Erik Rønstad – Academy Director
Stabæk Fotball - Norway
Erik Rønstad (39) is the Academy Director of Stabæk Fotball. Rønstad, who lives in Oslo with his wife and two daughters, has been with the Norwegian club for almost 8 years. With a master in Sports Management, he was already a coach when he was still a student. Besides his coaching experience, he's played football at the 3rd level himself. In recent years he's switched from working with the grassroots to working in the administration part of the academy. AcademyTrips.com had a chance to sit down with him to gain deeper insight into his academy.
What does your week schedule look like?
"Working in the football industry is not like a regular 9 to 5 job. It's more like a lifestyle. During the week I'm based at the academy office, running the day to day business. In addition, there are evenings and weekends where I'm working too. Working in football is fully integrated in my life."
How many teams/age categories does Stabæk Fotball Academy have?
"From U11 to U19 we have one team per age group with approximately 100 players in total. Below U13 we have also developing groups, which are run and trained by the academy coaches during daytime. In the afternoon, these same coaches train their academy teams."
"Stabæk Fotball Academy is quite new. We started in 2010, building up to today's academy. Initially it was more like an after-school activity, with a holistic approach when it came to matches and training. In the first year (2013) it was just for players from 7 to 12 years old. In 2014 we incorporated the elite teams from 13 to 19 years. This is the fourth year that we started calling it an academy. So for the last two years, we had teams from U7 to U19, but from 2016 it is from U11 to U19".
Do you work together with a school?
"We work with both a college and a high school, which are close to our training facilities. Our academy players go to high school (mandatory from U16-U19) or college (voluntary from U13-U16). The players from the developing groups go to their local primary school. We collect the players after school with our own buses. After training, their parents pick them up."
What do you think is the main way to develop a player?
"The best way to develop a player is by playing the game. This is something we're becoming more and more convinced of. During the games, we get the answers to our questions. Have we improved compared to last year? What do we still need to work on? This is why going abroad and playing international tournaments and matches is very important to us. It broadens our view about how things work in other countries. It also provides an opportunity to see from year to year what the level of each age group is. This gives us the right references for the club, the coaches and the players."
Do you incorporate international tournaments in the policy of the academy?
"Stabæk Fotball is the number one team in Norway in terms of travelling abroad and playing in international tournaments, but more professional clubs are following us. This is very important for the club's exposure and the development of players. On average each age category plays 2 to 4 international tournaments per year. In the ages between 11 and 15 years’ teams play more tournaments because there are more opportunities. From 16 years onwards it's more difficult to good find tournaments."
Do you use this as a trigger for players from your area to join Stabæk?
"It's definitely one of our marketing tools. When we invite players they enter a new atmosphere. They experience new teammates and see how it is to travel, play against teams like Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona and live the life of a professional player."
Do you pro-actively search for tournaments or do you wait for invitations?
"Over the last 4-5 years we're receiving more and more invitations. This is the result of a long period of hard work. Stabæk Academy has gained a good reputation. Some tournaments invite us back because of the way we present ourselves; with good behaviour and our style of play. These tournaments know we're not just tourists, but are there to compete."
"Stabæk Academy does not yet have a proper system for getting invited to tournaments. However, we're not sitting around waiting for invitations either. That's why we love working with AcademyTrips.com. They organise many tournaments themselves, have a huge database of other tournaments and know exactly what's needed to organise tournaments."
How is your recruitment organised?
"Recruitment is crucial for our academy. We want to be the best in Scandinavia in identifying, recruiting and developing young players. Currently we only recruit from the Oslo region, within one hour drive or less (U11-U16). For U19 there might be players moving from all over Norway to be a part of the college we are cooperating with. We have only one scout employed at the moment covering both youth and first team football. We know what we want and would like to build a scouting network, but lack financial resources."
How do players get into the academy?
"Normally we notice players when we play against other teams. We also see them in county games, when some of our best players play for our region and compete against other regions within Oslo."
"Scouting in Norway is not a common thing in youth football. I think we're probably 20 years behind most other countries. It's also a cultural thing. You don't pick players from other clubs; it's not a nice thing to do. The federation and local county already select the best players. They have a scouting/selection system in place through the clubs. Since we've started working with developing groups and have integrated players from these groups into the academy, more and more players are coming to Stabæk from an early age by themselves."
"We start recruiting from the age of 12. However, the more players we have in the developing groups, the less we need to recruit in the older generations (U13 and above). Our 2002 generation is the first generation in the 'new' system. Out of 13 players, 9 were picked from the academy (developing groups). This is a good development."
To which extent are coaches involved in the recruitment process?
"Most of the time, the coaches notice players during their own games or observe other games and tournaments. The coaches then report to the academy director. If the player is interesting, we have to inform the club in order to talk to their parents. In that case the academy director sends a letter to the club the player is currently playing for. Then we'll invite the player to train with us at Stabæk or to play in a tournament."
What do you consider to be the most helpful digital tool for your academy?
"We use a programme called 'Interplay' for video analysis. It's a Norwegian brand and all teams starting from U11 use it. All matches are being recorded, by players or parents. For instance, players who sit on the bench do the first half and the substituted players do the second half. The analysis is done by our coaches. Some of them have received a course, others have learned it at school or by themselves."
“The academy is also using a tool to measure the training process through a Norwegian player development tool called ‘Skill Race’ - analysing, evaluate and develop players regarding their competence, mentally state, capacity, physical ability, sleep and nutrition.”
How important is nutrition at Stabæk Academy?
"Very important. Players need to take care of their body and sleep well. This is something we're very strict with, especially when we're travelling. Players are not allowed to eat sweets or food which is not good for their body during tournaments."
“When traveling to tournaments, we always bring with us Smart Fish, a nutritional drink made of marine oil and is consumed between and after matches to recover faster.”
Do you follow courses, go to exhibitions or visit other academies?
"For me, going abroad and experiencing how things work somewhere else is probably the best way to learn. When I go abroad to tournaments, one of the most important things for me is to talk to other academy directors, coaches etc. I see, listen and learn. I'm also taking an UEFA course at the moment, called the UEFA certificate in football management."
Which book proved to be the most useful to you, related to your current job?
"Although I'm not a big reader, I think the book 'Leading' by Sir Alex Ferguson is very interesting. I'm also currently reading 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins. A lot of things which Collins describes in his book are the same things that Alex Ferguson experienced."
What are your favourite apps?
"Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and some local apps for football administration. For example, 'My Football', which is run by the football federation. With this app you can see all matches, among other things."
Thanks very much for the interview Erik. Where can we find you online?
Mostly on LinkedIn and Facebook.