How a new role is helping Luton to achieve their Academy ambitions

Dale Brunton (left) has worked for Luton Town since 2016

Dale Brunton (left) has worked for Luton Town since 2016

A MODERN Academy is a sizeable affair, even at Category Three level.

“We’ve got 24 full-time staff and 25 to 30 part-time, across coaching, recruitment, analysis and sports therapy,” explains Dale Brunton, the Academy Operations Manager at Luton Town. “There is one coach per age group from Under-9s to 14s and two in the 16s, 18s and 21s.”

The Bedfordshire club have almost 150 players registered in their Academy: 21 scholars, 14 U21s and 110 spread across the other age groups, as well as several triallists at any given time.

These numbers explain why Luton need an Academy Operations Manager. It's a relatively new job in football, but an increasingly important one. We tend to think of Academies in terms of coaching, but logistics are also hugely important.

Brunton started in his new role in August last year and is doubling up as Luton’s Head of Education (which was his previous job) until a permanent replacement is found.

“This job has grown hugely over the last few years,” he tells TGG. “In American sports the Team Manager and Operations Manager is a massive thing.

“With Academies expanding, I think it’s really important that operationally everyone knows where they are and what they’re doing. Everyone needs to know what page they’re on and what they’re doing weeks and even months ahead - and that’s my job.”

So what exactly does the job of Academy Operations Manager entail?

“My role is mainly operations and logistics,” Brunton explains. “It’s making sure that transport is sorted, kit is ready, staffing is organised and accommodation is in order for longer away games.

“I'm the main contact for the U21 fixtures and triallists and I work closely with our Academy Administrator Emily (Howes), who does that for the 9s to 18s. Emily is excellent.

“She works with the other Academy Administrators to set up the fixtures and send all the paperwork and it’s my job to make sure we have minibuses and drivers in place and kits all washed and ready to go.

“Every six weeks we have Academy Management Team meetings, where all of the heads of department get together and talk through their targets and how they are getting on.

“Then we update the Academy Performance Plan (a requirement of EPPP) as we go along. It’s an evolving document. I also have monthly budget meetings with the finance team and report back to the Academy Director in terms of where we are and if we’re on target."

KAIROS: A ONE-STOP SHOP

Organisation and communication is obviously a key part of Brunton’s role, which is why the operations and planning platform Kairos has become invaluable for him.

“We’d been knocking on the door for two or three years at the club saying, ‘We need something to get all our comms and logistics in one place,'” he says.

“We started using Kairos in the Academy at the start of the season and it’s been invaluable. Paul Watson, our Chief Operating Officer, was really supportive in getting it over the line.

“Kairos is a one-stop shop that enables us to have everything in one place. If we have an away fixture, then we put all of the details on there and the parents can just click in to open up Google maps and get the directions straight away.

“From a communications perspective, it’s helped reduce the use of WhatsApp groups, which is important in terms of both organisation and safeguarding. In the past I’d have to ask, ‘Who wants a minibus at the weekend?’ Then my phone would be popping off with 15 messages, ‘Yes no yes no.’ With Kairos, we just set up a survey and it collates everything. Emily and myself can then click in and see who needs what.

“There’s a calendar feature, so, for example, the Head of Coaching (Paul Benson) can look at fixtures and everything is centralised.”

Parents are able to access the Kairos app too.

“If the boys are running late for training they can put it in Kairos, whereas previously staff were getting calls at 10 at night saying, ‘I want to talk about my son.’ That’s not an appropriate time. We also use it when we do reviews - parents can pick a suitable time slot, without the staff having to organise that.”

Kairos is also valuable for safeguarding perspective, which is a crucial consideration for any Academy.

“Parents can use the app to report safeguarding concerns anonymously or with their names attached,” Brunton says. "If anyone under the age of 18 messages a member of staff, their parents are automatically included in the message. Similarly, if a member of staff sends a message to one of the boys then it will include their parents too.

“And if there was ever to be a police investigation, they could pull those conversations straight away, whereas if it’s a personal phone it becomes harder to do.”

The club are able to assign different tiers of user, which is important for security and organisation.

“The majority of the users will only have access to the messaging and scheduling, because that’s all the functionality they need,” Brunton says. “Myself, Emily and Wayne (Polson, the Player Care Officer) are super users and have access to do all the bits in the back-end.

“You can also link certain people to certain teams, so the U10s coach will only see what happens with the U10s - he won’t see info about the 14s, 15s, 16s. We tier who sees what."

Kairos has become such an integral part of the Academy that it's part of the onboarding process.

“Whenever we get a new triallist in, Wayne will do an induction with them and as part of that he’ll add them onto Kairos,” Brunton explains. “He gives them a quick tutorial in how to use it - and thankfully the app is very easy to use.”

AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE

Luton have made no secret of their intention to go Category Two, which would enable them to have a better games programme, attract a higher calibre of player and draw on higher central funding.

However, there has been a hold-up on planning permission for a new indoor dome from the local council, which is a requirement of Cat 2 under EPPP. At the time of publication of this article, the club are still waiting.

Brunton says the club are already operating at Cat 2 in terms of staffing and run an U21s squad, even though this isn't required at Cat 3.

And in Rob Edwards - who took over from Nathan Jones as first-team manager in November - they have a boss who believes in youth.

Edwards was previously a coach with England's U16 and U20 teams, along with assistant Richie Kyle, as well as managing Wolves U23s.

“The first-team staff who’ve come in have been fantastic,” Brunton reveals. “We’re looking at doing some CPD for the Academy staff using the first team. They’ve been to watch our Youth Cup games and we’re all pulling in the same direction, which is fantastic.

“We just need to get that Cat 2 and Premier League status and we’ll take off. The number of lads we’ve had in training with the first team since Rob has come in has been unbelievable.

“Zack Nelson and Jayden Luker have moved up to the first-team squad and there have been a couple of others on the bench in recent weeks too.

“We send the 16s and 18s results through to the first-team staff and always get messages back, ‘Well done, great result.’ They’re very supportive.”

The first team are also due to come on board with Kairos from the start of next season, which will only enhance that link-up between the Academy and seniors.

Read more on:

AcademiesLuton Town

Current jobs

Lead Data Scientist

Leicester City

Set Piece Coach

Brentford

More stories

Sign up to our newsletter to get all the latest news from The Guru

//