How a player gets their initial taste of hockey is crucial. The first few years of hockey must be a positive experience full of fun and excitement.
If the beginner has fun, develops basic skills and builds confidence, there is a better chance they will go on to enjoy hockey for a lifetime. But if a young player has an unhappy, unrewarding experience, they may quit at an early age and never discover the real joy of Canada's game. Every young player should have the opportunity to enjoy hockey for life!
More than 30 years ago, Hockey Canada developed the Initiation Program to ensure a fun, safe and positive hockey experience. It served as a structured, learn-to-play program designed to introduce beginners to basic skills. It also enabled young players to build a solid skill base and become contributing members of a team effort, develop self-confidence and experience a sense of personal achievement – goals achieved in an atmosphere of fun and fair play. The Initiation Program is based on providing the five and six-year-old the skills to begin to enjoy hockey.
The U9 Player Pathway is both a progression for the five and six-year-old player that participated in the Initiation Program as well as an entry point for other seven and eight-year-old children looking to gain the skills to enjoy hockey.
A minor hockey association's programming at the U9 level will serve as the foundation upon which the team structure of the minor hockey association is built. Youngsters at every level in minor hockey benefit from getting the ‘right start’ in the game. Programming at the U9 level is a crucial piece in building the skills of house league and rep team players alike.
"Learning the basic skills at a young age will set the foundation for everything a player will accomplish in the game of hockey.” Corey McNabb, Director of Hockey Development Programs, Hockey Canada.
Programming should be delivered through a progressive learn-to-play teaching curriculum that spans the seven to eight-year-old age group. Children learn best through participating in practice drills and sessions as well as informal and modified games such as shinny, freeze tag and obstacle courses.
The program consists of four levels of instruction, designed specifically for young hockey players. Each level consists of a series of practice plans (lesson plans) that follow a defined path of progressions.
The skills of skating, puck control, passing and shooting are introduced and refined in a progressive one-step-at-a-time manner.
Although the emphasis is on fun and skill development, hockey at these ages should also allow youngsters to experience fitness, fair play and cooperation.
To ensure a positive experience for the children, a coaching clinic has been designed for the on-ice coaches that focuses on communication, teaching skills, leadership, skill analysis, lesson organization, and safety and risk management.
- Hockey Canada developed the program to ensure that the child’s early experiences with hockey are delivered in a safe and positive experience.
- The program enables participants to become contributing members of a team effort, develop self-confidence and experience a sense of personal achievement.
- To have fun while playing hockey and engaging in physical activity.
- To learn the fundamental skills required to play the game of hockey.
- To develop and refine basic motor patterns.
- To be introduced to the concepts of cooperation and fair play.
Implementation for the 2020-2021 Season
- No tiering or evaluations from March through August. Preparation phase can begin the Tuesday following Labour Day.
Benefits: This process gives minor hockey associations and parents back their summer. The season doesn’t need to start this early only to be finished at the end of January or February; instead, it should start later and also end later. This also allows minor hockey associations a chance to get organized and begin planning.
- No tiering or evaluations the first week of school where school starts the week after Labour Day.
- Must offer a minimum of 4 practices / skill sessions prior to formal tiering or evaluations beginning.
Benefits: A player’s first experience in the new hockey season should not be a formal tryout - this gives all players the opportunity to get back on the ice in a more ‘player-friendly’ scenario before being evaluated. Minor hockey associations will have the opportunity to run their own prep camps instead of members spending money outside the association.
- Must have a minimum of 3 formal evaluation/tiering sessions – Recommended - 1 skills session, 1 small area games session, 1 game.
Benefit: Players need a fair chance to be evaluated – a standardized process will show transparency, fairness, and consistency. This also provides coaches with the foundation for a development plan based on a solid and quantifiable evaluation.
- Teams must have a period of development time following team selection and prior to the start of the regular season.
Benefits: It is very important to provide coaches with the opportunity to develop and improve their players skills prior to getting into organized games. The progression should be skills before tactics and tactics before systems.
- Fair/Equal Ice Time in U9 (Novice) game play.
Benefits: Fair and equal ice time is designed to ensure that all players get the same opportunity to contribute to the outcome of games, regardless of skill or ability. A coach’s responsibility is to develop all players to contribute. Shortening of the bench is not permitted. All players should receive fair and as close to equal as possible ice time, including equal opportunities on special teams.
- There will be no full time goalies in U9 (Novice).
Benefits: Early specialization of a position hinders the overall development of a Player. Allowing for all players to rotate through all positions prepares the player for playing multiple positions or on special team plays by learning the fundamentals at an early age.
- U8/U9 (Mixed Programming Novice) and U9 (Novice) will be played at half-ice or a maximum size of 100x100 until Jan 15.
Benefits: Allowing players to play cross-ice hockey in U7 (Initiation) provides the base for a clear progression in the programming allowing for players to then transition to full-ice January 15 in U8/U9 (Mixed Programming Novice) and U9 (Novice) and then for a full season in U11 (Atom).
- U8/U9 (Mixed Programming Novice) and U9 (Novice) game play will be 4 on 4 until Jan 15.