The Development of Youth Track & Field Athletes Project is a multi-phase investigation of various aspects of young athletes’ developmental experiences within track and field. Initial research has focused on the relationship between youth and later success, relative age effects in track and field, the value and risks relating to multi-sport and year-round participation, and coaches’ understanding of athlete development.



  • To provide scientific evidence to underpin decision making by coaches and coach educators in relation to the development of youth track and field athletes.


Current Questions

  • What is the relationship between season length at youth level and athlete retention?
  • What is the relationship between multi-sport participation at youth level and athlete retention?
  • Defining play and practice in the context of youth track and field athletics.



Blagrove, R. C., Kearney, P. E., & Drew, K. (2021). Nurturing young distance runners (pp. 291–305). In: P. H. Hayes & R. C. Blagrove (Eds.). The science and practice of distance running. London: Routledge.

Kearney, P. E., Comyns, T. M., & Hayes, P. R. (2021). The prevalence and consequences of within-sport specialisation in track and field athletics. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport92(4), 779­–786. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2020.1776819

Kearney, P. E., Comyns, T. M., & Hayes, P. R. (2020). Coaches and parents hold contrasting perceptions of optimal youth development activities in track and field athletics. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, doi: 10.1177/1747954119900052.

Brustio, P., Kearney, P. E., Lupo, C., Ungureanu, A., Mulasso, A., Rainoldi, A., & Boccia, G. (2019). Relative age influences performance of world-class track and field athletes even in the adulthood. Frontiers in Psychology: Movement Science & Sport Psychology10. doi:

Kearney, P. E. & Hayes, P. R. (2018). Excelling at youth level in competitive track and field athletics is not a prerequisite for later success. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(21), 2502–2509. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1465724

Kearney, P. E., Hayes, P. R., & Nevill, A. (2018). Faster, higher, stronger, older: Relative age effects are most influential during the youngest age grade of track and field athletics in the United Kingdom. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(20), 2282–2288. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1449093

Kearney, P. E., Carson, H., & Collins, D. (2018). Implementing technical change in high-level athletics: Exploring the knowledge schemas of field event coaches. Journal of Sports Sciences36(10), 1118-1126. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2017.1358339


Conference Presentations

Kearney, P. E. (2021, December). Data from the past provides lessons for the future of youth sport. Presentation at the 5th International ICoachKids Conference [online].

Kearney, P. E. (2019, November). The relationship between characteristics of youth sport participation and long term retention in track and field athletics. Paper presented at the Third Scientific Conference on Motor Skill Acquisition. Kisakallio, Finland.

Kearney, PE., & Hayes, P. R. (2019, July). Year-round engagement in track and field athletics during early adolescence is prevalent amongst endurance runners, but does not impact on athlete retention. Poster presented at the European Congress of Sport Sciences. Prague, Czech Republic.