The latest batch of Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates signed off from the programme on Friday night with a ceremony ahead of Scotland’s friendly with Belgium.
The 73 up-and-coming talents were joined by their families for the proceedings, hosted by newly-appointed Performance School Manager Brian McLaughlin.
There were more than a few familiar faces in attendance, with Scotland Women’s National Team head coach Shelley Kerr dropping by to pay tribute to Kenzi Brown and Phillipa McCallum – two of the prospects hoping to use their Performance School participation as a springboard to successful careers in the game.
Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell, Non-Executive Director Ana Stewart and Performance Director Malky Mackay also took time to mingle with the graduates and parents alike – while Scotland Under-21 coach Scot Gemmill delivered a stirring speech on what it would take to make that next step to become a Scotland player of the future.
Gemmill’s Under-21 squad added their support ahead of Saturday morning’s flight to the Netherlands, with midfielder Billy Gilmour joining fellow former graduates Chris Hamilton, Dean Campbell and Harry Cochrane to pass on tips to the next generation.
The graduates were paraded before the Scotland support at half-time and enjoyed a warm reception.
It’s worth noting that the victors on the night, Belgium, started their own regional schools programme back in 2006 and are now enjoying the benefits of that groundwork 12 years on.
Performance School Manager McLaughlin said: “It was great to have everyone under one roof to celebrate the achievements of all the young players involved in the programme.
“I think it’s also important that we were able to recognise the contribution of the Performance School staff and the families themselves, because without their support none of the success the system has enjoyed to date would be possible.
“The seven schools have been up and running since 2012 – providing what we feel is crucial additional coaching around the normal schoolwork, to essentially give our talented boys and girls the best possible chance to develop their abilities and hopefully one day progress to represent Scotland.
“Over the four years, from S1 to S4, they’ll receive around 800 hours of extra coaching and we’re equally proud that the stats show that Performance School participants enjoy higher attendance rates and exam results than the national average.
“Last year 40 graduates earned professional contracts and eight are already making an impact at first-team level, not to mention Billy Gilmour and Chris Hamilton having already featured for the Scotland Under-21 side.
“It was great to have the four boys along to share their Performance School experiences and reflect on what has happened to them since graduating.
“Everyone watching should have been inspired by what they had to say and I’m confident that in a year we will have some new stories to share from this year’s graduates.”
Performance Director Mackay added: “Friday was a really, really important evening. Especially for the graduates and their families.
“The families have entrusted us with their children over the four-year programme.
“When it comes to education, we have a moral obligation to make sure that we really do focus our attention on each child and make sure they have the best possible experience.
“We ensure there’s a holistic approach to creating the right environment between the staff at the Scottish FA, the schools and their club.
“We want them to become more rounded people, before we even worry about them improving as players.
“It was great having Billy, Chris, Dean and Harry along because they embody that.
“I listened to Dean, for example, talking in such a mature fashion. The people in the room are only a year behind him. They’re great role models.
“That’s when it should hopefully hit home to them all what an opportunity they have.
“I spoke to them about our Under-19 captain Elliot Watt, who wrote a terrific piece on the Wolves website – a letter to his 14-year-old self.
“I urged each and every one of our kids to read it. If there’s ever a good example of really looking at yourself and trying to be the best you can be, that’s it.
“Our Under-21s mingled with them on the night, which hopefully gave them a bit of encouragement and a glimpse at what they could aspire to achieve in the not-too-distant future.
“Scot Gemmill spoke to them about their journey, about what it takes to be a Scotland player, and we asked Ana Stewart to offer a few words of wisdom as well.
“It was a really uplifting night and I’d like to thank everyone who played a part and who buys into the programme. Hopefully we are all seeing the rewards of it.”