Summer is the time for holidays and vacations, but for the athletes it is the most difficult period of the year. In a few weeks, they have to work hard on their physical preparation to be a valuable player during the whole season. Most hockey players, before the start of pre-season training at the club, participate on the individual training camps. The ideal place for training for both professionals and children/youths is hockey diagnostic training centers, where specialists work individually or in small groups on the development of each player. We talked about the operation of such a center and the training process of hockey players with Bronislav Kvasnička, general manager and co-owner of the HDC Czech Republic center.
Good afternoon, Mr. Kvasnička. Your center is quite popular in the Czech Republic and even beyond its borders. How did you come up with the idea to open such a center in the relatively small town of Příbram?
The idea to open a center in Příbram came about thanks to my son. He joined his team two years later than the rest, so we were looking for a way to catch up on the technique of skating, and in general to significantly develop all of his hockey skills. To do this, we came to the hockey diagnostic center in Prague. However, I must say right away that we were very dissatisfied with the work of this center. There was no system of work, no visual development of players, no quality coach. Then I began to think that it would be nice to open a center without these shortcomings, that there is a great demand for such a center on the market. At the same time, I understood that everything needed to be thought through correctly, an effective player development model was needed, only then such a center could become truly successful. Well, why Příbram? It was chosen after a brief research I did hastily that evening. This is a small town, but it has its own hockey team. Plus, it's only a 20-minute drive from Prague. A large number of hockey players are concentrated in this region, so the place turned out to be very successful.
Were you afraid to open such a large center in a relatively small town?
I think the main issue is not the size of the center itself, but whether the size of the center is appropriate for the market you are trying to serve. That is why it is necessary to prepare (and we have prepared in advance) a basic analysis of what the market really is. Where are the teams located, how far are they from your location, what is the potential for development there, so that you can evaluate the potential payback of the center. Then we discussed with our partners at HDTS how such a center should be equipped to be ready to serve customers. Actually, this predetermined the opening of such a large center. At the same time, we had an important requirement - the center must be able to train the whole team, so its size can be said to have been actually predetermined from the very beginning.
How does the relative proximity of greater Prague affect the occupancy of the center?
Of course, there are two different views on the impact of proximity to a big city on a hockey center. One point of view is the size of the market. Obviously, a big city has great potential, there are many teams, many players, many athletes in different age categories who are interested in their own development and want to systematically move forward. At the same time, this can also mean competition, when there are already other centers in this big city, and they are already open, functioning and better known than the one we are opening. We were also in this situation, but we were convinced that quality, technology and a systematic approach to work actually gave us a unique competitive advantage over already operating centers. And our experience only confirmed that we were right.
But opening such a center is also a big risk. How long did it take you to find the right people, premises, and develop a business plan?
The success of such a center, in my opinion, depends on three key elements. This is the right location, the right premises and the face of the center, or the message of the center. This is such a combination of your reputation, skills, experience as a head coach or, in fact, the entire managing and coaching staff. It took us three years to find a suitable location. It was very difficult, because our condition was the location of the premises directly near by the ice arena. This is an absolutely key advantage, as it allows you to significantly expand the offer of the center and its training programs.
Could you tell us a little more about the operational process of the center and how to reach the maximum effect, so center would start making a profit as soon as possible?
Return on investment is an integral part of the actual economic planning of such a center. When we started working, we had a certain idea of the return on investment, a certain return period was set in advance. All this became possible thanks to the analysis of our capabilities and market opportunities. We have created a virtual model of the center in reality. Our ROI (return on investment) plan was based on six years with a margin of error, i.e. even if the payback lasts a little longer. From the very beginning, we wanted to put the quality of our work at the forefront. Each hockey diagnostic training center is unique, has its own unique location, size, configuration. Accordingly, the combination of these factors will give some prerequisites for a return on investment and, of course, this return will depend on how well the center is equipped and what its structure will be. So again, we had six years in the plan, and, of course, we must also admit that we were delayed by the COVID. Under the restrictions, the center actually worked in a very limited way. So, despite the forced downtime, we can already say that the center has started working again in accordance with our original plan.
To increase the popularity of the center, you are actively engaged in marketing. Is marketing an important part of usual operation process of the center?
Marketing is a very important part of the functioning of the entire center. The best marketing is players who are trained in the center and who clearly show development. Because those players who improve their performance spread a positive embassy about the work of our center. However, in today's world, I cannot do without digital marketing and work in the online segment. Thus, our marketing activities include several areas. These are the Internet and web communications, email managed by our database, social networks and events that we run at the center. But you need to understand an important detail - any training that we conduct is part of our marketing, because it is able to attract potential customers. Satisfied customers advise us, and their development serves as an excellent advertisement for us.
Spread of your marketing activities is targeted on your region, whole country, or even more globally?
From the very beginning, international activity has been at the heart of the philosophy of our center. Therefore, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to work both in the local and in the international market. Therefore, our marketing is international. This includes a multilingual website, our coaches speak foreign languages and can easily train clients from Germany, Austria, Netherlands, USA, Canada. Because athletes from these (and other) countries are among our clients today. Thus, our marketing focuses both on the local market and on a global level. As a result, we have clients from all over the world.
Just now the time has come when the results of marketing are most visible - after all, it is a time for training camps, pre-season training. Do players still have the opportunity to sign up for your camp?
Perhaps, the key period of the centers work is summer training camps. This period is the busiest for centers of this kind. Somewhere in December, we open orders for summer camps, which we then hold for 5 weeks in a row. In parallel with this, we are conducting pre-season training for juniors and adult professional players, and today we can already say that we are 100% fully loaded.
What do you think makes this center special?
It is a combination of several key factors. Firstly, this is a wide range of technologies that we use here - from diagnostic technologies to training technologies, such as a skatemill, the Shooter (development system of shoots), the Skating Analysis system with artificial intelligence and so on. At the same time, we work within the framework of a certain training methodology. This means that player development is systematic. And last but not least, it is also the location of the center in the city of Příbram, because here we have everything you need for training. Here are two ice rinks, a swimming pool, a sauna and other recovery facilities nearby, we have an outdoor athletics center and nearby sports fields, forests, meadows where you can do cardio training. Actually, the combination of all these technologies, methods and additional features makes this center special.
You talk a lot about technologies and methods, could you tell us in practice what turned out to be the most effective in your experience?
In terms of technology, the biggest advantage for us, for the daily operation of the center, is a combination of two areas. The first area is diagnostics, because without it we would not get the necessary information about the player. Based on the test results, we can very accurately draw up an individual player development plan. Then comes the second area - we implement the training program in the various environments that we have. This is the Fusion Skating Zone with two skatemills with all features, a shooting zone, a hockey gym divided into several small zones. This combination of it is absolutely key to properly setting up the training process. In the training process, we skillfully combine these different zones.
What about your clients? How do they perceive the training process in your center? What is their feedback?
What our clients like the most is comprehensive service and individual approach. Players come here for pre-season preparation and they do not have to worry about anything, we take care of everything, including accommodation, transport, food, even laundry. All this complex service will be appreciated by players of all age categories and levels of training. In addition, customers appreciate the fact that they leave us "better". We carry out diagnostics at the beginning and at the end of the training process, so that clients see the parameters, specific data on their development and improvement.
How do you manage to combine the training of professionals, amateurs and children in one center?
The philosophy of our center is based on the ability to train and develop players of all ages and categories at the same time. We start with children aged 6 to 7, they are our smallest clients. And there is no upper limit, up to professional players. Each training program for each athlete is clearly planned in advance and divided into zones. So, the capacity of the center is always distributed in such a way that as many athletes as possible can train in it, but at the same time, so that they do not interfere with each other.
Obviously, during the work of the HDC, many different hockey players have passed through it. Can you remember any specific example of a player who achieved success after training at your center?
We are always very pleased when a player who is being trained here achieves significant success. There are several stories, for example, we had a Polish junior who came here at the beginning of 2020 for a three-week pre-season. He ended up staying here for three months and then leaving for the United States. After this training, he was taken to the team in the United States via tryout. The second story is about how the Dynamo Pardubice player came here for 4 weeks of pre-season training. In the following season, he became one of the top scorers in the Czech top league. These stories actually confirm that the philosophy we are applying here is working well.
It turns out that you have an almost ideal center - is there room for development there?
Already now, in the process of work, we see in what direction we would like to develop the center. The first direction is medical sports diagnostics, which is the main factor for assessing the potential of a player, his prerequisites for development. The second direction is recovery. Players must not only train hard, but also recover well. In this we see very important components of a full-fledged training process.
Finally, what would you say to potential owners of similar centers around the world?
I think that the key question for potential owners is whether it is worth investing in such a center. We also went through this, we also thought about it a lot. In my opinion, in addition to high technologies, a unique method of preparation, the right choice of location and premises, drawing up a business plan, the key aspect is a good team of like-minded people who will work on the success of the entire project and put their soul into it. Then the combination of the above factors will bring financial results.