Adam Kelly is a Senior Lecturer and the Course Leader for Sports Coaching and Physical Education at Birmingham City University. He consults with international institutions and organisations in a number of professional sports, including football, rugby union, cricket, swimming, squash, and ice hockey.

In this conversation Adam and I explore the latest research into a range of more equitable talent development and competition frameworks that recognise the 'non linear' nature of talent development and allow for more individualised development opportunities for young athletes.

We discuss the relative merits of 'Birthday Banding' , Bio Banding', 'Average Team Age' and 'Playing Up/Down' approaches.

Hope you enjoy...

Links to research articles

'Birthday Banding' -

'Playing Up / Down' - 'Average Team Age' -

'Bio Banding' -

'Reversal Effect' / 'Underdog Hypothesis' -


Sometimes the stars align and the article you have just published speaks perfectly to the next guest you booked on your podcast.

As a perfect alternative to what we read about in my post about ‘The Lamentable Lemmings of Talent Development’ we are introduced to this brilliant case study of a club that has decided not to throw itself off the cliff in the race to the bottom but to do it differently...

This weeks episode I speak to Martin Erikstad who is a researcher at the Department of Public Health, Sport and Nutrition, Universitetet i Agder in Norway. Martin has just published a fascinating case study about a football club called FK Bryne which is in a small city of 12,000 people in North West Norway. The club is probably best defined as a 'talent hotbed'.... the club motto is "We will enjoy football, cultivate talent and perform miracles".

The study follows the journey of a team of young players that included Erling Haaland (the young super star striker that plays for Borussia Dortmund and has been linked with every top club in Europe) and their coach and the remarkable environment which was created which led to amazing outcomes in terms of retention, progression and personal growth of the young players. The study looks at the way that the group developed through the lens of a theoretical approach to participant development which is developed by Jean Cote and colleagues which is called the 'Personal Assets Framework'. In this story we we how the coaching team focussed on a player led, games based approach to foster participation combined with a strong emphasis on personal development of the individuals and the group which led to performance in the long terms.

It is a great example of how a genuine child centred approach which places the voices of young people at the centre of the experience and provides them with an environment that is developmentally appropriate and supportive can not only retain young people in sport but also help more of them to thrive and progress. This is a particularly important message at a time when the world of youth sport is becoming more and more hyper competitive, adult driven and children are being commodified. It is an important counter narrative that shows that things can be done differently, the performance narrative does not have to dominate everything and the 'talent needs trauma' messaging can be seriously questioned.

At a time when sport is being challenged by horrific stories of abuse, bullying and dehumanising behaviour by coaches and officials it is a beacon of hope that points to an alternative conceptualisation of how developmental environments are shaped. I urge you to listen to the podcast and also read the article and share it with others is a great story and one that more people need to hear about.


Updated: Mar 22, 2021

This is one of those posts that is probably going to get me into trouble...

But I can't stay silent anymore...

My father used to say, "if you hold someone's may as well have punched the other bloke in the face yourself". In other words....if you enable things to happen by doing nothing, then you are complicit in creating the problem in the first place".

It was his version of the famous quote by Edmund Burke

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing.”

So I need to write this...whatever the personal or professional consequences...

Here goes...

I overheard a conversation outside the school while waiting to pick up my made me feel sick...

One of the mum's was talking about her 9 year old son's football 'career' and some of the worries she has about it all...

She said that he is currently training 4 times per week in an 'academy' run by the nearest premier league club (an hour and 15 minutes away) and he also does football year round with his local club (the 'off season' lasts 3 weeks!). More recently he has been scouted and offered trials at some high profile professional clubs. She told me that she is secretly hoping he doesn't make it because of the strain it will put on them as a family and the concern that she has for his well being.

This mother used to play high level sport herself and knows a thing or two about the challenges of elite youth sport and she is concerned but at the same time she also feels powerless because she thinks that if he doesn't get into these programmes now that he will 'miss out'.

This is not an isolated case...

I was at a county hockey training session and was chatting with some of the parents. One of the Mum's was telling me that her son had only started playing hockey this year as he was heavily into football. He had been in a premiership clubs 'pre academy' for a couple of years but had been let go at the age of 9, he then went to a football league club's academy for another year but they too decided that he wasn't good enough...he now plays for a 'Junior Premier League' team (with about 5 other 'academy rejects') who travel all over the south of England to play games and training 2x per week doesn't stop all year round. She estimated that he was doing in excess of 20 hours a week of football and that he regularly gets home after 11.00pm from football training, tournaments and matches. While he was in the premiership academy it was costing so much in travel and also the training went all year that they didn't have a family holiday for 2 years.

She openly admitted that it concerned her but she also said that they weren't 'sporty parents' and didn't really know what they were doing...they just felt that they should do their best to provide him with the opportunities.

He is 11....

This BBC radio show entitled, 'Manchester's Cold War - The battle of footballing youth' tells the story of how professional clubs are competing to recruit and identify talent in children as young as 5.

Recently Manchester United posted this advert for a 'Lead Phase Scout for 6-8 year olds'.

Here is the job purpose and a few selected lines from the role description Purpose: To lead the Pre-Academy recruitment strategy and help coordinate the Academy scouting operation and gain market intelligence for Manchester United Football Club in the North West region. To work closely with the Pre- Academy Manager and offer support to other lead phase scouts within the club. Proactively contribute to the management of the club’s local casual scouting network. The Role

Primary responsibility is to oversee the recruitment strategy within the Pre- Academy phase, ensuring Manchester United Academy have leading market knowledge. Also coordinating the casual scouting network to identify, track, recommend and support the recruitment of grassroots players of potential interest to Manchester United Academy in the North West region.

Liaise with other lead phase scouts to share information on players that are cross-market.

Compile and maintain ‘target lists’, ‘monitor lists’ and ‘market depth lists’ for Pre-Academy players of potential for Manchester United in the North West region.

Promote a positive market identity for Manchester United with local communities, representatives, clubs, federations, families, and all key contacts.

Contribute to the arrangement of scouting activities such as tournaments, recruitment events and games programme as required whilst maintaining links with the emerging talent centre staff regarding club and community links.

Notice the language...'market', 'market identity', 'target lists', 'market depth lists'...