Team N.W.T. badminton players use AWG tune-up camp to give back

Team Northwest Territories badminton spent a few days in Fort Smith this week preparing for the upcoming Arctic Winter Games, but they also found time to pass on their skills to local youth.

Team used Fort Smith camp to teach skills to grade 4 to 6 students in the community

Paulatuk's Casey Tai coaches grade 6 student Heidi Cumming. Tai, 17, is one of the players selected to Team Northwest Territories for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. (Submitted by Jodi McMahon)

There's something decisive and satisfying about the sound a badminton birdie makes when it hits the tight strings of a racquet.

The gym at Joseph B. Tyrell school in Fort Smith has been full of that pinging sound this week, as team Northwest Territories tunes up for the Arctic Winter Games later this month. 

Agnes Cockney, from Fort Smith, says the sessions have allowed her to meet her teammates and doubles partners.

"We all get to know each other and that makes us play a lot better," she said. "It's super important because you need to trust your other partner. Doubles is all about communicating."

Members of the Northwest Territories Arctic Winter Games team train in Fort Smith. The team is in the community for a camp prior to the Games, which begin March 18. (Submitted by Jodi McMahon)

Athletes give back

The practice time is important, but this pre-game tune-up is about more than that: it's also a chance for the players to give a little bit back to one of the communities hosting the games.

Jodi McMahon is the vice-principal at JBT Elementary, as well as the mother of one of team N.W.T.'s members.  She says the school brought some of the out-of-town athletes to their Grades 4 to 6 classes, to do some coaching with the younger students.

"These guys are very positive and they've got, you know, male and female athletes here to say, 'Hey, look, look where we've gotten to. And with practice you guys could do this as well."

Riella Bordey, from Hay River, works with a pair of grade 4 students. (Submitted by Jodi McMahon)

Three of the athletes, including McMahon's son Zander, just spent a week in Vancouver training with former Olympian Darryl Yung.

When one of them, Paulatuk's Casey Tai, talks about what he learned, he focuses on the coaching skills he gained.

"I just like helping out other people. I like seeing other people achieve better."

Tai says it's all about getting a rhythm going and being consistent. He's been stressing the importance of footwork in his sessions with the young students.

"Just how to move around the court," he said. "You can really get tangled up with your feet and all this different step work."

The footwork drills, according to McMahon, look a lot like a choreographed dance. She's been impressed with the way the athletes have interacted with the students, Tai in particular.

"Casey has taken on a lot of leadership," she said. "He helped my son when he went to Vancouver, then here taking a lot of leadership with our students."

Tai says that at the Games, he's looking forward to getting together with other members of the North's badminton community. "It's like family," he said.

But Tai's also pretty focused about his goal going into the Games, which begin on March 18.

"To win," he quips, and then pauses. "And to try to get the best out of it for everyone."