The latest intake of almost 100 under-12 players into S1 of the seven performance schools across the country, where normal studies are complemented by professional football coaching sessions, were formally inducted at Hampden yesterday by recently appointed Scottish FA performance director McClair.
The former Manchester United and Scotland player’s address to the boys and girls selected included a message to “never stop chasing your dream”.
For while the performance school programme offers no guarantees of a successful career in football for those who pass through it, McClair, 51, believes even dreams of potentially unattainable goals should be constantly encouraged.
“Why not?,” he said. “Psychologists in sport are making fortunes out of this now – they call it visualisation. Cristiano Ronaldo, Andy Murray – they’re all doing it. I don’t know if you still dream but if you don’t, someone’s stolen your dreams. I still dream now – there is no chance of me ever achieving those dreams, but I still dream.
“I dream about all sorts of stuff. None of it is realistic. I’ve won the US Open golf. I’ve won Wimbledon. I’ve won the world darts title. A lot of it is to do with sport, actually! I’ve also dreamed of being a journalist in Scotland, right enough. Maybe the darts isn’t actually out of reach for me, but I better start practising now!
“For these young players, a number of them are going to play professional football if that’s what they want to do and that’s what they dream about. It is difficult. Very very rarely is it a straight line from one age all the way. It’s a bumpy ride and some of the bumps can be steep, but if you can manage to hold on it gives you a helluva good chance to climb back out of it again.
“Dreaming or visualisation, whatever you call it, somebody steals them. Somebody dampens that fire, puts it out, douses it or whatever. We should be the opposite with what we’re doing. We should be encouraging them to have all these ideas.
“We can still go back to dreaming again. You still have to keep dreaming or you might as well shut everything down.
“It’s about giving them a safe, fun learning environment and some advice along the way. They will make themselves whatever they’re going to be and hopefully at some point they will look back fondly, all of them, and say that was a great experience I had that either helped me achieve the dream of being a professional football player or to go on and do something else, but looking back very fondly on their secondary school time.”
The Scottish FA performance school programme was launched in 2012 at seven secondary schools in Motherwell, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee.
The success of the scheme will not be properly measured until it emerges how many of the first intake, who are about to start S4 this year, are signed on professional terms by senior clubs.
But there has already been an encouraging sign in the shape of 15-year-old Rangers striker Zak Rudden, who attends Broughton High School in Edinburgh. Earlier this year, he became the first performance school pupil to be called up by Scotland for a major tournament when he was in the squad for the European under-17 Championship finals.
“I see the performance schools as a value-added thing for the clubs,” added McClair, who replaced Mark Wotte as performance director earlier this year.
“It gives the kids an opportunity to practise more technique, to practise more skill, maybe learn something about aspects of the game. It’s then the clubs’ gift to decide what position the boy or girl is going to be, what systems they’re going to be playing in, how they are actually going to play.
“Whether you’re a full-back showing the winger inside or out, I just feel we should be helping them towards simple control, pass and move. It is simple, but it’s also difficult because you have to start and then keep doing it for a long time.”