At the Oriam, Heart of Midlothian stars filter into the Bistro after training, mingling, chatting, laughing. Frankie Kent and Toby Sibbick said hello to a colleague's partner and son. Zander Clark and Aidan Denholm were in hysterics as music played over a phone. Yutaro Oda and Kysouke Tagawa are often side by side but remain involved and speak with teammates. Kenneth Vargas and Calem Nieuwenhof, carpool buddies, are never far apart.

"In the team, I have a really good connection with everyone," the Costa Rican told Hearts Standard in an interview in February. "They all know I don’t speak the language but regardless they are always trying to get me to hang out, walk with them, talk with everyone. No one is rude to me, they are always helping me and I have noticed this.

"They have all helped me, they know I’m not great at the language but they have made me feel wanted as part of the team, and it means a lot."

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Assessing it from the outside, a strong togetherness and team spirit appear to have grown among the squad. One of a positive environment, whether it be around the training complex, on the training ground, or on game day where players who are not in the squad can often be seen encouraging and congratulating teammates at the Tynecastle Park tunnel.

Team spirit is one of the great intangibles in sport, in football. How do you measure it? How do you create it? How important is it and a positive environment?

"It’s a massively important part and I know the value of having a good environment," Steven Naismith told Hearts Standard. "The second part of it is to get that good understanding of why you do it and what situations it might be important.

"I think that is one of the biggest if you take away a player’s ability to be a professional footballer. They have got to have some qualities there that make them valuable to the squad but the biggest thing is the culture, the environment, the people.

"The environment is the most important in terms of the day-to-day, everybody coming into their work, everybody wanting to come in and how they feel. That comes from the characters, it comes from the person. It’s a big, big part of what I believe will get us success."

Naismith understands the role it can play through his experience as a player, whether it was with Kilmarnock, Rangers, or moving to Everton. It was at the Toffees where he was able to be part of a dressing room that had been built and fostered by David Moyes. He also recognised the part a strong team bond has played in the success of the Scotland national team which is now viewed as more akin to a club team dressing room.

The benefits of creating an environment players want to come into every day are obvious. It's the same for any workplace. You are more comfortable and more relaxed. Happier.

"I was always someone who played my best football or was most successful for the team when I felt most comfortable, when I was relaxed, not when I was subconsciously tense or subconsciously concerned about how I might look in certain situations, and that comes from the environment," he explained.

"I had real reservations about moving away [from Rangers to Everton]. It took me out my comfort zone but I probably couldn’t have gone to a better changing room. It had been built over the last 15 years by David Moyes. He had picked those right characters.

"On day one, every single player would come in shake your hand and ask you how you are doing and have an interest in you. If ever there was a moment you looked a bit unsure of where you should be or where you are going there was a member of staff there to guide you and make you comfortable."

One of the first conversations Naismith had with the Hearts squad was about young players and new signings, asking them to draw on their own experience of the first time they made the step up to the first team or when they moved club.

How were they treated? How did they want to be treated? What would have made that transition easier?

"When a young player comes in and joins the environment in group training, everybody has been a young player at one point so you understand how tense you are, how concerned you are, every detail you pick up on, even one sentence that is said you’ll go home and think about that as a young player," he said. "We need to understand it, you’ve been there, how you felt, how you want young players to feel.

"Same to players who are just coming for the first time. Guide them, tell them where we go, what the schedule is like, where the best place to go for meals, whatever it might be. Any wee bit of information helps the process and that’s something we’ve been good at."

He added: "All the small details about your home are at the other end of that. You are moving and got to find your bearings plus find a house, sometimes find schools, all this plays a part so having people to help you with that, that’s the detail and I think we’ve got it really well organised at the club."

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Details, however small, can be hugely important, not just to Naismith but to the club. They can provide an insight into the player, the individual. There is a desire to make life away from the pitch as easy as possible with the hope that will have a positive impact on it.

Ask any player in the squad about the most important person at the club and there would likely be a common consensus: Clare Cowan, the club's head of football operations. She is the "go-to point for anybody on the football side". Helping with any and all issues, from family to bank accounts.

Before even asking Naismith about her role, the Hearts head coach mentions the "fantastic job" she and the support staff do. 

"Clare is a very behind-the-scenes type of person, doesn’t like the attention, but she is vitally important," Naismith said. "She is as important to the squad as I am, the coaches are, the players are, the captain is.

"Clare will travel with us everywhere. Whether that’s her delegating that off to someone else or dealing with it specifically herself. She’s the face of the football side everything away from the pitch. In my experiences at clubs, they are the most valuable people. Clare knows the right questions to ask, she knows the right details.

"She’s had a lot to deal with Japanese players coming in, Costa Rican players coming in, bank accounts, the small details. She’s really good at her job. We’ve got the right contacts at the right places to make that seamless. All players want to do is not have to think about all these things and just concentrate first and foremost on the football."

Key to discovering all those small details about the players, as both footballers and on a human level is a questionnaire that Naismith has built into the way he manages. It is given to every player, asking "everything you imagine" as he and his coaching staff look to cover all bases and provide the support staff with as much information as possible. It can also help explain why a player is perhaps out of form.

"If Clare knows that somebody has just had a baby and their baby is three weeks old their sleeping pattern might be off. If Clare knows that a player’s family is over then we might want to do something a wee bit different for them.

"For example, Cammy Devlin’s family is over, I met them at the game on Saturday. They are over for a period of time and they don’t get to see their son for a number of months throughout the year so we’ve got to make that as comfortable as possible. Maybe his dad wants to come in and watch a bit of training so we can facilitate that.

"Clare knows all this information, what players prefer, on prep days, days off, how we travel. Everything you can imagine we ask the question so we’ve got the information because it is vitally important the players have a voice so they can say what they think and vitally important for us to understand what’s going on to make sure they are comfortable as possible."

It is geared toward creating "a really open environment for everybody". Not keen to have a leadership group per se, there will be times he leans on the likes of Craig Gordon, Lawrence Shankland, Frankie Kent and Zander Clark.

"I know a younger player in the group is not going to speak up at certain points and that is where I have constant chats all the time with the older pros, the more experienced ones," he said. "That doesn’t just mean age-wise the more experienced ones, there are different circles within a changing room.

"The conversations are with many people throughout the squad. There are certain things that the older players will guide if I feel the squad needs to make a decision on something. If it’s a general type thing I will speak to the older pros to get their feedback on what they think."

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One of those is Kent who quickly emerged as a hugely influential and popular figure within the squad, alongside captain Lawrence Shankland, after joining the club in the summer. It was interesting to see him in the stand on a watching brief at Cappielow for the Scottish Cup win over Greenock Morton while he was injured. Naismith confirmed he is beginning his coaching journey and has been in the office a few times to ask questions but also noted it has been consistent that players who are not in the squad still want to be part of it and travel on match days.

"I’m not going to judge a player on not going but I love the fact that a lot of our players want to," he said. "Craig Halkett and Barrie McKay have done it on numerous occasions when they've been out and not even been close to coming back. Craig Gordon travelled a lot, Peter Haring as well. The majority do it because they want to, there’s no pressure.

"It all feeds back into that we’ve got a good environment, we’ve got an environment where all the boys want each other to do well. They want us to collectively do well. It’s a nice thing to see from my point of view but it is not one that’s forced upon [them]."

It has all been aided by investment from the club to purchase the bistro at the Oriam, giving the squad its own space inside the complex used by different sporting groups and Heriot-Watt University. Used by the first team, academy and women's team, it's strictly for club personnel only and allows conversations and engagement across different areas of the club.

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For Naismith, it was a massive step forward with the admission that where they had been was "nowhere near good enough". He believes improving the training facility should be "high up the list" because that will feed into it and help with progress, on and off the field. Including in the transfer market as players place more importance on their everyday working culture and environment.

"I think everybody recognised that and I think there were a few logistic issues with Covid," he said. "It was one of the big areas we improved last summer. That was a nutrition basis but on top of that, it’s friendship building, that comfortable feeling I was talking about.

"There are guys around the squad who are doing their coaching badges and will dip into the academy for that and they will be having conversations with Webby [Andrew Webster] or David [McNeil] the 18s coach.

"For every club, there has got to be an understanding of respect and levels, from the academy all the way through. What comes from that is also having a togetherness. We want our young kids to be engaging with the first-team players but also the young players having the respect and understanding of their place.

"The bistro has been a brilliant investment. Further down the line improving the training facility, in general, has got to be high up on the list because pitches and work space are one but culture and environment are the second part of that will be a big benefit.

"As we improve our facilities and our way of working you attract better players because they know they are coming to a good environment. It’s one of the bigger things and more questions players will ask about, is the environment, day-to-day working.

"It’s good to understand the club, the size of the club, the stadium but you are at the stadium every two weeks. It’s what happens day to day. What are we getting treated like, that’s massively important to the players."