Structuring Youth Programs to be Inclusive, Targeted, and Relevant


At Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metro, 400 third, fourth, and fifth graders have been participating in the Sqord initiative.

To recap, Sqord is a fitness tracking game with 3 main components:

  1. The booster - a device worn around the ankle or wrist that tracks activity and measures it using a point system
  2. The online component - the platform that allows players to interact with one another online using customized avatars. Here, players view their activity levels and points, earn and spend “Sqoins” in the virtual market, challenge other players, and see where they rank on the leaderboard.
  3. Play - Outside in the trees, on the monkey bars, riding a scooter, wading in kiddie pools, inside playing golf on the Wii, on the elliptical, basketball in the gym, etc. Anything involving activity goes.

But Sqord is more than just a game, or an attempt to keep kids active.

At Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland, it’s a tool. The combination of Sqord’s structure and features has allowed BGCP to utilize it as a means to cultivate teamwork, healthy competition, and to increase youth’s involvement in games and programs involving physical activity.

All the Clubs comprise a single league, otherwise known as Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland League. Each Club is their own team, and teams compete against each other to earn the most activity points per week. Within each team, there are further subdivisions, or “squads”. Squads compete against each other in monthly challenges. Furthermore, individual players are able to challenge one another in a game of physical movement.

At the Russell and Regence Clubs, each staff member has their own squad, and the staff draft Club members to be on their teams. For instance, when Team Tori comes in first place for the week and earns a prize, it’s an incentive for players on Team Rebecca and Team Hannah to step up their activity levels. Most ingeniously though, is the fact that it is also an incentive for the youth participating to encourage and hold one another accountable to be more active.

Photo Property of Sqord

Photo Property of Sqord

The Sqord administrator [at Russell] is very intentional about weaving activities specifically geared towards Sqord into weekly programming. For instance, at 3:45 every Friday, players gather in the cafeteria with shiny and eager faces and wait to see where they rank on the week’s Leaderboard and to collect their prizes. 

Russell is one of BGCP's smallest Club locations. And yet, they remained one of the most competitive, in part, because challenges and gamification are a part of their Club culture. They also really worked to build Sqord activities into their tight schedule.

I once visited Russell and had the opportunity to observe the unveiling of that week’s leaderboard - the kids’ excitement was tangible and clearly visible. For the first time ever, a fifth grader named Megan had placed on the leaderboard, and she was very excited about it. I asked her later on what her favorite thing about Sqord was, and she said she loved that it made her more active in her day to day life.

The Sqord initiative has been an invaluable and much needed tool insofar that it has provided clubs with a means to measure and incentivize programming surrounding health and fitness. Additionally, the online component of the game has given members the opportunity to connect and interact with youth from other Clubs across the Portland area. When all of the data has been collected and analyzed, Clubs will be able to use that information to design health and fitness programs that are more inclusive, targeted, and most importantly, relevant to what the kids prefer to be doing and when they prefer to do it.