Whether his dogged determination on the go-kart track or leadership skills on an army-led day of trust tasks at a local barracks influenced Hearts manager Daniel Stendel’s decision to appoint the Scotland international as his new captain or not, the team-bonding events undertaken during the winter break have helped the under-pressure Tynecastle squad lay foundations for what they hope will be a vastly improved second half of the season.
“It’s something we definitely hadn’t done enough of,” said Conor Washington, who returned from a three-month injury lay-off to bag 14 minutes against Aberdeen in the side’s last outing. “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 this week which was good. It’s just getting to know people, getting lads to come out of their shells a bit more and it’s been good to spend time together.”
The new captain triumphed at the karting, although there were some dubious calls, according to 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!”
The army tasks were all about learning to back each other up as they turn attentions to escaping the relegation zone and piecing together a Scottish Cup run.
“We did tasks that required teamwork. That involved lads not being able to talk or being blindfolded and then 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. 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 task ahead of them is a tough one, though. Five points adrift at the foot of the Premiership, they have to overhaul that deficit and move up the table. Today, they also have to avoid the ignominy of an early cup exit at the hands of League One Airdrieonians.
To that end, they have also been putting in some hard graft on the training pitch as they strive to take on board the high tempo, high press favoured by their new gaffer. That also helped strengthen bonds, according to the striker who is under pressure to help address the teams paucity of goals now that he is fit for action. “The double sessions meant we had quite long days over the past couple of weeks. But going through the physical torture together is a really good way to foster team spirit.”