manner for all involved parties (BGV, community leaders, school personnel and funding sources). Survey questions need to be more efficiently constructed and formatted for clear meaning of questions and correct interpretation in order for answers to yield useful and accurate information.
Program Feedback. Badminton Goes Viral needs to more successfully ask participants and/or teachers for suggestions as to what went well with the program, what could be improved, and what could be done to make the student and/or teacher/leader experience better.
What are Next Steps?
• William Miller Memorial School in Napakiak, LKSD and BGV have rescheduled for the week of January 24, 2022.
• Build on momentum by returning to same villages.
• Expand to other villages in Lower Kuskokwim School District – district administrators are interested in working with village clusters.
• Gauge interest from other school systems and/or villages in Alaska. • Inclusion of adults in the communities.
• Make sure Tribal Councils know this program is available through ANTHC upon request.
• Make sure Tribal Councils know funding for this program is available through ANTHC upon request.
Badminton Goes Viral Links
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/badmintongoesviral/
• Website: https://badmintongoesviral.org/
• Badminton – 2nd most played sport in the world:
o Paul Knechtel – firstname.lastname@example.org – 919.656.8326
o Lisa J. Ward – email@example.com – 919.698.7412