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Junior players face 'bullying culture from footballing peers'

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Some senior footballers are subjecting their club’s junior players to regular insults and practical jokes in a humiliating rite of passage, according to new research by Sheffield Hallam University.

Dr Chris Platts, of Sheffield Hallam's Academy of Sport and Physical Activity, told the British Sociological Association annual conference that this was part of an “authoritarian” treatment of youth team players which undermined attempts to change the culture of clubs and produce better footballers,

Dr Platts interviewed 303 junior players aged 16 to 18 and 13 coaches at 21 professional soccer clubs in England which operate an Academy training system.

One Premier League team youth player told Dr Platts that first-team footballers in his club once forced another youth player into a laundry basket and then dragged them into the showers. “If you bite (fight) back, they’ll just keep doing it,” another player said.

Dr Platts told the conference: "It's not unusual for youth players to be the butt of jokes, be talked down to, or in extreme cases be on the end of verbal or physical punishment.

"What was particularly difficult for the younger players was the way in which their treatment by professionals provoked negative emotions towards players whom they held in such high esteem.”

Dr Platts noted that coaches often adopted “deep-rooted authoritarian approaches” to ensure youth players were always aware they had not yet made the grade. One Championship club made its youth players write a log of mistakes they had made on the pitch.

 But he acknowledged that the Premier League and Football Association had launched the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) to improve the development of youth players.