Researchers in Leeds claim that young elite soccer players are burning out before they leave school as they buckle under pressure and try to meet impossible goals.Some show signs of chronic stress, exhaustion and disillusionment with the sport on which they had built their dreams, say psychologists.
The scientists studied 167 junior players in eight academies and centres of excellence attached to English professional clubs.They found that up to a quarter of the boys were occasionally affected by burnout while 1% suffered certain symptoms frequently.
Players most at risk were those who felt themselves to be under pressure from others, were in fear of making mistakes or experiencing other kinds of stress.Lead researcher Dr Andrew Hill, from the University of Leeds' School of Biomedical Science, said:
Many professional soccer clubs' youth organisations recruit children as young as eight and get rid of unwanted players annually until they reach the age of 12.Youngsters then sign two-year registrations and must survive "culls" at 14 and 16 before being offered a three-year contract.
The study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, focused on associations between perfectionism and burnout among young footballers.Non-perfectionists and players who displayed perfectionism driven by their own high standards rather than those of coaches and peers were significantly less vulnerable.Athlete burnout is said by psychologists to have three core symptoms - a sense of reduced accomplishment, emotional and physical exhaustion, and devalued participation in a particular sport.