It's now the end of November 2017 and not a single ice rink from the project that was introduced at the beginning of the year has been built so far. However I believe that the project is still alive as the federation received extra money from the government for the pilot project back in the summer. On the other hand on the national team side we have Craig Ramsay as the coach and he has also developed a unite playing system that is meant to be applied throughout all the national teams. And there's Jukka Tiikkaja who came to Slovakia to help with coach education and to help increase the numbers of players. An interview with Tiikkaja from a Slovak Daily How did the Slovaks welcome you? Aren’t they complaining why some Finn is telling them what to do? I try to explain all the time that I didn’t come here to tell the others what they should do. I’m dedicated to working with local people, whom I’m ready to lend my professional opinions from my experience, not just from Finland. I had the opportunity to see many sport systems in the world. It’s not that I say let’s do something the Finnish way because it’s more effective. No, I want to lead discussions with locals and respect those who have achieved something in the past and involve them into the process. What is your job? There are more of them and they aren’t just mine, it’s a group of people whose job is developing Slovak hockey. We need more players and to make hockey accessible for all children. We want to create an environment in which they can try more sports and find out what is fun for them. So that they’re not playing just because of their parents, but because they get joy from playing. If we can get enough players into the system, at the key age of 15-16 we want to start working with them at the fullest. How do you want to achieve the increase in numbers of players? We already had Deti na hokej. It’s a project that takes place at Slovak ice rinks and kids get hockey equipment. We will take different routes. When it comes to quick solutions, we are already talking to the clubs about changing the schedules of times that kids spend on the ice. I think that Slovak hockey players have a schedule that is too organized, even at an early age. When a 10 year old is playing hockey, realistically they can’t manage to play any other sport in addition. We need to reduce the schedule and create space for non-organised games such as ball hockey used to be. Wait. Are you saying that the way for improving hockey and increase the number of hockey players is to play less hockey? Some will be able to play more, but yes. We want to create opportunities of working outside of a system where parents need to bring kids to practice four times a week. To work with schools, organize the kids’ afternoon schedule. In the afternoon they can choose hockey or other sports so that they will be physically active all day. If they want to play every day, let them play. When it comes to things such as Deti na Hokej, we want the clubs to organize such events every week, not just once per season. So this is some kind of attempt at returning to the past? Pavol Demitra or other great hockey players had to decide at some point whether they will play football or hockey. These days kids can choose only one sport. The times were different then, there were no computers or mobile phones. Most kids did sports. It was easy to tell which ones have passion for it. Back then they played without organization, now we need to institutionalize it. But we can’t do it alone as hockey players, we have to do it together with other sports. Even Finland has a few NHL players, who played a different sport until age 18-19. Legends like Teemu Selanne, Jari Litmanen or Saku Koivu did a second sport until age fifteen or sixteen. Did you do something similar in Finland recently? And we are still working on it. Finland has similar problems. The system also decides too early what will become of a child. When you are 12 years old, you are still a child. It shouldn’t be expected that you will know what you want to do in your adulthood. We want to create a kind of smorgasbord for children from which they will be able to choose a sport. When we learn what is fun for them and for what they have skills we can bring more challenges for them. How much kids practice should depend on children, not on the system. Is hockey an expensive sport in Finland as well? It’s one of the biggest challenges that our federation is facing at the moment. Hockey is expensive also because it’s so organized, the system of competitions is changing, but kids are still traveling a lot which creates a lot of costs. If hockey become too expensive we might face a situation where only kids of rich parents will play. Then we would lose a lot of potential. We can for example lose kids who are motivated by seeing sport as a means of improving on their weak social standing. Do you know the solutions? There are several of them. To make sports less organized and decrease the costs. To change the system of the competitions, limit travel. To work with the cities so that they would appreciate the value of sports and financially support ice rinks, what already happens in Trencin, but not everywhere. It’s better to invest into sports than into health care. To work preemptively not reactively. The costs in Finland are also increasing because we have more and more professional coaches even at youth levels. But thanks to that the quality of coaching has also increased. Peter Brull is a Slovak who works for the Finnish Olympic Committee. He told us that Finnish kids also have a problem with phones and iPads. Only hockey can interest them in his opinion. Are phones just an excuse for coaches? Yes, at least a bit. But it’s something that we can change. We can’t just say that phones are bad and children shouldn’t use them. After all they use them to connect with friends, the world has changed. Phones support their basic psychological needs, for example they are more independent. When we only control them in sports, we tell them exactly what they should be doing and we don’t allow them freedom there comes a conflict. Sports has however a great advantage, we can get more than from computer games from it – it also has a physical element. I believe that sports will always be attractive. Parents want to have NHL stars from their kids, they shout at them. How should they behave? We are already working on this here. I have already discussed with a few Slovak teams about this. If you want to become good in something, the wish has to come from your side. It’s not good when parents put too much of their own wishes into the kids. You can easily get into a situation where kids are playing because they want to make their parents happy. In such cases the kid doesn’t usually become an NHL star and usually doesn’t have a happy childhood either. A sports psychologist told us that there are cases like Andre Agassi or Rafael Nadal, who became the best following pressure from their family, but we don’t see the thousands of kids who started to hate sports because of their parents acting in that way. I know Agassi’s story and I say that he hates tennis. Do we want it as well? These two cases are very specific. If someone becomes good in adulthood, he shows interest already in a young age in what he needs to do to improve. He is realistic. I wouldn’t copy these two examples. Usually you destroy more than gain with this approach. In Spanish football they select the best at age 11-12 and create special programs for them. The Spanish have 60 thousand of football players in every age group. They consider it a success when 3 or 4 play for the senior team. And there is a lot of examples of the 59 997 players, who didn’t fare that well. We must always put things into perspective. How did Finnish hockey become successful? Can we apply everything in Slovakia? When we start changing things that are routed deeply in the culture of the nation it’s a slow journey. Finnish culture was based on terrorist practice culture. Kids started the day at 8a.m., finished at 4p.m. and did just what someone told them to do. Be humble, be obedient, do these things and you will be successful. They did relatively easy mechanic things. And it was good that they didn’t think a lot, because if they started thinking the whole system would fall. A lot of people still work like that and sports copy that as well. Now we are coming into an age where these things are done by robots. And companies need people who are interested in their work and who want to improve. And you brought this into hockey as well? Not just hockey but into other sports and there are changes within the school system as well. It's easier to implement changes when they're happening at all levels. For example when parents get the same message at school and at hockey practice. The school system is however still conservative. The change will take some time. In Finland you changed authoritative coaching style to a more liberal one. Did all coaches agree with it? I can't imagine that happening. It's a very sensitive question, the answer has a lot to do with the character and ego of the coach. Teachers usually teach in the same way as they were taught. Coaches usually also start coaching the same way as they were coached. Changes are therefore never easy. In Finland it helped a lot that the authoritative style was replaced by a more liberal one in business and at school as well. And in sports coaches who applied new methods started to be more successfull. Basketball or voleyball teams were successful as well, we even have a Finnish NBA player. All this success came from systems that differed from the original one. So once someone becomes successful, others start learning from him? There are young coaches who are open and want to work in a new way. But when a big change should happen, it's good to have people who can influence people's opinions. So when Miro Satan says that something should be done this way, it can work? Yes, I have understood this principle from Slovak society. When this person says something, I believe him without knowing the arguments. I had a very good talk with coach Vlado Orszagh yesterday. He told me about his development. Did he change? That's what I understood from what he said. But I don't know to what extent he wants to speak about it publically. He changed his philosophy, he wants to understand players more and to improve the relationship between coach and player. That's what we should concentrate with kids as well. The player will always ask - can I trust this coach? For this we need trust. Have you already seen practices of Slovak kids? What are they like? Yes, I even attended one of the Deti na Hokej events. I see good things as well as bad ones. What is the difference between 12 year olds here and in Finland? The biggest differences come with the player base as there are seven times as many young hockey players in Finland as in Slovakia. That has influence on everything. Competition, the number of meaningful games, Here we have situations that a team shows up with too few players, so they lose 0:15 or 0:10. The lack of players also has influence on practices. When you have enough players, you can create meaningful on ice practice activities. There is also a difference in philosophy that you have in development of players. Finnish coaches have more courage to let kids try new things, to get out of their comfort zone. So that they are not afraid to make a mistake. It can have something to do with the culture of society. Will you try yo push your limits, when you are constantly told not to make a mistake? Our school system works like that... You can see that at a practice. If the whole society tries to avoid mistakes and doesn't have enough courage, hockey players will do the same. Can you learn something like that? I don't think so. In this regard, us Finns are the same as you. In Slovakia, we know that we need to change our hockey. But we haven't agreed on how - go the Finnish way, our own or a combination of both? I don't believe that we can be successful when we take just the Finnish system. We are trying to discuss what we actually want from the system. What kind of player, what kind of qualities. We are trying to listen to opinions of experts that already exist. A lot of people do good things now. I think that we agree on how a player of the 21st century should be. It's also connected to how he should be on the character side of things. We are talking about things that can change our hockey in the long run. Are you also working on things that can work short time? We are already talking to a few clubs about reorganisation of their activities, for example of how to use the ice surface, the changes will start taking place already next season. Of course for better access to sports we need new sporting grounds, the federation is working on that now. There will be a big coaching seminar in Zvolen on the 20th November where we will work with young coaches who coach players aged 14-20 years old. In January we are starting the next big program. We are trying to get people to understand what we want to do. What do you think about the Slovak u20 national team? I haven't had the chance to get to know it properly yet. However if we want to exclude someone, we need to be very careful. The NHL draft is trying to move the age of players who can be drafted upwards. We don't know what will become of a 18-19 year old hockey players when he turns 27. It's okay to offer something to a small group if you also offer something else to the others. In 2007 the team was created as a short term solution for not getting eliminated from the elite Worlds. Ten years have passed since then. We need to start from the basics. We need to have more players and once we have them we will have those who will want to improve from their own will not from the will of their parents or others. It's a long journey. In Finland there are about 3000 players in one age group while Finland has a similar number of citizens. In the u20 league there are 18 teams and the second league with 18 teams is also good. We are choosing from 500 or 600 players. Should we keep the team in the next few years? I don't want to comment on that. With a limited number of players you have to have something that can help you. But it shouldn't be just one thing. There are also plans for regional academies. And a video one from the Slovak hockey federation: How do the other Slovaks on here feel about the current federation leadership? I feel like there are good things happening but overally it seem like a very slow battle.