Rethinking and Redefining Intramural Activities: COVID-19 Considerations to Support Your Planning
Schools play an important role in providing opportunities for students to participate in physical activity. “Schools are uniquely positioned to positively influence levels of physical activity as they reach the vast majority of children and youth, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or family circumstances.”1
“Within the context of a healthy school, the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum provides all students with the skills and strategies they need to participate in a wide variety of physical activities. A supportive school environment will provide opportunities for students to continue their learning either in the school, at home, or in the community”2. Intramural activities are a valuable way to enhance a student’s physical activity experience at school and contribute to their physical literacy journey. Intramural activities are school-sponsored physical/recreation activities that occur outside the student's instructional time and are not competitions against other outside teams/groups. Participation in meaningful, fun, safe, engaging and inclusive intramural activities has the potential to provide students with numerous physical, mental, social and emotional benefits.
Using a Healthy Schools Approach
Ontario’s Foundations for a Healthy School framework “supports the development of a coordinated approach and a strong commitment to a healthy school. It does this by engaging students, school staff, parents and the broader school community in identifying, planning, implementing, evaluating and celebrating healthy schools policies, programs and initiatives”3.
When planning intramural activities, a good starting point is to use the five areas from the Foundations for a Healthy School framework (i.e., Curriculum, Teaching and Learning; School and Classroom Leadership; Student Engagement; Social and Physical Environments; and Home, School and Community Partnerships) to identify areas of success in the school and areas that may need additional support. This approach supports the development of a more comprehensive approach to physical activity within a school and can increase the opportunities for all students to be physically active.
Tips and Tools:
- Use a school-wide approach that provides opportunities for students in all grades to participate in a variety of intramural activities throughout the school year.
- Use the same teams and/or groupings/cohorts for a grade/division/school throughout the month/term/year to build enthusiasm as well as keep student groupings small.
Identifying Opportunities for all Students
An important part of establishing a successful intramural program is ensuring that all students feel safe and included. It is important to consider the specific needs and interests of the students when determining the types of physical activities and the approach that will be taken. Discussing with students in advance, how the intramurals will be organized, identifying multiple criteria for success (e.g., participation, team spirit) and allowing students to opt in after the intramurals have started are all strategies that may increase student confidence and interest in participating in intramural activities.
“Fostering student leadership is a critical component of a successful and sustainable intramural program. Including students as an integral part of the planning and running of any program has a number of benefits.” (Raise the Bar website – Student Leadership).
Tips and Tools:
- Identify ways to increase student voice when determining the types of intramural activities to offer and provide opportunities for students to become involved in intramural activities beyond participation (e.g., developing schedules, officiating, score keeping, coaching younger students).
- Checkout the Raise the Bar - Student Leadership section for ideas on how to create a safe and welcoming environment for your intramural activities.
Reviewing the safety requirements and considerations for intramurals is an important part of planning safe activities. The Ontario Physical Activity Safety Standards in Education (OPASSE) represents the minimum standard for risk management practice in physical activity for school boards in Ontario and focuses on safe practices in order to minimize the element of risk. OPASSE also includes a concussion protocol to help prevent and identify suspected concussions and manage a student’s safe return to learning and physical activity.
The COVID-19 Considerations for Intramural Activities is meant to be a companion resource to OPASSE to provide enhanced safety considerations specific to COVID-19 that supports school boards/schools with maintaining the highest level of student safety during intramurals.
Tips and Tools:
- Refer to COVID-19 Safety Criteria Considerations for Intramural Activities, which uses the structure of the OPASSE sport/activity page, for COVID-19 related considerations.
- Review the OPASSE sport/activity pages in the intramural section as well as the tools and resources to ensure you are up to date on safety requirements.
Establishing Processes and Procedures
Be aware of school board policies regarding physical activity and COVID-19 and ensuring the processes and procedures (e.g., equipment disinfection, hand hygiene, use of non-medical masks, physical distancing) are in place to maintain a safe environment. This may include determining the types of activities, the location(s), and the equipment. It is important to remain flexible and be prepared to adjust and/or adapt the intramural activities based on any changes in school board direction/policies related to COVID-19.
Processes and procedures that support ongoing communication between school administrators/teachers, students and parents/guardians are an important part of establishing a safe environment for intramural activities. This includes establishing a process for parents to: provide permission to participate, acknowledge the element of risk, and communicate student medical information.
Tips and Tools:
- Refer to COVID-19 Planning Strategies for Intramural Activities for more details regarding planning for intramural activities.
- Include intramural information on permission forms that students fill out at the beginning of the year/term or use the permission forms available on OPASSE to seek permission for student participation.
There are many factors that can help to determine the types of intramural activities to select. Selecting activities with the highest level of protective measures (e.g., use outdoors, maintain physical distancing, use little or no equipment) will help to establish and maintain a safe environment for students to participate. It is also important to consider if the intramural activities selected can be done individually or within existing cohorts of students.
The categories of intramural activities include the following:
- Sport Game and Sport Imitation (e.g., 3 on 3 basketball);
- Low Organizational Activities (e.g., Cooperative Games);
- Special Events (e.g., Jump Rope for Heart); and
- Clubs (e.g., Running, Dance).
Tips and Tools:
- Refer to COVID-19 Protective Measures for Intramural Activities for additional information regarding the protective factors related to facilities; equipment; and social distancing as well as the organizational strategies and considerations when selecting an intramural
Ophea believes that daily physical activity is a fundamental right for all students. Physical activity opportunities can support student physical health, mental health and well-being, especially during the current pandemic. During this time of uncertainty, students can benefit from quality, safe, and inclusive physical activity opportunities through in-person and virtual physical education opportunities, as well as through play, recess, and intramurals.
For support with providing options for safe, inclusive activities that, encourage student voice and foster student leadership and belonging visit raisethebar.ophea.net. Ophea’s Raise the Bar Intramural Program is free and includes planning tools and activity ideas to support schools with providing options & opportunities for physical activity throughout the day.
1ParticipACTION. The Role of the Family in the Physical Activity, Sedentary and Sleep Behaviours of Children and Youth. The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2020. (pg.103). Retrieved from https://participaction.cdn.prismic.io/participaction/f6854240-ef7c-448c-ae5c-5634c41a0170_2020_Report_Card_Children_and_Youth_Full_Report.pdf
2Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 61). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
3Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). Foundations for a Healthy School: A Companion Resource to the K-12 School Effectiveness Framework (pg. 7). Retrieved from