Beyond the white lines of the pitch

Kevin Tallec Marston, 28, is doing a PhD on youth football at De Montfort University, Leicester

Youth football has always been a large part of my life, as a player, volunteer, coach and club director. My first word as a baby was "ball", and old photos show me as a two-year-old in an FC Nantes children's kit. My mother is French and she was a pioneer of women's football, founding one of the first women's teams in Nantes in the mid 1960s.

My father is American and I grew up in France and in the States, where I did a BA in French and Music. It never crossed my mind to study football until I stumbled across the Fifa International Master in management, law and humanities of sport at De Montfort. I was the director of a youth football club at the time and one night I met up with a friend for coffee. He knew someone who was doing the Fifa Master and my eyes lit up. I said, " You've gotta be kidding me, you can get a Masters in this?" I read that the goal of the course was to educate and form people to work as sport managers and I thought, "That's just brilliant."

I started my PhD last year and my working title is "Where is Youth Football going?: The Professionalisation of Youth Development/Formation" . I aim to trace the major trends in youth development since 1960 and to uncover hidden problems such as the exploitation of young workers, pressures on the young player, and the social irresponsibility of some sports organisations.

I'll be exploring and comparing different national traditions of organised youth football in England, France, the States and Italy. I'm not looking at recreational leagues or street football, but associations which provide the talent base for professional clubs. The relationship between youth and sport must be understood beyond the four white lines of the pitch, so I need to look into social, economic and legal issues. It's quite a delicate area, because you could say that some youth clubs potentially train young people in order to make money; they are developing human capital.

As yet there are few regulations about youth sport at international level and those that exist are vague. What we're talking about here are minors. Take the footballer Freddy Adu, he was said to be just 14 when he signed with DC United in the States two years ago. Yet American labour laws say you need to be 16 to have a full-time job.

My parents are very supportive of my research and I spend a lot of time talking to them about it. After all, they have three kids - my two sisters and me - who have all gone through youth football.