Sheffield United are told the secret to success behind closed doors

For years, the contents have been a closely guarded secret, revealed only to a trusted coterie of fellow professionals and friends.

Sunday, 10th May 2020, 5:00 pm

But as Sheffield United prepare to confront the challenge of playing games behind closed doors, Steve Sylvester, one of the country’s leading sports psychologists, has spoken publicly for the first time about “The Five a Day”; a set of key questions he poses to clients seeking to improve their performance mindset.

“They’re ‘Listen’, ‘Smile’, ‘Have Fun’, ‘Effort’ and ‘Give’, those are the different aspects,” Sylvester, who has worked with the West Indies, Middlesex CCC and Chris Wilder’s side, tells The Star. “I use them in every sporting discipline because they’re applicable to them all.”

An associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, registered practitioner and published author, Sylvester’s skills have helped some of the world’s leading sportsmen and women achieve their career goals. He is known to have worked closely with United when, given Wilder’s desire to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of footballing excellence, he helped the 52-year-old’s players successfully overcome the mental hurdles they faced during last season’s promotion from the Championship.

The insight Sylvester has gained into Wilder’s methods during his visits to South Yorkshire make him confident, despite insisting many people fail to recognise the “stresses” it will bring, that United can maintain their push for European football when Premier League fixtures resume following the coronavirus crisis.

With neutral venues and empty stadia likely to be a condition of any restart plan, the former cricketer is convinced his ‘Five a Day’ framework can prove a useful tool for Wilder’s squad as they look to preserve the momentum which had seen them climb to within five points of the Champions League places when football entered lockdown.

“The first one - ‘Listen’ - is all about asking yourself what are you going to do to master your craft,” Sylvester, a former county cricketer, says. “The second - ‘Smile’ - is about how you can have a good response to errors in a game - and that’s going to be particularly relevant behind closed doors. One of United’s great strengths is the players cover for each other.

“How you can have fun behind closed doors is also going to be important. How you can give your all - heart and head - is the ‘Effort’ aspect while ‘Give’ covers how someone is going to give everything for the team today rather than just thinking about themselves.”

Psychologist Steven Sylvester during a match at Bramall Lane Stadium, Sheffield: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

United were seventh in the table when the fixture programme was suspended in March.

“Why shouldn’t they be dreaming about achieving what they were told at the start of the season was impossible? I’d be asking the players that,” Sylvester adds. “Chris and his staff know their players as people as well as footballers, they understand their characters. And that collective spirit they’ve generated, through the squad and with their supporters too, is a joy to see. It’s great to see them getting the rewards of all the hard work they put in and I’m sure that can continue.”

An important message:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, please purchase a copy of our newspapers or subscribe to

TOPSHOT - Cameramen take footages while football players warm up on the ground prior to the opening game of South Korea's K-League football match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju on May 8, 2020. - The towering stands of the 42,477-capacity Jeonju World Cup Stadium stood empty on May 8 and would remain that way as football restarted in South Korea after the coronavirus behind closed doors, but with unprecedented international TV audiences: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus lockdown is having a major impact on many of our local advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive. That means we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers and subscribe to our website during this crisis.

Stay safe and take care. Thank you. James.

Sheffield United will not be celebrating goals with supporters when they return to Premier League action: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.