KOSICE – Watch Swedish national team coach Pär Mårts when he’s at work on the bench. Quite often he’s not behind the bench at all – but rather, in front of the bench, turned and facing a player and making a point. Mårts is a “hands on” coach.
Pär Mårts likes to use what some people refer to as “teaching moments” during a game – to correct something, to emphasize a mistake, praise a positive... to team build. It’s that last one that has earned him wide respect in Swedish hockey circles. His firm belief is that “a group’s strength is that we are all different”.
“I’ve had him before as a coach in Sweden for two years,” says Swedish assistant captain David Petrasek, who was on the championship HV71 team in the Swedish Elitserien that Mårts coached in 2006. “He’s a great team builder and I knew he would be perfect for this job as national team coach, where you have to build a team in a very short period.”
There were rough seas to open the tournament for the Swedes, who haven't skated away with a gold medal since 2006. There was an opening day shootout loss to the upstart Norwegians, followed by a very average outing against Austria (3-0 win). But they've looked on form the last couple of games – a 6-2 drubbing of the USA and a 4-0 win over France. Things will get tougher on Sunday when they play the Swiss.
This is Mårts’ first stint as head coach of Tre Kroner, although he was an assistant coach with Sweden at the ’93, ’94 and ’95 World Championship (and also the ’94 Olympics). After his national team experience he spent seven seasons coaching in the Elitserien, winning the league with HV71 in 2004 and ’06. Prior to taking over Tre Kroner, Mårts spent three seasons as head coach with Sweden’s U19 and U20 programs.
It was during his time spent coaching in Sweden’s top league that Mårts had a bit of a revelation. Being a cerebral person himself, Mårts wondered if thinking a little more deeply, in terms of how to approach the complex dynamics team building, could have benefits.
“I’ve been working with a psychologist now for about eight years,” says Mårts. “Before I perhaps saw a team as a team. Now I see 22 different individuals who each want a different journey to perform at one hundred percent. So that’s what I’m trying to learn. To give the players their own journey to be as good as they can.”
Mårts’ approach is underpinned by his belief in his own ability – not in a cocky, overconfident way, but more of an “I’ve been around a while and I believe in what I’m doing” sort of way.
“I think you have to be a little older before you’re comfortable as a coach,” says the 58-year-old Mårts. “At the beginning, if you lose a game, it’s always your fault... you think so. I think it’s important to trust your feeling and not think too much. Act instead. Act on the way you’re feeling.”
The strengths of Swedish hockey, traditionally, have been skill-based – giving a pass at speed, taking a pass at speed and skating. But, for Mårts, that is a very simple view.
“I’ve been in the international environment for three or four years now; so I’ve learned from other countries that they also have good sides that we have to look at. So, I think Swedish hockey is a mixture of world hockey.”
Also ingrained in the Swedish approach – from a culture that encourages group decisions and consensus – is an emphasis on team play. So Mårts’ focus on each individual would, at first, seem a bit different. But he doesn’t think his approach really breaks away from the team concept, it just tweaks it a little.
“I don’t think I’m different. I’m just me and I just want to give the players the right condition [to achieve success]. That’s what I’m doing,” emphasizes Mårts. “I don’t think it’s a different way. It’s my way.”
Interview taken from an exclusive IIHF.com video feature on Pär Mårts produced at the 2011 LG Cup Four Nations Tournament in February in Stockholm.