On March 24, 2016, Hive NYC community members gathered for a presentation of the YMCA’s new Y-MVP App. The app is the newest digital component of the YMCA’s Teen Fitness Challenge Program. Unlike commercial fitness apps, Y-MVP is carefully tailored for the realities of Y branches and the needs of young New Yorkers. Game design, social media, virtual badges, and tangible rewards incentivize teens to plan and track their workout, all while learning fitness concepts.
Lori Rose Benson, V.P. of Healthy Lifestyles, and Emil Ramnarine, Senior Director of Youth Health and Fitness, shared how the YMCA built, piloted, and scaled the Teen Fitness Challenge Program and Y-MVP app. They also treated Hive members to a tour of the app’s back-end data infrastructure to help us better understand how the app issues virtual badges, supports communications, provides different user permissions, and other key functions.
But first, we all introduced ourselves and warmed up for the presentation in true YMCA style! Lori and Emil led us through a series of exercises using an activity playlist we created with the app.
Hive NYC Intro
After everyone was warmed up, Hive NYC staff gave a short welcome and guided participants through a 20 minute brainstorm activity. Everyone broke into small groups and rotated between three different prompts to generate ideas related to network activity. This resulted in a collection of suggestions to be discussed further in various meet-ups, forums and planning in 2016 and beyond.
Y-MVP: Development and Process
The initial digital component of the Youth Fitness Challenge was a set of iPad kiosks located at each branch. The Y-MVP mobile app was built to address the shortcoming of the kiosks and feedback from users. It does this by enabling users to receive credit for activity outside of their branch, serving as an all-in-one communication tool between youth and fitness coaches, and utilizing a redesigned back-end that is scalable and more accessible to youth, coaches, branch staff, and central administration.
Lori and Emil highlighted partnerships as one of the challenges they faced while developing the Y-MVP program. For example, they partnered with Hive member organization Institute of Play on the game design aspects of the app, but found that the more competitive features put forth by IoP were incompatible with their needs. Eventually, the YMCA arrived at a digital badge system motivated by personal accomplishment rather than competition. This experience highlighted for Lori the importance of understanding how the program needs fit with her partner’s philosophical position.
YMCA staff also learned important lessons around program evaluation. It became difficult to survey youth during summer vacation or after they had gone away to college, so the Y-MVP team discovered that it was important to complete the program and the impact evaluation within the same school year.
Another challenge is the barrier that the app itself creates for youth who do no have a smartphone or tablet. These users are only able to use the app during program time.
Feedback from the Hive NYC Community
Following the presentation, Lori and Emil asked Hive members to contribute feedback about the Y-MVP app based on their own experiences as youth educators. As always, Hive members had much to offer. Here is a summary of the feedback:
- Videos featuring users doing exercises and coaches approving
- Provide a pathway for youth to train as coaches.
- Create web-based and android OS versions of the app.
- Create an analog/hard copy playbook of fitness challenges.
- Host a Y-MVP award ceremony.
- Tie-in between out-of-school fitness challenges and in-school physical education classes.
- Award school credit for participation in the fitness challenges.
- YMCA fitness badges could serve as credentials for opportunities outside the Y.
- Strategic partnership with Summer Meals program
- Offer badges for healthy eating.
- Alerts, like a reminder to drink more water.
- Geotag – doing homework in the park.
Try Y-MVP For Yourself!
You can download the Y-MVP app for free from the Apple app store and try it for yourself. Lori and Emil are open to ongoing feedback from the community, and are currently considering the challenges of white-labeling or open sourcing the app for other community-based organizations.
Please email your feedback to lbenson [at] ymcanyc [dot] org