The Highland Football League Youth Development Initiative (YDI) was introduced at the start of Season 2000/2001. It developed from the Highland Youth League which had ran for several years previously and had included several Highland League teams.
The Initiative is one of only three formalised YDI Schemes in Scotland, the others being organised by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League. Matches are played at Under 14, Under 16 and Under 18 levels. The first two age groups are played as development football while at Under 18 it is recognised competitive football. The basic principle of the Programme is to provide a platform to foster and develop talented youngsters at youth level within the Highland League area.
This season there are eighteen clubs taking part in the Programme. Thirteen are from the Highland League and five from clubs situated within the Highland League area who have applied and have been accepted to take part. Not all clubs are involved at each level. Matches are played fortnightly on Sundays and Tuesday evenings throughout the normal playing season. The clubs are split into two geographical sections, North and East. The teams involved from the Highland League are Buckie Thistle, Clachnacuddin, Deveronvale, Forres Mechanics, Fort William, Fraserburgh, Huntly, Inverurie Locos, Keith, Lossiemouth, Nairn County, Rothes and Wick Academy. The "invited" clubs are Alness United, Caithness United, Elgin City, Invergordon and Peterhead.
As already mentioned the Under 14 and Under 16 age groups play development football. Development football is non-competitive. No match results are recorded and no league tables are created. While the games last for ninety minutes they are split into three thirty-minute periods. Coaching is permitted during the game from the touchline and also at the end of each thirty-minute period. Each team should bring with them sixteen players with five being changed at the end of every period in order that each boy plays at least sixty minutes. These games are also used by the Scottish Football Association as a training ground for young referees who are assessed in each game that they do and are also coached by the Assessor during the normal intervals of the match.
Games at Under 18 level are played in the normal format for a football match. As already said they are competitive. For the first season only a league competition was played. Wick Academy won the North Section and Rothes the East Section. The overall championship was decided by these teams playing each other on a home and away basis. Wick Academy emerged as the first winners. For Season 2001/2002 a Knockout Cup Competition has been introduced to augment the League Programme.
While the decision making control of the Programme rests with the League Management Committee of the Highland League the day to day administration is left to the Youth Development Sub-Committee. This is made up of seven nominees from the participating clubs under the Chairmanship of the Senior Vice President of the League. At the moment this is Alan McIntosh of Lossiemouth FC.
In these times of limited finance within the game YDI Schemes such as the one operated by the League must be taken seriously. It is the breeding ground for the Highland League players of the future who will help to ensure that our clubs, and thus the League, survive.