07.03.2017 | Ex Swiss National Team goalie runs Axpo football camps for Kids
Since the launch 5 years ago, the Axpo football camps have become a huge success. The camps for kids from the ages of 5 to 16 take place in the spring, summer and fall during the school holidays. Over 4000 enthusiastic girls and boys participate in the camps held at some 40 locations in Switzerland. A conversation with the football camp pioneer and former goalie of the Swiss National Soccer Team Stefan Huber.
Stefan Huber, five years ago you started the Axpo football camps. What has changed most over the years?
Probably the biggest change has to do with IT. In the beginning we were working with registration forms and had to send out invoices. Today all these processes are automated. That made it possible for us to grow because the administrative effort can be managed more easily. We also do more in-house, for example the lettering of the jerseys we give the kids. As a result we have become a lot more flexible.
That must also save money?
Yes it does. But we are pleased to use these funds elsewhere, for example in recruiting qualified coaches. That’s important to me.
How large is your company?
We have a core team of four people with Bernd (see box) and me doing the administration, marketing and recruiting of coaches. Throughout the year, we have about 100 coaches working for us at the camps.
There are a lot of different camp providers around so it must be very competitive. How do you stand out?
Competition is a good thing overall. We offer a qualitatively good product and the week-long football camps are perfectly organised. We hear that time and again, also from parents who have sent their children to other camps.
Perfectly organised? What does that look like?
When a father brings his child to the camp on the first day, he notices it right away. We often have as many as 200 children at a location. Everything is ready; the infrastructure is already set up. You can see what is going to be practiced and the teams are put together in just minutes. Every child knows where he/she belongs. After an hour the kids are fully equipped to go out on the field and start with the training modules that are defined in a 150-page manual. That makes us stand out – we work as a seasoned team. That creates added value!
That all sounds like tight organisation and tough training. Is there any fun in that?
Good organisation is important and gives parents peace of mind. We have clear guidelines for the children. But having fun is a priority. We have a music system on the field and during breaks the kids can dance, use the goal wall, or measure the speed of their shots. For the 5 and 6-year olds the focus is on playful interaction with the ball.
What about the older kids?
According to feedback, they mainly want a good coach to improve their playing abilities. That’s why we put the teams together according to proficiency levels so the kids can really benefit.
How many coaches are on the field with 200 or 300 kids?
One coach is responsible for a maximum of 12 children.
The camps are a great success. In 2012, 2500 kids participated; today it’s over 4000. That’s a plus of 60%. Now the Axpo football camps are expanding to French-speaking Switzerland. What will that bring?
Purely in terms of numbers, not much. These will mainly be promotion camps with some 40 participants. But we can expand the offering and there is still a lot of potential to develop. In German-speaking Switzerland we have more or less reached our limits in terms of locations and the number of kids. We don’t need much promotion here despite the competition. Our registration numbers confirm this. The town of Wil with about 120 participants is already sold out, and at other locations the registration numbers are very good. This year, we will once again surpass the results of 2016.
And where are the limits?
We will soon reach our limits in terms of team size, the availability of qualified coaches and suitable locations. We can’t handle more than 5000 kids per year. That’s the target we want to achieve in three years.
Many of the coaches come from Germany. Does that lead to any acceptance problems?
That differs depending on the location where the camp is held. On the right bank of the Lake of Zurich you might hear comments. But generally it’s not a problem. The positive aspect is that we don’t have to call on the local coaches that train with the kids throughout the year. New coaches give the kids new perspectives. The very young kids all work with coaches that speak Swiss German so there is no language problem.
Who do you work together with for the camps? Football clubs, sports departments?
We work together with the local football clubs, and only peripherally with authorities. We want to involve the clubs and join forces. The effort involved for the clubs is small. All we need is a contact person, and the rest takes care of itself.
So not a win-win situation?
Oh yes. There’s a bonus for the clubs. And associations that want to provide helpers can profit, for example, by taking over the catering for the last day – when the parents are there as well. Or they can take care of meals for the coaches and children during the entire camp and make money for their club or association.
The camps with 500/600 children take place for a very short time during the holidays. How do you handle the logistics?
By strongly increasing the number of participants per camp and by doing a great deal in-house. This way we can provide everything directly to the camps without help from third parties.
How high are the expectations of parents and children. How strongly do you have to enforce discipline?
This also varies regionally. Children from urban areas are more likely to be brash and we have to put on the brakes more than with kids from the rural areas. The most important thing to me is that at the end of the week the parents feel that everything worked perfectly in terms of organisation. That’s the best feedback. And with kids, you can tell when they’re having fun anyway.
You also have to take health into account, for example on hot summer days, right?
That goes without saying. They have to drink enough, wear a hat and sunscreen, which we provide free of charge. We are very disciplined in this area. That’s part of our responsibility since the kids are in our care for the entire day.
How many injuries occur?
Well, major injuries such as broken bones maybe two or three times per year. Our coaches have all taken emergency first aid courses so they know how to handle an emergency. That’s part of our training and the quality of our coaches.
The camps are for children between the ages of 5 and 16…
...that’s a big range, but most of the kids are 7-9 years old. That is clearly our target age group – kids that are really motivated. The older ones starting at 12/13 don’t always have this to 100 per cent due to adolescence.
What about girls?
They make up 10 per cent of participants. Interesting is: When girls register for the camp it’s always with their friends. You don’t get single registrations.
You count on long-standing partners for the football camp. How important is this for you?
Very important. I am really glad to have Axpo as a partner. The name Axpo has become a fixture of the football camps and there’s no need for long explanations, everyone knows who Axpo is. The long-term, sustained commitment of sponsors is very positive and creates added value. Sponsors also enable us to keep camp fees moderate. The fees have only gone up ten francs in recent years.
And the job? Are you still enjoying it?
Very much. I had other opportunities, but ultimately this is just a great project. You deal with children, parents, clubs and sponsors. That results in diverse responsibilities, including marketing. In French-speaking Switzerland I am also directly in charge of one camp and will be standing on the field.
Finally two questions about Swiss football. What’s your view?
In the Super League, Basel is the ultimate team. They performed well. But internationally, even FCB is reaching its limits. That indicates where Swiss football stands in the European context: We’re pretty average. Switzerland has to focus on strong players. We are and will stay a training country. We have over 100 Swiss players on teams abroad. If they were in the league, the quality here would be much higher. But financially, Switzerland can’t afford to keep these players. We can’t change that.
And what to you think of your ex-clubs GC and Lausanne?
For a long time, GC was on the right course with the training and integration of talents. I hope they will stay true to themselves despite the pressure they are under due to the unsuccessful start in the second half of the Championship. But I think, GC can maintain its position in the Super League even after losing Kim Källström. After all Munas Dabbur is back and will certainly make up for the slump in goals.
They have a super coach with Fabio Celestini, but a very limited budget and only few top players – and it’s not easy with the spectators in Lausanne. Lausanne will experience highs and lows, that won’t change under this constellation. But they will maintain their position in the league.
Meaning Vaduz will be relegated?
No, I think this year it is more likely to be FC Thun. We’ll see…
Stefan Huber is 51 years old, married and the father of three children. He lives in Zurich and since 2012 he is the Managing Director of Pro Fussballevent GmbH. Huber is known for his active playing time as a goalie in the NLA. He began his career with the Grasshopper Club Zurich in 1984. His nickname was „Panther“. His fast, reflexive reactions on the line are legendary. He went on to play for FC Lausanne Sports as of the 1988 season, in the 1993 season he signed with National League A newcomer FC Basel. Later he went back to GC and ended his active football career in 2002. After that we worked as a goalie coach and in the marketing department for GC. He was involved in developing football camps for kids. In 2012 he founded Pro Fussballevent GmbH with his business partner Bernd Voss.
Between 1991 and 1999, Huber played for the Swiss National Football Team 16 times and celebrated the championship title with the Grasshopper Club Zürich in the 2000/2001 season.
What’s typically Swiss?
Being structured and somewhat reserved.
Anyone who can turn a sport, art or music hobby into a profession has a dream job!
Where’s home to you?
The city of Zurich
Stephan Schmidlin (Comedian/Sculptor)
If you want something to happen, do it yourself.
My smart phone, which breaks down too often unfortunately
The most important invention in the last 100 years?
Technical developments such as the washing machine and the Internet
Favourite football club:
FCB, I mean the one from Barcelona
There are many: Muhammed Ali, Pele, Zidane, Sepp Maier and Roger Federer. They are all exceptional.
RNB and soul
Who would you like to be for a day?
Julia Roberts’ husband
A nice piece of meat and a good glass of red wine
What do you cook?
Everything – I’m an artist in the kitchen. That makes my wife happy!