in #KillieStories April 10, 2018
Season 2017/18 marked an important moment for our Academy as they became one of only eight clubs to achieve Elite Status under the Scottish FA’s flagship Project Brave programme.
Under the guidance of Academy Director Paul McDonald, Killie will be assessed according to a criteria-based system and an assessment of Measurable Performance Outcomes (MPOs).
As well as bringing greater focus to talent development and optimising player opportunities, achieving this landmark has allowed the department to recruit new full-time staff to create the best environment for all.
We sat down with our newcomers to talk about their roles within the club and why Project Brave presents a more efficient pathway to first-team football.
The journey starts with Ross Black, our Head of Children’s Programme, who works with kids from U8s to U12s with a large focus on fun and enjoyment as well as building technical skills.
He explained: "Part of my role is about creating an environment where the kids want to come in and improve and want to work hard to do well. You are in a professional environment but for a 7 or 8-year-old you are focused on having fun. When they come in they will obviously have some sort of ability but if they are enthusiastic then there’s something there to work with.
"It’s been a learning process for me. Patience is a key aspect because you have to get your point across while remaining encouraging. The kids are great and have so much energy and you get a great buzz from working with them."
A number of measures are designed to help kids gradually transition through the age groups with U8s playing 5-a-side football before progressing to 7-a-side from U9-U11s.
The Scottish FA aim to introduce 9-a-side football for U12s to ease the jump before playing on full-size pitches.
James McHarg is Head of Intermediate Programme and focuses on developing players and staff as individuals between the ages of 13-16.
In the first few months of the programme, player development plans (PDP’s) and match analysis has been introduced to help the children move forward on and off the field.
While a competitive cup competition has been introduced at the 16s age group, developmental football remains to ensure there’s a more measured approach for all. This outlook aims to ensure that growth and improvement is measured through more than just the score line.
As part of Project Brave, the Scottish FA provides mentors to aid the coaches in their own educational journey with youth guru Donald Park visiting Rugby Park to impart advice and words of encouragement.
James' role is also centred around developing the club's coaches. He holds regular meetings to work on Kilmarnock's coaching content and curriculum, which is designed to improve both individuals in terms of positions and specific practices and team performance, learning around the four moments of the game.
He said: "What I tell coaches is don’t be all about the result. We all want to win in games but if we’ve given players individual goals and targets during games and he achieves these, then that’s part of the winning process for us."Don’t be too focused on just the result as some other clubs mainly focus on that."
The return of reserve-team football is one aspect of Project Brave but before players reach that stage they must pass through the U18s, which is headed up by coach Craig Clark.
It signals a return to the kind of system which was in place when Garry Hay, Kris Boyd and Steven Naismith graduated through our player pathway and into the first team and Craig believes the changes will bear fruit.
He said: "Right now I need to get the U17s into the U20s, which is a massive three-year jump and the leap from U20s to the first team is even bigger.
"The education that we provide to the young players from the Children’s Academy to Intermediate Academy and then getting to me at the 18s should prepare them effectively with the tools they need for the first-team environment.
"That’s where we succeed because if you look at game time in the national team through the younger ages we have the likes of Greg [Taylor], Iain [Wilson], Greg Kiltie and Adam [Frizzell]. They have all had first-team experience."
It’s not all about football coaching with advances in sports science and medical care becoming more important in a player's performance.
Ryan Barr has joined Killie as Head of Academy Physio and Cameron McDermid taking up the role as Head of Academy Sports Science.
Both already believe the club is benefitting from more regular interaction and communication with our most promising prospects.
Ryan said: "If you are part time then sometimes you don’t get that continuity of care so having someone full time can oversee each individual to plan rehabilitation and treatment before handing them over to Cameron.
"It gives the players a familiar face as they come through the Academy and that sense of familiarity can help if anything is wrong."
Cameron’s role ranges through all of the age groups u11 - u17s, covering all aspects connected to the well-being of the players as well as supporting Andy White with the u20 squads when necessary.
He added: "You are not like the old-school fitness coach saying ‘just go and run’, basically we monitor, develop and look after anything to do with a player’s body.
"For the Academy players we carry out physical monitoring to see how they are growing and performance testing to examine their speed and strength. As we move towards the U20s you are getting daily information to try and influence the right kind of training.
"We’re trying to build a department to work alongside the coaches without them having to worry about injuries or the fitness of the players."
A huge part of Kilmarnock Football Club’s history and tradition is invested within our player pathway and it remains a vital and passionate element of the board’s ambition for the future.
Discussing what drives all the staff, Craig added: “There’s a huge sense of satisfaction for us as well as the fans to see local lads come through the system and making it, especially if they end up getting International recognition or go on to play at the very top level. They feel a bit of ownership with those players, a love between them and the club.
"We’ve got some great experience within the Academy to mentor, support and push these players to where they need to go as well as the best playground in Ayrshire in the form of the Rugby Park surface.
"Paul McDonald has done a great job and now with the extra full-time staff we have a great opportunity to continue to build on that good work."
Ultimately it takes the bravery of our First Team Manager to deem these players good enough and ready enough to make an impact in his squad.
You can find out more about Project Brave and the Scottish FA's performance strategy.