From the Swiss winter weather, through the heat of Oman, to the cold and gray of Belgium. This has been the path Jair Levy has taken in the past three weeks. As a Swiss men's national coach, he was active in the Hockey World Cup 5 and the European Indoor Championships. At the club level, Levy led the Swiss women's team HC Olten to a silver medal during the national indoor competition.
Actually it all fit perfectly. There were approximately 32 hours between Switzerland's last match at the Hockey World Cup 5 in Amman and Switzerland's first match at the European Championships in Leuven. In the middle, Levi had to travel from Muscat to Leuven.
On Wednesday evening, shortly before midnight, he boarded a plane bound for Belgium. Levy arrived there early Thursday morning, and then drove to the venue in Leuven. A few hours later, the ball rolled for Switzerland for the first time in the European Championship. “I didn't really know where I was anymore,” Levi laughs as he recalls that hectic day.
Levi is now calm. Only two weeks vacation. He has returned to the Netherlands. And in Rotterdam, where he has maintained his home since moving to Switzerland a year and a half ago, Levy began working as a coach for the men's national team and the under-21 team. He also became coach of the women's club HC Olten.
Choice for Switzerland
“As a family, we always wanted to live abroad,” Levy explains of choosing the Alpine country. “My wife is German, and the children have grown up speaking two languages. We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I have gone from Little Switzerland to Big Switzerland.”
The Hague club was the last stop in the Netherlands for Levy, who had previously coached the women of Alecto and Kartouche. In Little Switzerland, Levy was Jorge Nolte's assistant. After Nolte's sudden departure, Levy had hoped to move into the head coaching position, but the final selection of head coach did not fall to him.
But where doors close, doors also open again. Advice put him on the path to a vacancy in the Swiss Confederation. After consulting with those at home, he decided to apply. Successfully.
And so Levi ended up in a country where hockey is considered a simple sport. Skiing and ice hockey are naturally the most popular sports in the Alps. The number of active players across Switzerland is smaller than the number of members of Little Switzerland and Cartouche.
Last year, Levy faced the unfamiliarity of hockey in the country. This sport was promoted during a promotional campaign in Swiss city squares. “Ninety percent of the people who walked in had no idea what sport they were playing.”
The achievements of the national teams are modest. The Swiss men have never competed in a World Cup on the field. It was last played in the Olympic Games in 1960. In Rome the team finished 15th. The current world No. 39 player competed at the highest level at the European Championships in 2003.
The mission with the Swiss men is to take the field in the European Championship for Nations A. The World Cup Hall is also on the wish list. “That would be great,” Levy says. In the hall, the Swiss are number nine in the world, and among the under-21s they are number 35. “You are always busy with the future, so you sometimes forget what you have already achieved.”
Silver with O21
Since taking over in September 2022, Levy has celebrated his biggest success with the Under-21s. Last January, Switzerland won the silver medal at the European Indoor Championships. A month earlier, Levy had finished fourth among the seniors at the European Championships, outside the medal range.
This hockey winter, Levy can also look forward to an international tournament. Initially, only the European Championships in Leuven were included in the Switzerland program, but due to the withdrawal of Belgium from the Hockey World Cup 5, the Swiss were able to seize this place as the first designated reserve. “The Federation’s board of directors was quick to approve Switzerland’s participation in the World Cup,” Levy says.
But the “problem” was that the European Championships were directly linked to the Hockey World Cup 5. The idea of playing both tournaments with one team was quickly put aside. He added: “We did not play with the strongest team in Oman, because we preferred the European Championship hall.”
This was followed by a period during which preparations for the various tournaments were intertwined. For the European Championships, Levy was able to leave many matters to his assistant, Klas Henkel. Also at HC Olten, who reached the fourth round of the national indoor competition, his assistant Jasper Härtsch was put out of work.
“I told him: If we reach the final, I will drive quickly from the five-a-side training camp to Zurich,” says Levy, who was already in the car a day later on his way to the hall where the Swiss indoor title was held. HC Olten lost the final to internal powerhouse Rotweiss Wettingen, who settled the match two minutes from time.
After this short break, Levy's attention returned back to the Hockey World Cup 5. The first ever world final tournament for Swiss men. “It was a very special experience,” Levy says of the World Cup in Oman. “There were all kinds of World Cup billboards along the way. There was a real World Cup feel and the tournament was very professionally organized in terms of food, hotels, transport and playing accommodation.
Victory over Germany in the hall
The Swiss team ranked tenth after losing the battle for ninth place to Pakistan. “They were just a very high standard for us. Only tenth out of sixteen countries and winning three games out of six. That's good for us and we weren't even playing our strongest team.
This strongest team, with HGC's Boris Stomps in its ranks, created a sensation at the European Championship in Leuven by defeating Germany (6-5), the subsequent European champion, for the first time in history. In the end, Levy and his team finished the tournament in sixth place after losing to Spain (1-3). The result means missing out on qualification for the indoor championships, but Levy says: “In a week we can look back and see a good tournament.”
After two weeks of rest, Levy begins preparations for the field season with HC Olten. He will compete with the club in the EuroHockey Club I Challenge during Pentecost, and in the summer, Levy will participate in the EuroHockey 5s Championship with Switzerland, and the EuroHockey U21 Championship II-B in his country. The qualifying tournament for the European Championship.
“I need this time to recharge my energy.” I've been working non-stop since mid-November. I lived out of a suitcase for five or six weeks. It was very crowded and hot, but you won't hear me complain. The experiences of international tournaments are very wonderful. I don't regret leaving the Netherlands.
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