Hearts: Army barracks team bonding under Daniel Stendel helping players unite
Striker Conor Washington reveals manager's off-the-field methods
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel is using double training sessions, army barracks bonding plus go-karting to improve camaraderie and unity within his squad.
Morale has been low at Riccarton with the club five points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership. Stendel, appointed manager in December, spent the winter break trying to raise spirits.
Striker Conor Washington today revealed that trust and belief has improved between players as a result of the new methods. "It’s something we definitely haven’t done enough of since I have come in the door," said the Northern Ireland internationalist, who joined Hearts last summer.
"It contributes to performances on the pitch and in training as well. If you have a relationship with somebody, you are more likely to go that extra yard for them.
"We have been go-karting and we did a team building exercise at an army barracks the other day, which was good. It’s just getting to know people, getting lads to come out of their shells a bit more. It’s just been good to spend time together.
"The double sessions meant we had quite long days over the past couple of weeks, which I am sure people are glad to hear. Going through the physical torture is really good to foster team spirit."
Exercises within the barracks were designed to help communication, among other things. "It wasn’t physical, it was more mental, which a lot of the lads struggled with! I’m joking," laughed Washington.
"We split off into smaller teams and did tasks that required teamwork, with lads not being able to talk and being blindfolded and helping each other through that. In terms of lads getting to know each other and coming out of their shells and being a bit more confident in those situations, it has probably helped.
"I was blindfolded for one of them which was not good fun. We were on some boxes and I had to be directed by John Souttar and Clevid Dikamona to get across those boxes and pick up a big bag and come back, totally blindfolded. I must have fallen off the box five times but that was more down to me than the directions, to be honest.
"They were really good. There’s nobody in this dressing room you wouldn’t trust to do a job. I think we found that out about each other the last couple of weeks."
The go-kart champion was striker Steven Naismith, who could partner Washington up front in this afternoon's Scottish Cup fourth-round tie between Hearts and Airdrie at Tynecastle Park.
"Naisy won, although there were some dubious calls," said Washington. "The yellow lights were on, which means no overtaking, but Naisy must have overtaken a lot. That's the mentality of a winner. Win at all costs."
That mindset will come in extremely useful as Hearts battle to save their season. The cup takes priority this weekend but league safety is the ultimate priority.
"It's trying to strike the balance between realising the severity of the situation but knowing we've got 20-odd games to get ourselves out of this position and up the league," said Washington. "Also, we want to string together a cup run. I think the fans deserve that after what we have put them through so far."
Double sessions under the command of Stendel and his new assistant, Jorg Sievers, were vital during the winter shutdown. The Hearts squad are acclimatising to a new high-pressing gameplan and significant work has been done to ensure they adhere to demands.
"The sessions were very intense," explained Washington. "We did a lot of tactical work, which was really helpful for us because we know exactly what the manager wants us to do. We only played a couple of systems, which I think is really important.
"We all understand each role. Not necessarily just your role but the role of somebody next to you, so if they are not doing it you can tell them.
"It's about being responsible for ourselves but also for the man next to you. In the games, that isn't something which has really shone through. It looks like, if you've done okay yourself then that's good enough. But it's not. It's a stark reality."
Supporters will be eager to assess the difference for themselves today after an encouraging performance against Aberdeen in Hearts' last match before the break. Washington believes the players are slowly getting fans back on side following a horrid first half of the season.
"Hopefully the Aberdeen game went some way to doing that. I think we need to put in a good performance on Saturday," he stressed.
"In the Betfred Cup games, we just didn't do that. We didn't put down a marker showing what a good team we are. A good performance there sets us up for the season but muddling through the games like we did was not a good way to start the campaign."