Scotland stars Darren Fletcher and Ifeoma Dieke have kicked off the Scottish FA Regional Performance Schools.
The first intake of pupils were delighted to hear from the inspirational men’s and women’s national team players, as they gathered at Hampden Park ahead of the first day of term at the seven schools.
More than 100 boys and girls have been selected to take part in the ambitious new project, which will house the cream of Scotland’s talented young footballers.
They will receive specialist training as part of their curriculum, in a programme that represents the crown jewels of the Scottish FA’s Performance Strategy.
The players and their parents were welcomed by Performance Director Mark Wotte and National Coaches Craig Levein and Anna Signeul, before Fletcher and Dieke shared their experiences and offered some words of advice.
Scotland captain Fletcher told the pupils: “You have been offered a brilliant opportunity but this is just the beginning. You have to keep working hard and make the most of it.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without the support of my youth coaches, teachers and, of course, my family. The coaches who have been specially selected to work with you, the support staff, teachers and your family members who are here today believe in you, so listen, learn from them, and grab this opportunity.
“The more you put in the more you will get out of it. I keep working hard because I know I can improve even now. Remember, practice makes perfect.”
Dieke is one of only a handful of female Scots who have played the game professionally. She has represented teams including Chicago Red Stars and Boston Breakers in the USA, and now plays for Vittsjo GIK in Sweden.
Dieke said: “I got a scholarship to a university in Florida when I was 18, so I know how beneficial it is to combine football and education. I was able to train every day in the sun and get a degree to fall back on, and I’ve been lucky enough to to play professionally and make a living from the game, which very few women do.
“These kids are so lucky to have this opportunity at 12 years old. The coaching and support they are going to benefit from is incredible – I could only have dreamt of this when I was their age.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more and more young girls coming through the programme and into the national teams over the next few years.”
The Regional Performance School curriculum has been developed with the help of experts in different fields, and today’s induction was a chance for the assembled parents to find out more from Performance Manger Neil Mackintosh, and the specialist support staff involved in the programme, including sports scientists, physiotherapists and video analysts.
The players, who this week started going through a ground-breaking screening process with physiotherapists from the Sports Health and Injury Clinic at Hampden Park, were put through their paces by the coaches they will work with at their schools for the next four years.
The seven Regional Performance Schools and Performance Coaches are:
Braidhurst High School (Motherwell) – Gordon Craig
Broughton High School (Edinburgh) – Greg Miller
Graeme High School (Falkirk) – Ian Ross
Grange Academy (Kilmarnock) – Andrew Goldie
Hazlehead Academy (Aberdeen) – Iain Jenkins
Holyrood Secondary School (Glasgow) – Brian McLaughlin
St John’s High School (Dundee) – Ray McKinnon
To find out more about the SFA’s Regional Performance Schools, click here.