Canadian Coaches Praise Skill Development Program in Switzerland
Posted by Dean Holden at December 8th, 2014
by Brad Kelly, 3 November 2014
Bench boss: Doug Mason, who calls Wasaga Beach his summer home, has extensive coaching experience in Europe. Over the years he has witnessed the evolution of hockey at the minor level in other countries, and especially praised Switzerland.
Professional coaches who ply their trade in Europe concur Canada is falling behind in terms of skill development at the minor levels compared to other countries.
Larry Huras, who resides on Chesley Lake near Sauble Beach in the summer, and Doug Mason, who calls Wasaga Beach his summer home, have extensive coaching experience in Europe. Over the years they have witnessed the evolution of hockey at the minor level in other countries, and especially praised Switzerland.
“Switzerland has the best minor hockey program in the whole world,” says Mason, who has spent eight years coaching minor hockey and 27 coaching professionally. “Their minor hockey program is unmatched.”
He says that club teams in Switzerland hire professional coaches to run an entire program, overseeing the development of 10-12 teams while coaching some of those as well, with an annual salary of about $200,000.
“The average player in one of the top countries like Sweden, Finland or Switzerland, their skill level is a little bit better than our average player here in Canada because they practise so much,” says Mason. “Here in Canada from the time you’re eight years old you have to compete to make the travel team. There’s 80 kids who try out. (Overseas) you get 15 kids trying out for your team, so you keep them all. They don’t learn the competitiveness that the Canadian hockey player does.
Huras, who played a couple of games in the NHL with the New York Rangers in 1976-77, has coached in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Norway. He’s been impressed with the emphasis other countries put on skill development with young players.
“Canadians, nobody is better at bringing the passion, emotion, toughness, grit to the game than we do,” he says. “At the same time we should be able to do a better job of being able to develop the skills.”
He points to the program his sons Brett and Ryan were part of, where mini buses pick the players up in the small villages in Switzerland and take them to and from the rink for practices and games. Teams generally practise five times a week, with players encouraged to make at least four of those. Most practices, he says, are divided into three zones, with skating, puck handling/shooting, and four-on-four scrimmages used as players rotate through.
He also notes a different attitude toward the game between Canadian and European parents.
“The parents (in Europe) would come up to me and politely ask me a question. I would give them an explanation, they would thank me for the explanation and walk away,” he explained. “In Canada, everybody is an expert. They tell you what you should be doing as a coach.”
He made light of the fact that while he was playing junior with the Kitchener Rangers, games were often shown on television. The next day he would get a call from his grandmother with tips on what he should be doing.
“In Canada we are all hockey experts,” he says. “In Europe parents are very involved, but not to the extent they are here.”