Adam Kelly

Associate Professor of Sport and Exercise and Course Leader for Doctorate in Sport

Broadly, Adam's research interests explore organisational structures in youth sport to better understand the athlete development process and create more appropriate settings. Adam is a former Professional Football Player for Salisbury City FC, whilst also possessing a wealth of previous playing experience with the likes of Weymouth FC, Poole Town FC, and Truro City FC at non-league level.

  • Expert
  • Course Leader
  • Active in industry
  • Sports Coaching
  • Physical Education


I am an Associate Professor of Sport and Exercise and Course Leader for Professional Doctorate in Sport (DSport) at Birmingham City University, United Kingdom. I am also Leader of the newly established BCU Research for Athlete and Youth Sport Development (RAYSD) Lab. Alongside completing a PhD at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA), accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist (BASES CSci), and FA UEFA A Licenced Coach.

Area of Research

My research interests explore organisational structures in youth sport to better understand the athlete development process and help create more appropriate and inclusive settings. I am collaborating with a number of global, national, and regional organisations across a range of sports, including cricket, rugby union, soccer, squash, and swimming.

I have generated over £1m in research funding and presented at over 50 international conferences. I am the author of more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters as well as three journal editorials, and two edited books, including the recent release of Talent Identification and Development in Youth Soccer: A Guide for Researchers and Practitioners.


Following seven years in an applied environment at Exeter City Football Club working as the Head of Academy Sport Science, I moved into the academic realm to facilitate my long-term goal of becoming a world-leading researcher in talent identification and athlete development.

I was released from Exeter City FC Academy at U16 as I was “too small to be a professional football player” (twenty years ago now). Not only did this motivate me to continue my footballing career as a player, it also inspired me as an academic to study the talent identification and athlete development processes in sport, and more specifically within football.

I was fortunate to have learnt from some excellent coaches and role models growing up, and enjoy continuing to work with practitioners in the field to try and help create more appropriate settings for every athlete to achieve their potential. For me, research in my field is about working collaboratively with industry partners to support evidence-informed policies and practices in youth sport.

My role as an international researcher has allowed me to travel the globe. I am fortunate to work closely with colleagues in Canada, with the likes of Professor Jean Cote (Queen’s University) and Professor Joeseph Baker, which has created research opportunities as well as student exchanges through our HELS Go Abroad Scheme.

Work with industry

I currently have key projects with the FIFA Talent Development Scheme and the BESTA Cricket Project. The FIFA Talent Development Scheme seeks to create a sustainable legacy for long-term player development, maximising the opportunities provided in each participating member association, by helping member associations reach their full potential and ensuring that all talented players are given the chance to develop and be discovered. The aim of my project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the FIFA Talent Development Scheme as well as capture good practice examples and disseminate globally.

The BESTA Cricket Project is another industry-based project, which was co-created by BCU, ECB, SACA, Take Her Lead, and ACE, who are all passionate about creating equity within youth cricket. The aim of this project is to help better understand how we can work with diverse groups as well as create more equitable and efficient talent development pathways in cricket.

I supervise four PhD students who are embedded into these projects, which will stand them in good stead to develop research and applied skills within the discipline: Achuthan ShanmugaratnamJohann LuxHina Shafi and Omar Green.

In addition to the two key projects outlined above, I am currently working with the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) to develop relative age solutions. Relative age effects (RAEs) provide relatively older youth (i.e., those born near the start of the selection cut-off date) with variety of developmental advantages over their relatively younger peers (i.e. those born towards the end of the selection cut-off date) in youth sport.

Despite its widespread prevalence in youth soccer, there seems to be no widely implemented intervention to moderate or overcome RAEs. Therefore, purpose of this project is a call to action for stakeholders (e.g., researchers, coaches, practitioners) to propose relative age solutions to the KNVB, as well as gather expert consensus on the subsequent proposed solutions. I recently presented these findings at the World Congress of Science and Football in Groningen, The Netherlands, and look forward to the next phase of deigning, implementing, and evaluating some of the potential solutions.

Past Students

All of my PhD students have gone on to have successful careers both within research and applied sport settings:

  • Dr Alex McAuley – Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Assistant Lead for the RAYSD Lab at Birmingham City University

  • Dr Josh Newbury – Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Birmingham City University and Sports Science Lead at City of Birmingham Swimming Club

  • Dr Tom Brown – Founder and Director of the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA)

  • Dr Francesco Dimundo – Founder and Director of the Italian Strength and Conditioning Society (ITASCS)