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.
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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.”
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.”