This guest post is a direct result of a Twitter conversation about school sport opportunities. We were discussing re-imagining school sport and Steve Friesen reminded us of the value that intramural sport can provide. So, I asked him to write a guest post! Steve’s contact info is at the bottom of the post if you would like to get in touch!
Last month, we had our school team basketball tryouts. At the end of it, 45 students had made the four teams. That same month we started our intramural 4 on 4 basketball league – we had 19 teams and 135 students playing. These students played for 7 weeks, twice a week and loved every minute of it. Previous to the intramural basketball we had team dodge ball – 21 teams and 175 students. Now, we are running team handball – 17 teams, 120 students playing. We will finish the year with three more activities – speedball, flicker ball (the most popular!) and indoor soccer. We do all of this with a 40 minute lunch and a firm belief that every student has the right to play sports at our school.
How do we do this? First of all, the intramural program is a priority for our health and physical education department – we’re all involved in the program. Our student athletic council takes care of the timing, scoring and the gym set up. And we, the staff, take care of the supervision. Our students play every week – 5 days per week from September to June. The intramural program is not only part of our health and physical education program, it is an essential component of our school culture – a culture that promotes and values the physical activity and wellness of every student.
The intramural program at my school (in Ontario, Canada) is just one of what I call ‘green light’ programs for our students to be physically active. Every day, 30 minutes before period 1, we open the gym and get 60 – 70 students playing basketball. We have intramurals/ open gym at lunch and after school we open our fitness center for any student in the school who wants to work out.
When I started teaching 30 years ago I figured that the best way to give back was to coach. As an athlete in high school and university I started coaching football and basketball. But it occurred to me – while coaching basketball – that I wasn’t having the impact that I wanted. In 1997, I stopped coaching basketball and committed full time to running an intramural program. In two years, we had over 300 students (I was at a larger high school at the time) signing up for every intramural activity. I traded coaching 12 students for running a program that impacted hundreds.
In 2003, I created Raise the Bar (recently partnered with Ophea) – a program that runs student leadership conferences and teacher training workshops across Ontario. Funded provincially since 2006 (now by the Ministry of Education), Raise the Bar works with schools, trains teachers and develops student leaders so that every student has the opportunity to play. Our conferences are in high demand and are always sold out (400 – 600 students/teachers)!
What has puzzled me for so long is why schools don’t put a bigger priority on intramurals. They’re everything that we’re looking for – mass participation, opportunities to work on skills and a great extension for the physical education program. Maybe it’s because people haven’t seen a great program in action. They haven’t seen the excitement or felt the amazing energy from having so many students getting together in the gym for one common purpose – to play. The future of physical education, for me, will be determined by our ability to embrace the understanding that every student wants the opportunity to play sports at school and that it is our job to make sure that happens.
Thanks for the post Steve! Please feel free to contact him for more information.
Steve Friesen is the department head of health and physical education at a high school in Ontario, Canada. He is also the founder and director of Raise the Bar and a program consultant with the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association.