Less Competition + More Fun = Physical Activity for Everyone
Intramurals welcome all students into the game!
When it comes to competitive sports, some kids just get left behind. “If you’re not playing for a club team by age eight or ten, you’re rarely going to make the high school basketball team because you don’t have the skills and experience,” explains Steve Friesen, a retired teacher, Ophea’s Raise the Bar Consultant and the founder of the original Raise the Bar (RTB) program. “In the school team structure, we see the same kids, season after season and year after year.”
Ophea believes that daily physical education and access to physical activity and sport is a fundamental right for all students in Ontario. And when it comes to getting everyone active, intramurals can be a real game changer. These activities—which take place in schools during breaks—don’t require tryouts. What’s more, if executed purposefully, they not only allow everyone to participate, they can also foster student leadership and create a strong sense of belonging. 
Intramurals are for everyone.
According to the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card, only 35% of 5- to 17-year-olds are meeting recommended physical activity guidelines. This can take a toll on their physical health and can also affect mental and emotional well-being. Intramurals are a powerful antidote.
“When you’re running a strong intramurals program, the gym becomes one of the busiest places in the school,” says Friesen. “Students feel more included. It gives them a sense of attachment and something to look forward to. Belonging to something changes everything.”
Student voice, choice and involvement are key.
To help schools harness the benefits of intramurals, Ophea is proud to be re-launching the Raise the Bar Intramural Program, with new content, a 4-step process and a brand-new website. To ensure the refreshed program supported the involvement of all students, insight and guidance was provided by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, CIRA-Ontario and the Students Commission of Canada.
“When schools register for this free program, they gain access to ready-made, easy-to-use resources,” says Joanne Walsh, lead writer, and former Health & Physical Education Coordinator, Halton District School Board. The Raise the Bar Intramural Program guides intramural organizers through four steps. The first is to establish a committee. This group must include a staff adviser. From there, it should ideally be made up of students who reflect the diversity of the school.
Once assembled, the group moves on to step two: identifying needs and assets. This involves looking at the equipment and space that’s available and deciding what types of activities to run.
At this stage, Walsh advises that committees approach groups who don’t tend to participate in intramurals for feedback.
To positively impact the physical and mental health of the student population, intramurals must proactively engage underrepresented/underserved students. “When you find a population who isn’t involved, it’s important to listen to their voices and to be innovative and creative about what kinds of activities would address their needs,” says Walsh. “Not what we think will draw them in. Let’s find out for sure.” This can be accomplished through surveys or—better yet—by including members of these underserved communities on your committee.
Intramurals can be so much more than floor hockey and basketball!
Change takes change. If you run new and varied activities, you’re much more likely to attract new participants. Depending on student interests, the committee might choose to run fitness-based activities, or variations on traditional games that introduce rules or equipment that level the playing field.
For example, at Friesen’s former school, flickerball—a combo of football and basketball—always drew a crowd. “When the football hits the ground it tends to bounce, which leaves a lot to chance and hustle,” he says.
Student leadership creates sustainability.
Aside from being the surest path to a successful, well-attended program, student leadership creates sustainability. After all, educators are busy. And while they must be there to supervise, students are more than capable of scheduling activities, officiating games, marketing the program, taking out and putting away equipment and more. In step three, students continue to take the lead as they develop and implement their action plan.
“They’re really sharing that responsibility and workload and developing those important life skills we want all students to learn,” says Walsh.
Monitor, reflect and repeat!
Is your program having the impact you intended by getting more students active? Step four involves evaluating outcomes, identifying what works and what doesn’t, and updating plans for the following year. This step is also a great opportunity to acknowledge the contributions committee members have made.
Get in the game by signing up now.
Registration for the Raise the Bar Intramural Program is open for this school year until May 31, 2019. Each participating school will have the opportunity to be recognized by Ophea with a certificate of participation.
“There are really valuable tools in the program that a first-time intramural organizer can use to help guide them through the process and consider everything,” says Walsh. “And there are other nuggets for people who are already familiar with running intramurals and want to go deeper with delivering that quality program too.”
 "Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time." British Journal of Sports Medicine 50, no. 19 (2016): 1177-78.
 Canada. Ontario. Ministry of Education. Re-issued 2018 H&PE elementary Curriculum Revised Edition (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018).