Sheffield United: Mental preparation helps Blades star George Baldock stay positive

DO not be surprised if the discourse among Sheffield United players in their team meetings at coffee shops around the city starts to get high-brow pretty soon.

A book club might even be in the offing one day.

Footballers are not usually renowned for being deep thinkers and rarely delve into the subject of psychology in sport – or are particularly well versed in literature on that subject.

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But times may just be changing, certainly among the Blades squad, with George Baldock revealing a cerebral side in their dressing room.

STAY POSITIVE: George Baldock hugs Sheffield United team-mate Billy Sharp after the recent win against Derby County at Bramall Lane Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Improving performance by way of mental preparation is a key facet of sport. It was something that legendary NFL coach and thinker Vince Lombardi placed great stock upon in his pursuit of success with the Green Bay Packers where he presided over a famous run of five championships between 1959 and 1967.

His approach was summed up in his most famous quote: “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.”

Lombardi’s Winning Is A Habit book had has a profound effect on many people across sport, including Rotherham United manager Paul Warne, who has cited another acclaimed thinker in Seattle Seahawks head coach Steve Carroll as another big influence, having read books and listened to podcasts about his career.

Just as modern-day managers such as Warne are broadening their knowledge of sports psychology to try and improve their team’s performance and their own – books on the culture of the New Zealand All Blacks have also had an impact upon the Millers chief – so players are becoming increasingly aware of its importance.

LEARNING PROCESS: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne Picture: Tony Johnson

Baldock said: “I listen to podcasts and read the odd book. It’s just a trend that I see.

“I read about a basketball player the other week who won the NBA and they were talking about how his game had changed so much and he said he’d dropped his ego and just lives in the present moment and doesn’t live too far in the future and definitely does not look in the past.

“It can hinder your performance a bit and puts added pressure on yourself.

“I see a common trend, whether it is (successful) businessmen or sportsmen or whatever. They are so consistent in what they are doing.

CONSISTENT APPROACH: Sheffield United manager, Slavisa Jokanovic Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I listen to the High Performance Podcast quite a lot. Ben Osborn listens to that as well and we have had a few chats about that. It’s a common theme.

“Whether you win, lose or draw, just make sure in the following week you are doing everything in your power to put yourself in the best position for the following game.”

As someone who is the first to acknowledge that he has been guilty of being a bad loser in the past, Baldock admits it is still an ongoing battle to draw a line under defeats in particular.

But he is learning, thanks to a greater understanding of the role that psychology plays in sport. It should also help during the present international break with United heading into it on the back of losses at Bournemouth and Middlesbrough.

Baldock added: “It has changed my approach, but I can still develop in that aspect. As fans and players, you understand that sometimes it can be the best game in the world. But when you lose, you feel it’s the worst thing ever.

“When you win three on the bounce and have a positive week, if you lose that next game, it’s hard to quickly change your mindset to ‘OK, that is gone now.’

“I can definitely get better at that as I hate losing. So it’s taught me not to get too down if it does happen and let it cloud what I do.

“You have to be consistent, focused and stay in your lane and not listen to too much outside noise.

“It’s alright when things are going well and you hear other people’s opinions. But if you listen to any podcasts or books about successful people in life, they stay consistent and do not look into the past, but the future and stay in the ‘moment’ and go game by game.”

The fact that United have such a calm and balanced individual in charge in Slavisa Jokanovic, who provides clarity and consistency in his approach on a matchday and on the training ground, should certainly help in that regard for Baldock and co.

The Serb is someone who does not metaphorically pop the corks open following victories or swallow the pills after a defeat and his backroom team are also studied and analytical in their debrief to players after games.

Baldock acknowledged: “It’s really good. He’s been the definition of consistency for me, it has really impressed me how nothing really changes if we win, lose or draw.

“We will have the same kind of meetings and the staff are watching the game on the bus back home and are bang on it.

“They will put together a detailed video. It is not too long, but has all the points they believe we need to get better at. And going forward, I think that will be a big help.

“The manager has told us he’s had difficult patches (at other clubs) and turned it around and been successful. The more time we work on his ideas, the better we can put it in action and then we will be hard to beat.”

The long game suggests United are onto a winner in Jokanovic. All in good time.