Big Hearts take big steps in positive youth development

Alan White, left and below, leads a coaching development course at Tynecastle High School
Alan White, left and below, leads a coaching development course at Tynecastle High School
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KENNY DALGLISH presented Hearts with the Best Professional Club in the Community award last month at Hampden Park following the efforts of the Big Hearts Community Trust.

The club’s charity wing delivers a series of football coaching courses, plus education and health programmes. However, one of their most important initiatives is still slightly under the radar.

Big Hearts works in tandem with Positive Coaching Scotland to deliver workshops aimed at educating parents and leaders of young children on how best to develop a kid’s potential. For anyone who has stood at the side of a football pitch on a freezing November morning, cringing while six and seven-year-olds are lambasted for “not being good enough”, this is a major step in the right direction.

“I think this is one of the most important things we do,” said Alan White, chief executive of Big Hearts. “The SFA in the south east of Scotland have engaged 1500 parents, coaches and leaders this year. The programme came across from America and we have adopted and adapted it.

“Basically, it’s to give parents, coaches and leaders the chance to consider the environment we create for young players.

“You hear a lot of people barking and shouting on the sidelines at kids’ football matches, although it’s not always like that. What we do is sit with them and give them lots of examples and get them to consider why they got involved in kids’ football in the first place. Ultimately it’s to create a more developmental environment for young players and keep players, coaches and volunteers in the game for much longer.

“When kids reach youth levels at under-14s and under-15s, there’s a 70 per cent drop off in youth participation. Up until then at soccer sevens it’s really vibrant and healthy. Then comes this massive decline, which can be for a whole host of reasons. If we make sure the environment on the sidelines is first class and we’re in it for the right reasons, then hopefully we keep people involved for a lot longer.”

Big Hearts have put 250 coaches through a variety of different courses in the last year, all delivered on behalf of the Scottish Football Association. Most of them are led by White and Keith Wright, the former Hibs striker who is now an SFA football development officer in the region.

“Keith and I are a bit of a double act with this Hearts and Hibs thing, which seems to strike a chord,” laughs White. “Keith doesn’t work for Hibs but he’ll always be linked with them, so the Hearts and Hibs angle works quite well. Both clubs feel it’s important to develop their kids and not push them too hard because kids all develop at different rates. It’s important to have a developmental culture as well.

“Keith and I have done seven or eight of these positive coaching workshops this year and we have another one at Easthouses on Monday. Our most recent one was run on behalf of Currie Boys’ Club and Currie Star and 120 parents turned up. There is a discussion where parents and coaches get to put their frustrations across, but we’re able to support and help them and point them in the right direction on creating the right environment for their player. Our Scottish culture is often to look at what’s wrong with our game. You don’t hear many people saying what’s right, and there’s loads of good stuff. There’s a huge volunteer army of coaches out there with plenty young kids desperate to come along and get involved. There’s lots of good ability on show and we need to shine the torch on that a bit more.”

The accolade of being best Professional Club in the Community was certainly welcome reward for the work of White and his team. It was also an acknowledgement for the wider Hearts family. “Out of 42 professional clubs in the country, we were voted the top club,” he continued. “It’s predominantly for the grassroots work you do – the balls, bibs and markers programme – but it also takes into account the health and education initiatives. Getting the award at Hampden was good enough but it doesn’t get much better than receiving it from Kenny Dalglish.

“When we received it, we dedicated it to the fans, supporters’ groups and everyone else involved in helping Hearts just now. The Hearts community has never been closer to the club than it is now, although Big Hearts is a completely separate charity. People are donating things to Hearts, selling memorabilia and not paying electricity bills and things just to help after the club went into administration. It’s been a real community effort from the Hearts family.”

n THE SFA’s new 2014 coach education brochure is out in January. Full details for the Big Hearts Community Trust can be found at