The latest graduates from the Scottish FA JD Performance School programme were given a rousing reception on Friday as they made a half-time appearance at Hampden during Scotland’s friendly meeting with Belgium.
Players and parents rightly enjoyed what was a special occasion but thoughts will quickly have turned back to the here and now – as they look to build careers in the game on the back of the skills they’ve honed during their spells in the seven schools.
This time last year midfielder Connor Smith was celebrating his own Performance School graduation.
Fast forward to May and the Scotland Under-17 international had been fast-tracked to a first-team debut with Hearts in the last game of the season against Kilmarnock.
The Cowdenbeath native has no doubt his time at Edinburgh’s Broughton High School played a significant part in his development, as he explains.
What were your memories of joining the Performance School programme?
I was in it from the first year of secondary school onwards and one of the youngest ones in the group. I didn’t expect to get in for a minute so I was buzzing when the confirmation came through. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of hard work involved and travelling from where I live in Cowdenbeath but it was worth every second.
What were your expectations?
The main thing for me was that it was a chance to cram in extra coaching around my schoolwork. Obviously I love playing the game so it was the perfect combination. I think that would be the case for most kids so I felt very lucky to be involved. Broughton High School has had a good record as well, with Anthony McDonald and Chris Hamilton both going on to play for the first team at Hearts.
What part did your coaches have to play in your development?
Greg Miller was my main coach at Broughton, assisted by Darren Dods. Keith Wright’s taken over now. Greg was a really good coach and would always pass on pointers if he thought you could do something better. Darren was a bit more laidback but was influential in his own way. The programme really focused on improving you as an individual. I remember we would work on our weaker foot every day in skill challenges and stuff like that. I really feel the benefit of that now.
What about off the pitch?
I read that the Performance School graduates have, on average, higher attendance rates and marks. I can see why. I felt more confident for having been through it all.
Would you recommend it to those who have just joined the system?
Definitely. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
You’ve pushed on since your graduation. Talk us through what you’ve done since.
I’ve just been through my first year in full-time football and I’ve loved it. Especially when I made my first-team debut against Kilmarnock. I have to thank the manager for giving me the opportunity to do that and hopefully if I can make sure I’m a regular in the reserve team this year I’ll get another chance at some point. I’ve been involved in every Scotland squad since and we’ve had some big wins against the likes of England, Uruguay and Russia so it feels like I’ve packed a lot in.
Brian McLaughlin is your coach at Under-17 level and he’s just taken charge of the Performance School programme as well, having previously worked in one of the schools. How highly do you rate him?
Brian’s great. He always encourages us to try and play our own game and always says how proud we should be to be playing for Scotland. He goes into detail about every single thing about the game so you go out there knowing your job. I think he’ll be good for the Performance Schools as well because he’s already worked in the system. It can only be good for the young players who are trying to do what a few of us have done.
Brian often talks about the legacy of Performance School graduates and how he’d like them to stay involved with their old school. Is that something that appeals to you?
I’d love to go back and take a session at Broughton or pass on advice to someone who is in the position I used to be in. Any time.