When Mark Wotte was appointed as Scotland’s first ever Performance Director in June 2011, he made it clear that the key to restoring the national team was to invest in the future.
He said: “Qualifying for major championships again is the main priority but we can no longer leave it to chance: Scottish football must work collectively and strategically to ensure we cultivate the most talented players at all age groups. This country is renowned across the world for its unparalleled pride and passion: now we must add performance to those qualities once again.”
Three and a half years later and Wotte has already left his position with the Scottish FA. Despite that, the work he implemented during his three years in charge is still ongoing; most notably: the seven performance schools across the country.
Stuart Glennie is two years into his job as Hazlehead Academy’s Performance School Elite Youth Coach. “No one is claiming that we are doing everything right because it is a work in progress. We are giving players an opportunity and coaching contact every single weekday. The ultimate gain is to obviously improve the state of the national team, but we also want to develop young players and people.”
Before taking on the job as Elite Coach, Glennie spent five years as a community coach with Aberdeen and then two and a half years as manager of Highland League side Deveronvale.
The School Performance scheme allows the best young, Scottish players to train with each other Monday to Friday. The Hazlehead performance school currently has 37 players; 32 signed with Aberdeen, two with Aberdeen ladies and five from local youth clubs like Banks O’Dee Albion and Lewis United.
The daily coaching consists of four main components; technical, tactical, physical and mental skills. An important factor for the performance schools is to identify the best players from the area.
Glennie said: “We have scouts across the region who are attending games on a weekly basis and compiling reports on players. We are looking for players with a good first touch and awareness but not just that; we are also looking for players who may not have that right now but have the potential to kick on.
“Players have the chance to not only be coached everyday, but to also train with the very best players from their region. They also get the chance to compete against the best players as we have matches against the other performance schools three times a year.”
There is little doubt that the opportunity for the players selected for these performance schools is a great one, but it doesn’t come without it’s sacrifices.
Glennie explained: “It is a huge, huge commitment for all the players involved.
“The majority of them need to change schools and leave their friends behind, while some of them need to travel 50/60 miles to get to the school. A couple of players from the Hazlehead Performance School are from Fraserburgh and are having to get up at five in the morning.
“The performance school isn’t for everyone and not everyone can cope with it. Prior to offering places to players, we interview both them and their parents.”
The Hazlehead Performance School is now in it’s third year and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, but despite this, Stuart Glennie believes patience is still needed.
“The academy has been great because it offers a clear pathway for our younger players up the ladder towards representing Scotland. Not only that, but it is allowing our best young players the chance to get feedback on their game and progress on a weekly, if not daily basis.
“We won’t know the real success of the scheme until we are a few more years down the line and we can see where the players from the performance schools are, and if the national team has benefitted from them.”
The future looks bright for Scotland and within the game there is a real feeling that the performance schools will benefit the national team in the long run.
Anna Signeul is the Scotland Women’s National Team Coach and she said: “What a great opportunity for our best boys and girls to play and train together. I can see a future when all our international players come through the Performance School programme.”