THE Saturday morning scramble. ‘Where’s the water bottle? Have you got your shinpads on? Mum, do you know where my rain-jacket is?’ Mum? She’s scraping a comb across his hair – does he need to wet it? He’s not going to be on TV is he? Every Saturday, every week. We wouldn’t change it for the world.

It might be a scene familiar to your household whatever the sport, whatever the club. It’s football in ours and it will be a similar scenario in homes all over the country, most weekends of the year.

Of course, that hasn’t been the case for some time now. The Joint Response Group released a statement last week with a date in the calendar ringed for August 1 when the SPFL Premiership will return. There was no provision for Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs or any of the rest, albeit Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, acknowledged that “there are hundreds of thousands of players across the Scottish football landscape looking for clarity on when they can return to action”.

It might not register in the grand scheme of things but one group comprising part of ‘the rest’ is grassroots football – that’s 62,000 players, 17,000 volunteers and 4000 teams without a game every Saturday. As it stands, the Scottish Youth Football Association is following the word of the government and taking its lead from there. As you would expect, the safety of the child is the paramount concern and rightly so.

Nevertheless, it makes for a lot of glum faces every weekend and, with no finishing line in sight, encouraging youngsters to keep practising becomes increasingly difficult. Lockdown has provided them with the chance to improve and there are no shortage of opportunities to do so but the uncertainty of when we will return to action does not help.

For many, the same, if not more, training is being done. There’s the online futsal classes, the pre-recorded videos delivered straight to the mobile phone and everything in between – and at present it is all done being done in searing temperatures. These are reminiscent of the sunny months of my childhood, of endless football matches in the field at the bottom of my street, of refuelling breaks powered by ice lollies and diluting juice, before doing it all again the next day.

A child’s relationship with football is changed utterly from those days. Almost everything is achieved in a controlled environment and I am reminded of the words of Jamie Smith, the former Celtic and Aberdeen winger who is now head of the Nashville academy, in a recent interview who believes that as a result of modern advancements in coaching and microscopic data analysis “we are in danger of coaching creativity out of our kids”.

Smith admits there are times when he would just like to throw a ball into the middle of a group of players and tell them to go and have some fun. Just as he did. Just as we did. There’s not much chance of doing that at the minute, though.

Now there are WhatsApp groups, tests, video analysis, webinars and more. The granular detail of the programmes is impressive. Moves are game specific, they focus heavily on technique and clearly a lot of thought has gone into them but, at the same, the creative element written into these programmes feels contrived to a degree.

The mantra is one of improving exponentially but the chance to measure that growth is currently being denied to our kids. The best way of measuring progress has always been by pitting oneself against others. Technical ability may be near-flawless, but the most effective yardstick is when it is measured in a competitive environment.

Nothing can beat that feeling of satisfaction when witnessing a child you have helped to coach play the perfect pass, or the internal joy – betrayed all too easily at times by the expression on one’s face – when a training drill is replicated and a goal is scored. It is not meant to be competitive but try telling the kids and, too often, the coaches that.

On the one hand it can be a negative force – I’ve literally seen opposition coaches kick shots off the goal-line or station players in and around the side of the posts so that a stray ankle might nudge the ball around an upright. You have to wonder at the kind of mind that would willingly deny an enthusiastic youngster the retelling of the story of how he or she scored a goal later that evening to proud grandparents.

On the other, it is a barometer for assessing group and individual improvement. Gamesmanship tells its own story; by its very nature the game is competitive. The aim of the game, after all, is for one side to put the ball between a set of posts while the other tries to keep it out. But too often coaches are obsessed by what it means for them.

It is not your own investment that you want to see rewarded, it’s theirs. Often they have spent hours training, sacrificing free time after school when they should be doing homework or could be catching up with their favourite show. The idea that this generation is glued to games consoles is overplayed. If the evidence of kids engaging in focused practice on social media is anything to go by, they have demonstrated a greater capacity for effort and achievement than often they are given credit for.

Naturally, all the extra effort can lead them to ask ‘why?’ The inevitable answer is that it will make them a better footballer but the longer they are not able to play that answer sounds increasingly hollow.

If there is one crumb of comfort it is that the SYFA has already started the registration process for the 20/21 season with the hope that when youth football is given the green light to return, it does so as quickly as possible. The 10s of thousands of people whose weekends revolve around it will be relishing the return to the Saturday morning scramble.