RAISING the next generation of Scottish footballers is indeed a challenging business, but one into which every last crumb of effort is going.
The Scottish Football Association Performance Schools are preparing for their third intake this summer and progress is already detectable in those who first enrolled in the scheme 18 months ago.
Edinburgh’s Broughton High School is one of seven SFA Performance Schools across the country ready to welcome children born in 2002 as first years this summer. Players from local boys’ clubs and professional youth teams are invited to apply for trials to be staged in the spring, overseen by Greg Miller, the former Hibs and Livingston midfielder and son of former Easter Road boss Alex.
What awaits the newcomers is a thorough daily routine. The SFA opened their performance schools in 2000 to develop every aspect of children’s bodies and brains in the hope they can become top professional footballers.
“We’ve tweaked the curriculum as we’ve gone along,” explained Miller. “It centres around the kids playing in a 4-3-3 formation, but it focuses a lot on the individual. We do individual programmes with players on their fitness and weaker foot and things like that. We’ve found the first batch of kids, who are now in the middle of second year, have improved a lot with their weaker feet in terms of control and technique.
“Each kid is medically assessed for stretching programmes to see what muscles are tight or don’t function as well as others. We do strengthening, conditioning and running technique exercises once a week in partnership with Edinburgh College. Although it’s a group programme, we’ve found individualising a lot of it will give us the best results.
“At the end of the day, we have to produce individual players who can hopefully progress through the Scottish youth teams and one day end up a full internationalist.”
A key change has been stopping training sessions early in the morning before lessons begin. “We don’t do any training before school. None of the schools do now, in all honesty,” continued Miller. “I have seven players in my programme who travel from Fife every day so training before school isn’t an option.
“Sometimes the kids are timetabled to have football with us in the morning, sometimes it’s the afternoon. It varies every day. Then they will go and train with their club three times a week and then play with their club on a Sunday. It’s very intense for them.
“We treat their bodies like they are professional sportsmen. They have played for their clubs on a Sunday, so we do a low-intensity recovery session on a Monday. We then deliver most of our sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Friday session is the strengthening, conditioning and running technique session.”
The attention to detail also surrounds the minds of young players in preparing them for the professional game. “We do a daily survey because, with all that exercise, we need to know the kids are living properly. They have to complete an online wellbeing survey every day, which lets me know how many hours they’ve slept, what hours they’ve slept, what they’ve had for breakfast, how they travelled to school and if they have muscle soreness.
“If, for example, a kid has been up ill during the night, only had three hours sleep and missed breakfast, I won’t train that kid that day. That’s to treat their bodies correctly and educate them.
“We’ve also done workshops with them on hydration, nutrition, mindset and goal-setting. The online system we have also allows the kids to evaluate their performance in a game and see if they can set and achieve goals. If I’ve been at the game, I have a section to fill in as coach and I can see if they are accurately assessing their performance. We want them to accurately critique their performance.”
• THE closing date for players at recreational clubs to apply to attend an SFA Performance School starting this summer is January 22. For players at professional clubs it is February 5. Visit www.scottishfa.co.uk and go to performance department for applications.