Brian McLaughlin has been confirmed as the new Scottish FA JD Performance School Manager.
On the day when the seventh intake of pupils will be welcomed into the system, the experienced coach – who doubles up as a National Youth Team Coach – has been tasked with progressing a programme that is close to his heart.
Brian, you’ve just been confirmed as the new Scottish FA JD Performance School Manager. You obviously have great experience within the Performance School system but talk us through your new role.
After five years of being in the Performance School system at Holyrood Secondary School my job changed. In the last 12 months, after coming out of that, I’ve been part of the Under-17 squad. Through the changes brought about by Malky Mackay, I’m now in charge of the seven schools. It’s something I’m really looking forward to getting involved in. I know all of the guys really well. I obviously know the schools really well. I’m looking forward to putting my own stamp on it and trying to improve the programme further.
It’s been a successful year for the Performance School programme – with 44 professional contracts handed out, eight first-team debuts, higher attendance rates and improved exam results than the national average. There must be real pride in what’s been accomplished so far?
I think pride is part of it. The players and coaches work incredibly hard every single day. There’s a belief in the programme that makes them do it every day. The boys and girls have been fantastic in the programme. One of the first things we’ll do is look back over the three years of graduates. We need to work out why we were successful, because we need to do it more often and try to improve the programme. We want to make it the best that it possibly can be.
The likes of Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane have become regulars at Heart of Midlothian. Billy Gilmour became the first to appear, score and captain the Under-21s. Their crop are the first to have come right through the system. Is that significant?
Their age-group got a lot of credit and rightly so, because what a year it’s been for some of them. But we’re expecting big things from the ones this year. Billy Gilmour has had an incredible 12 months. His attitude to training every day is fantastic. He’s the first on the pitch. Harry Cochrane would probably be second on the pitch. In fact, the two of them would probably fight to see who would make it out there first. It’s that kind of attitude that has spread through the programme and we’re starting to see success. Ultimately those are short-term goals. We’re looking for these boys to progress through the national squads and into first teams.
Thirteen of your recent Under-17 squad came from the Performance School set-up. While you obviously don’t turn a blind eye to those not involved in the programme, have you seen a difference in those who are part of it?
There’s a thread that runs through the programme in terms of a style of play. We want these boys to pick up the habits from that style of play, so they can go all over Europe to play and win. Ultimately we want to win games and do it in a certain way. The boys who are currently in the Scotland squads have been brought up like that for the last three or four years. When you have a group like that in the squad it’s much easier for the head coach because they’ll also help the players who come in. We want to create this team ethos that Malky is big on. The Performance Schools will help with that. It’s important to say that we will absolutely not disregard anyone else in Scotland but it is easier to integrate these guys into a squad because of the harmony that’s already there.
You talk about the legacy side of the Performance School system a lot. It’s obviously important to you that they stay close to the programme, even after they have graduated.
I think one of the key challenges for us – and it’s something we have been successful at – is when a player leaves the school they never leave the programme. They go back to that school to talk to the first, second, third and fourth years. We’ve been getting ready for the launch and all the young players wanted to come and speak to ‘their’ players. The young ones who are coming in are joining the players’ programme. It’s nothing to do with coaches. It belongs to the players – who dictate and create it. They’re the ones who are behind the success we have got.
A lot of people now know about the Performance School system but for those who don’t can you explain the set-up and where you see it going from here?
The Performance School programme started six years ago. We’re now on our seventh intake. We really just have one massive school, as we see it, where we all think the same. It just happens to take place in seven different schools across the country in different areas. The reason behind it is to try and get our most talented players into one school in their area and cut down on travel to help the parents. Ultimately we’re trying to take the best players in one area and bring them together every day. Consistency is key to these things. We need to work in conjunction with the clubs. It’s no surprise that the biggest success stories so far have come when there’s been a really strong link between the Performance Schools and the club. When we get that collaboration right, the player in the middle will succeed. It’s something we want to keep pushing. Really we’re just trying to give our best young players the best chance to become national team players.