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Quarter of would-be Beckhams burn out

Young elite soccer players are burning out before they leave school as they try to meet impossible goals, psychologists claim.

Some show signs of chronic stress, exhaustion and disillusionment with the sport on which they had built their dreams.

The scientists studied 167 junior players in eight academies and centres of excellence attached to English clubs.

Up to a quarter of the boys were occasionally affected by burnout, while 1pc suffered certain symptoms frequently.

Dr Andrew Hill, from the University of Leeds School of Biomedical Science, said: "What we see among the athletes showing symptoms of burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion.


"Even though they might originally enjoy their sport and be emotionally invested in it, they become disaffected. Participation can be very stressful."

Many professional soccer clubs' youth organisations recruit children as young as eight and get rid of players annually until they reach 12.

Youngsters then sign two-year registrations and must survive 'culls' at 14 and 16 before being offered a contract.

"It can be harsh," said Dr Hill. "At its worst, we are talking about an environment that can develop, foster and maintain a mindset where athletes are wholly invested in the idea of being the next David Beckham.

"In fact, of the estimated 10,000 athletes involved in youth football at any one time, less than 1pc is thought to make it as a professional player."