The Academy by Wānaka AFC offers dedicated footballers from Wānaka and Central Otago the opportunity to achieve their football potential while nurturing a life-long love of the game. The Academy caters to every stage of player development. 


The Academy programme is designed and led by a team of highly experienced, professional football staff led by OFC/NZF B-License certified coaches Ben Sippola and Thomas Van Hees.

Ben Sippola

We have recently welcomed Ben Sippola on board as the Director of Football for Wānaka AFC and the Technical Director of the newly established Academy. We are incredibly fortunate to have a football professional of Ben’s calibre working in the Wānaka community.

Originally from the USA, Ben honed his skills as a player at Butler University (NCAA Division 1), earning 1st Team All-American and All-Academic honours, before embarking on a professional playing career in the USA's Major League Soccer, then in Scandanavia.

Ben is an OFC/NZF B-License accredited coach with almost 10 years of coaching experience in the New Zealand football landscape. As the former Technical Director of Olé Football Academy and Head Coach of Western Suburbs FC, Ben oversaw the coaching, football education, methodology, training programmes and welfare of hundreds of young players across multiple regions of New Zealand. He has played a key role in helping develop numerous professional footballers, US University athletes and NZ National Team players. Ben has relationships with a multitude of clubs and academy environments around New Zealand and the World.

Ben served as the CEO and Technical Director of Olé Football Academy in Wellington for 9 years. Here, he carefully crafted and developed a distinct coaching style, football philosophy and methodology all while building Olé Football Academy into a youth football development powerhouse. Ben simultaneously steered the Western Suburbs FC First Team as Head Coach, winning a Central League title, qualifying for and competing in the NZ National League and taking the team to a Chatham Cup semi-final. These teams, competing at the highest levels of New Zealand Football, were always, on average, the youngest teams in the country.

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Thomas van Hees

With a sport management degree, over 20 years of playing, and nearly 10 years of coaching experience, Thomas is a highly qualified professional in the New Zealand football landscape.

During his playing career in the Netherlands, Thomas had the privilege of playing with players who have played for over a decade in the Dutch Eredivisie and has been coached by UEFA A licensed coaches.

Inspired by his own coaches, he started paying it forward by coaching a junior football team at his local club in the Netherlands. 18 years after that first experience, Thomas has coached juniors & youth in

New Zealand. In New Zealand Thomas has been involved with the Southern United Academy, Central Otago Academy, Olé Football Academy and now The Academy at Wānaka AFC. Thomas has also worked as a Football Development Officer for Southern Football. Delivering Skill Centres and skill stations for the whole Central Otago region.

Thomas is proud to hold OFC/NZF accreditation as a community and advanced Coach Educator, further enhancing his ability to develop and mentor aspiring players and coaches. In addition, Thomas is OFC/NZF B-Licence accredited and looks forward to becoming an A-Licence coach in the future. His diverse coaching background and expertise make him a valuable asset to The Academy at Wānaka AFC.

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The Academy offers programmes for players from U7 through to U15. Please see a breakdown below for more detailed information according to the academy structure. 

We are now accepting registrations for TERM 1, 2024. 

Who is the Pre-Academy for? 

The Pre-Academy programme is perfect for enthusiastic young footballers who are keen to be a part of a fun and supportive environment where they can build on the fundamentals of the game, learn and develop new skills and continue to foster their love for football. 

The Pre-Academy is offered for two age-groups:

  • U7 - U9
  • U10 - U12

Anyone within this age range is welcome to join us!

When does the Pre-Academy run? 

The Term 1 Pre-Academy will kick off on Monday 12, February 2024. It is an 8 week programme, concluding Thursday, 11 April 2024.

Each age-group will have one training session per week. 

Training Schedule:

U7 - U9: Monday | 4.00pm - 5.00pm | Wānaka Recreation Centre

U10 - U12: Thursday | 4.00pm - 5.00pm | Wānaka Recreation Centre

What are the costs?

The Term 1 Pre-Academy is $180.00. Following registration, you will receive an invoice from Wānaka AFC.

What else can I expect? 

  • The Pre-Academy programme is designed and led by our Director of Football Ben Sippola and Head Coach Thomas van Hees. Both are experienced, professional NZ Football licensed coaches who work with our team to create sessions according to best-practice for the players’ age 
  • Players are required to arrive for all training sessions in The Academy training kit. This will be provided for players in Term 1, and will need to be returned at the end of the programme. 
  • We always strive to make sessions fun and enjoyable. We also believe in fostering a committed attitude in our players. We encourage them to arrive on time, give their best and contribute to a positive training atmosphere where the focus is on football. 
  • Once the 2024 Wānaka AFC club season begins, the Pre-Academy sessions will be in addition to your players' once-per-week club team training. You can expect more information regarding the 2024 club season and training schedule from us very shortly.
  • Training communications will take place through WhatsApp. Our team will set up group chats before the programme commences.

How do I register my player?

Registration is done in Friendly Manager. Use your existing Wānaka AFC registration account, or if you’re new to the club, create an account. 


The Academy (U11 - U17)

The Academy at Wānaka AFC offers a year-round football programme for aspirational young players, with a clear pathway of progression and continued opportunities for ongoing development.

Participation in the academy programme is by invitation only. Please contact us directly if you would like to trial for the programme, receive a copy of our The Academy at Wānaka AFC 2024 Information Book or if you have any questions:

Term 1, 2024 training with The Academy will begin on Monday, 12 February, and conclude on Friday, 12 April. 

Academy White

Academy Black

Age suitability: U10 - U12 Age suitability: U12 - U13
Sessions per week: Option of 1 or 2 Total contacts per week: 4 
Day & Time: Monday and Thursday - 4.00 - 5.15pm Day & Time: Monday and Thursday - 5.15 - 6.30pm and Wednesday 4.00 - 5.15pm
Cost: $180 - $300 per term

Cost: $420 per term

Academy Black+

Academy Gold

Age suitability: U13 - U15 Age suitability: U15+
Total contacts per week: 4 Total contacts per week: 4-5
Day & Time: Training and Game schedule tailored to the individual player Day & Time: Training and Game schedule tailored to the individual player
Cost: $420 per term Cost: $420 per term

If you have received an invitation:


Registration is done in Friendly Manager. Use your existing Wānaka AFC registration account, or if you’re new to the club, create an account.