It has been just over six years since the inception and first intake of the Scottish FA JD Performance Schools.

It is a project designed to give our most talented young footballers an extra eight hours per week out on the training pitch during school hours, working on individual programmes which are on top of the sessions they are getting at their respective clubs.

Individually, it is a four-year term and hopefully at the end of that period they earn themselves a full-time contract at professional level.

I am fortunate now to be in a coaching role with the Scottish FA on a daily basis at Braidhurst High, which is one of the Performance Schools in Motherwell. I was invited in to help by Andy Goldie who played a big part in the development of probably one of the stand-out graduates of the Performance School to date – Billy Gilmour of Chelsea.

Billy became the first Performance School graduate to play, captain and score for Scotland U21s at the Toulon Tournament at the age of just 16.

I must confess, I had heard a lot about Gilmour but hadn’t seen much of him until that tournament. He was outstanding. He played with a maturity and a hunger that belied his tender years but it came as no surprise to the coaches who had nurtured him from 11 or 12 years old.

Billy was always first on the training pitch and last off it. He was coachable and took on board everything he was being told. Just two days after receiving the Best Breakthrough player award at the Toulon Tournament he was putting in the hard work at the gym down at Chelsea, not off on holiday and drinking with his mates.

He didn’t take a break. And he certainly didn’t let that award go to his head. I mentioned the word hunger and that for me is the key to the success of guys like Gilmour and fellow Performance School graduate, Harry Cochrane of Hearts.

I am a firm believer that we have talent in this country. We have always had it at club and international level up until around the U18 scene. Just last year, for instance, Scotland U17s beat Spain 2-1 with nine Performance School graduates in the team. They played in a style that was as far removed from the stereotypical Scottish blood and snotters performance as you could ever imagine.

We passed them off the park with over 60% possession. This is Spain we are talking about remember. I watched the video and I was blown away by how good we were. The players took the ball under pressure in tight areas and kept it while the bravery they displayed by not just taking the easy option and lumping it forward was eye-opening.

Slowly but surely we are starting to develop our own identity in the younger age groups. But now comes the test. At 17 and 18, talented players have a decision to make about the way they live their life off the park.

Wrong decisions can be made. It’s a well-trodden path which, regrettably and shamefully, I went down. If I could do it all again I would do it differently but you only get one opportunity. That’s what I try to stress to these boys every day – don’t waste a single training session or an opportunity to improve.

We are getting these lads at 12-years-old and it’s vital we educate and train them at that early age to not only be capable technically but to ingrain a hunger and work rate inside them that makes them think that they can always improve. They have to adopt a professional attitude both on and off the pitch at 12 so that when they do get to 17 or 18, those habits are second nature and their talents are not wasted.

When Malky Mackay was appointed Performance School director, he emphasised the sacrifice and dedication that our young footballers have to show. He put up Andy Murray, probably our greatest ever sportsperson, as a prime example. Andy grafted tirelessly. He sacrificed his life off the court so he could be the best on it.

You can’t get to the top just by talent alone. Nobody can. Andy Robertson is another fine example. These guys have dedicated their lives to being the best they can possibly be.

If we can instil our young footballers with those attitudes, then the sky is the limit. And finally we can start to produce world class players again.