Small is beautiful for Scottish player development

The Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Youth Football Association are introducing small-sided games for players aged 12 and under as part of a youth development strategy.

All children at clubs will play a format of the game that relates best to their age
All children at clubs will play a format of the game that relates best to their age ©SFA

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) will use this season's UEFA Grassroots Day on 25 May to highlight a change in its National Player Pathway.

The SFA and the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) have decided that, from March, all children aged between six and nine will play four-a-side football, those between nine and 12 will play seven-a-side, while youngsters older than 12 will move into the full 11-a-side format.

The pathway is revolutionary because, for the first time in Scotland, all children playing club football will play a format of the game that relates best to their age. The match formats will focus each player on honing the right skills and techniques for their stage of development.

The SFA head of youth development, Neil Mackintosh, developed this approach after studies and consultation with other European countries that use small-sided games to aid the long-term development of players. The UEFA Study Group Scheme also informed the SFA's decision.

"Having the opportunity to share ideas with other national associations has given us a huge advantage when it comes to designing and delivering our pathway," said Mackintosh.

"The main benefit of our new National Player Pathway is that young people across Scotland will have the opportunity to experience good practice that is designed for their age and stage of development. Previously we had many different formats and rules based on good intentions and opinions, but the new pathway is based on research, good practice and evidence. This is just the start. I see the pathway continually evolving and developing with experience."

The SYFA, which runs all youth leagues in Scotland, will help to implement the new formats, while the SFA will support the transition and ongoing development of players, coaches and club officials through coach education courses, practical and theoretical sessions and workshops given by the Positive Coaching Scotland project.

The launch of the pathway coincides with a new summer season for youth and women's football in Scotland, with leagues running from March to November to take advantage of the best weather conditions.