Seasonal structure for U9 hockey
Flexible phases can maximize development opportunities for 7- and 8-year-olds
The U9 seasonal structure can take on many forms. There is flexibility in the recommended timeframes local hockey associations can use to build their seasonal plan. If the season starts in October or even as late as November, the local hockey association should still follow the guidelines of a balanced season approach. Some dates and timeframes are guidelines, while others are fixed. The number of games and practices are also recommendations by Hockey Canada supported by the Long-Term Player Development Model.
The Ideal Season
Young players have an opportunity to continue their development while having a positive and fun hockey experience. The ideal season does not conflict with the start of the school year, provides a fair evaluation/selection process and is structured to maximize development opportunities.
The U9 Player Pathway and corresponding coaching materials provide progressive and incremental skill development. By using the Hockey Canada Skills Manuals on the Hockey Canada Network and Drill Hub, coaches are provided with the framework for practice sessions that meet their players’ needs. The monthly seasonal goals should correspond with the U9 Skills Matrix (see Section 5) that outlines the skills players should be exposed to throughout the season.
Annual Calendar and Seasonal Phases
PHASE 1: Preparation/Evaluation Phase (Up to 4 weeks)
- Players are grouped with like-ability players for maximum growth. Players should not be cut.
- Hockey Canada recommends 18 players per team.
- Allows for four lines and two goaltenders (4 on 4).
- Tiering can be done by team or by association to ensure skill-based balance.
- No evaluation/selection during the off-season phase (March through August).
- No evaluation/selection prior to the first week of school, or during the first week if it starts the week after Labour Day.
- Where school starts prior to Labour Day, there must be four skates/practices starting the week following Labour Day before evaluation/selection commences.
- Minimum of four practices/skill sessions prior to formal evaluation/selection starting.
- Minimum of three formal evaluation/selection sessions.
- Recommend one skills session, one small-area games session, one half-ice game.
PHASE 2: Development Phase (Up to 8 weeks)
- Ideal practice-to-game ratio is 3:1 – three practices to one game played.
- Focus on skill development:
- Fundamental movement skills: striding, turning, stopping
- Manipulation skills: shooting, passing, puck control
- Motor skills: agility, balance, coordination
- Fun and safe environment to promote self-confidence.
PHASE 3: Regular Season Phase (Up to 16 weeks – 14 weeks if transition)
- Ideal practice-to-game ratio is 2:1 – two practices to one game played.
- Continued focus on skill acquisition and skill development.
- Recommend a maximum of 40 games per season (exhibition, league, tournament/jamboree/festival).
- Recommended seasonal breaks:
- Season should allow for two seasonal breaks (not including Christmas/long weekends).
- Minimum five days without a scheduled game or mandatory practice.
PHASE 4: End-of-Season Phase (Up to 4 weeks – 6 weeks if transition)
- Reinforce skill-development elements in practices.
- Tournaments are jamboree/festival format, engaging players in a fun environment:
- Jamboree: Coming together of several players who are then placed onto teams. Games may or may not be competitive and the emphasis is on fun.
- Festival: Coming together of teams to participate in games and fun activities. Games may be competitive, but no standings are kept.
- There are no playoffs in U9 hockey.
- U9 players can transition to full-ice hockey January 15 or later (see game play recommendations).
- Important to continue practices through transition to introduce full-ice concepts.