A youth league was founded as the Scottish Premier under-18 League in 1998. Clubs fielded Under-18 teams, with the Scottish Premier Reserve League originally being an under-21 league. The competition was changed in 2003 when it became the Scottish Premier under-19 League. The teams played 22 matches rather than 30.
For the 2012–13 season, the competition changed again, this time to the Scottish Premier under-20 league, there were 15 teams, and teams played 28 matches per season. With the inception of the Scottish Professional Football League for the 2013–14 season, the league become the SPFL U20 League and the number of teams increased to 16. Teams were allowed to field two over-age outfield players and an overage goalkeeper.
The league was renamed the SPFL Development League in 2014, with the number of teams increased to 17. At this time two regional leagues were also introduced, with eight clubs competing in the Development League West and nine clubs competing in the Development League East. The restriction on over-age players was relaxed, with teams now permitted to use five older players in a matchday squad of 18.