How Sheffield United have prioritised mental well-bring over physical load
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Speaking ahead of Friday’s game against Wigan Athletic, the first of nine matches United must play between now and the end of the Championship campaign, Heckingbottom admitted the schedule will test both the robustness of his squad and the capabilities of its conditioners.
But together with his assistants Stuart McCall, Jack Lester and sports science expert Tom Little, the 45-year-old is aware of the emotional challenges a squad he describes as “caring deeply” about United’s fortunes could be even greater, saying: “It’s more important than the physical stuff, because your body will follow your mind. That’s why we’ve been putting a lot of thought into that aspect of things. Sometimes people overlook it. We’re trying to take care of everything, to give ourselves the best possible chance and it’s definitely something that we are looking at.”
Second in the table and now six points clear of third-placed Middlesbrough - although Heckingbottom insists it would be a mistake to ignore the threat posed by Luton Town in fourth - United are well positioned to finish as runners-up behind leaders Burnley; the team they face on Monday night. But with one slip-up potentially reigniting the challenges of Michael Carrick’s side and their rivals from Bedfordshire, United are aware the margins for error towards the top of the division remain uncomfortably slim.
With an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City also looming on the horizon, Heckingbottom acknowledges that tired minds can lead to bad decision-making on the pitch. Hence, over the next four-and-a-half-weeks, why he aims to ensure those tasked with putting his plans into action enjoy as much time away from the game as possible.
“During the international break, the lads who were still here came in and worked hard,” he said. “But we let them get home to their families a little earlier which we feel is important. The lads put a lot in. We’ll always cover the work but they also need to recharge.”