Earlier this summer, the IIHF launched Partnership for Progress, a program whose objective is to assist emerging hockey nations with their development. One of the clubs that has embraced the program right from the start is Sparta Prague.
For the past 12 years, Sparta has hosted a summer hockey school that has attracted young players from many different countries. For the past few years it has been held in Litomerice, a town in the northern Czech Republic that is home to HC Stadion Litomerice, a second-division club that has a working agreement with Sparta.
This year, three coaches and eight players from four Balkan countries – Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina – were invited the camp, with Sparta covering the costs of ground transportation, accommodation and food and drinks. Overall, more than 100 boys and girlsa attended the camp, which ran from 14 to 20 July, with players also coming from Hungary, Switzerland, Austria and Latvia.
“It was a good camp,” said female Bulgarian hockey player Yana Tumbeva. “We learned so many things, like how to shoot, and also good training habits.”
“Our goal was to improve our hockey and coaching skills during the summer hockey school,” said Bulgarian coach Martin Boyadjiev. “We look forward to passing on our newly acquired knowledge and experience to our officials in the Balkans. We very much appreciate the fact that we are here thanks to IIHF and Sparta, headed by Petr Briza.”
Briza, a former netminder who backstopped Czechoslovakia to an Olympic bronze medal in 1992 in Albertville, is now the Owner and Chairman of the Board at HC Sparta Prague and is also an IIHF Council Member and Chairman of the Youth & Junior Development Committee. Since joining the Sparta front office in 2006, he has placed a great emphasis on growing the sport and developing the team’s brand beyond the Czech borders.
“First of all, I would like to thank all my colleagues from the IIHF and Alliance of European Hockey Clubs for their openness at the start of the Partnership for Progress program,” Briza began. “Since I was present at the birth of the idea, together with all my colleagues who initiated it, it seems natural to me that Sparta should be very active in this project.”
David Stetina, who is a youth hockey coach in the Sparta system and was one of the instructors at the camp, said: “There is no better way than to start right with the children, who can best develop their skills and to create in them a deep relationship with hockey, and who can then pass that on to their peers. The proof is the participation from the Balkan countries the last two years at the summer hockey school.”
Last season, prior to the official formation of Partnership for Progress, the first students from the Balkans came to the camp. Stetina noted the increase this year in terms of both numbers and skills. In addition to the eight players and three coaches who were invited by Sparta, several more players from Balkan countries paid for their spots in the camp.
“The children’s enthusiasm and the improvement in their skills after a week of our summer hockey school is great feedback for the team coaches,” he said. “Last year, the level of hockey from countries such as Turkey, Serbia and Bulgaria was unknown to us. This year, we knew that the children from these countries are playful, and they have made tremendous progress in skating and stickhandling from one year to the next and are trying to cope with the Czech children, which must be huge motivation and a driving force.”
Sparta is not only hoping their initiative will help developing hockey countries, but also that other traditional hockey clubs will follow their lead. The club is eagerly welcoming coaches and officials from other clubs to watch youth team practices and see how its youth program operates once the season begins.
“At the very start of the season, we are open to any visitor from the hockey community and from other clubs,” Briza said. “We are very happy to share our way and information about how we work with youth, and very happy to show and open our club to all who want to know how we work.”