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Water Polo Canada Announces Updates to the NCL Format

(August 5, 2020 – Ottawa, ON) - For the past year, the High-Performance Development Working Group (HPDWG) and Water Polo Canada (WPC) have been conducting a review of the National Championship League (NCL). Based on the review by the HPDWG, WPC will be implementing updates to the format of the NCL.

The 2020-2021 NCL season has a targeting start date of January 2021, and as such, most categories will see a reduction in the overall number of games. At this stage, it is also still uncertain whether any NCL competitions will be able to be held for the 2020-2021 season.

A summary of the changes is outlined below BUT stakeholders are strongly encouraged to read the entire decision and review document available here .

NCL Update

The 2020-2021 NCL season, and the seasons following, will have four categories of competition:

  • Senior (MLWP)
  • 19 and under (19U)
  • 17 and under (17U)
  • 15 and under (15U)

Senior (MLWP)

The Senior (MLWP) category will be similar to the current NCL format; however, in order to increase the number of games for teams, and to increase opportunities to participate for high performance athletes (National Team athletes, NCAA athletes, Canadian University athletes), the season will be extended to begin in early December and finish in early May (starting in 2021-2022).

19 and under

The 19U competition format will become a hybrid competition model:

  • WPC will be responsible for hosting an Open 19U National Championship, held in early July of each season.
  • In place of the currently existing 19U NCL league, the 19U clubs’ teams will now have the option to participate in various Provincial Sport Organization (PSO) and club organized 19U events.
  • Each PSO represented on the HPDWG has committed to providing programming for the 19U category.
  • Clubs will have the opportunity to determine their competition calendar that best suits their teams, through participating in intra-provincial, interprovincial, and even international events as they see fit.

17 and under
The new 17U NCL league will be based on the NCL 16U league model:

  • Teams will be split into eastern and western conferences and play in a league organized by WPC.

  • The league will feature a series of tournaments held within each conference, to determine which teams qualify for the 17U National Finals.

  • The 17U National Finals will also expand to include the top four teams from each conference, rather than the current top two.

15 and under

The new 15U NCL competition will be based on the current NCL 14U model:

  • WPC will host a 15U Eastern and Western National Championship at the end of the season for the top eight (8) boys and girls’ teams in each conference.

  • For the 2020-2021 season, there will not be a requirement for 15U teams to participate in a minimum ten (10) game provincial league, as was mandated for the 14U NCL leagues. The PSOs will individually determine which 15U teams from their province will be eligible/qualify for the 15U Eastern and Western Nationals.

  • The HPDWG will conduct a review of the 15U qualification format in 2021 to determine which requirements teams will need to meet in order to participate in the 15U National Championships for NCL seasons starting in 2021-2022.

Decision Process

During the initial review of the NCL, the HPDWG identified two major problem statements with the current NCL format:

Problem Statement #1: There is a need to improve long-term infrastructure to grow Senior (MLWP) competition in Canada.

Problem Statement #2: The 19U NCL League is not effectively serving the development of 19U athletes due to the lack of a critical mass of 19U specific athletes.

Senior (MLWP)

The current Senior league exists within a three-month window between January and March. This limited window of time creates several issues:
  • Limits the number of total games teams can play.
  • Limits the number of weekends that can be used for Senior events, which results in having to hold events that conflict with other competitions (whether international or domestic)
  • Limits the ability for many high-performance athletes to participate.
Expanding the Senior season will allow for more games and a better alignment with international, and university/college schedules to increase the overall participation of high-performance athletes, and the overall calibre of the league.  


At the 19U level, participation numbers show that on average, two thirds of participating athletes are 17U or younger, while another one third of total athletes are 16U or younger. This creates a dynamic where the 19U NCL league, whose main goal is to support the high-performance development of 18U and 19U athletes, has these 18U and 19U athletes competing against a majority of significantly younger and less developed athletes. Furthermore, while playing up in the 19U category can be helpful for some 16U and 15U athletes, as it allows them to get more games and the ability to play against a higher level of competition, it also has the drawback of increasing the cost of participation for those athletes (who now play in two different NCL categories).
Given, this lack of critical mass, the HPDWG determined that a hybrid model of competition at the 19U level is the best step forward. The hybrid model addresses many of the issues that result from the current model by providing flexibility:
  • 18U and 19U athletes who are high performance focused and participating in Senior (MLWP) to compete against top level competition, can also participate in 19U events to supplement their participation at the Senior level.
  • 18U and 19U athletes who do not wish to play Senior water polo can participate in 19U to finish out their careers.
  • Athletes in the 17U category can participate in 19U events to play more games and help them transition to competition against top level athletes.
  • Clubs who only have a few 19U athletes and in past years faced the choice of either: not entering a NCL 19U team, entering a NCL 19U team that required the participation of multiple 16U athletes, or sending their 19U athletes to a different club, now have the ability to compete in only a few events throughout the year and still attend the National Championships.


17U and 15U

  • The HPDWG also assessed that moving the 16U category all the way to 18U would result in losing too many “young” athletes of 15U and 16U who would be deterred by needing to play in a 18U category.
  • Moving the 16U category to 17U resulted in the HPDWG moving the 14U category to 15U. Without the corresponding age change of the 14U category to 15U, the transition from 14U to 17U would potentially deter participation of younger athletes because of the challenging transition.


As stated in the introduction, the above information is only a summary of the full release by the HPDWG. All stakeholders are strongly encouraged to read the
full release , which includes a significant amount of additional information.


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