NSW State of Origin Camp Early 2019
First there were the bare-footed strolls during the captain’s runs, then yoga, then the mindful breathing.
Now NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler has continued his quirky methods by inviting stress control specialist Nam Baldwin to conduct a pool session in Armidale on Saturday where Blues players were forced to hold their breath and even wrestle underwater.
Baldwin, who has worked with big-wave surfers, world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, the Australian Olympic snowboard and sailing teams and the Sydney Roosters, encouraged 16 of the Blues players to ”blow out like whales” to give them the best chance of remaining under water for nearly a minute.
The idea was to help the players control their breathing under stress, which will no doubt come in handy for when it comes to facing Queensland.
Even Fittler took part and held his breath for one minute and 45 seconds. The Herald lasted an entire 16.9 seconds.
“A big focus was on how to improve the mechanics of their breathing when they are stressed, and that involved putting them under stress with some breathing activities under water,” Baldwin said.
“And when they came up for a breath, I taught them some very basic principles that would allow them to highly oxygenate and then effectively reduce carbon dioxide that builds up as we exercise or are stressed.
“We also went through some drills that are similar to what happens on the field when they are going at high intensity for a short amount of time, and then in that short amount of time how to recover very quickly.”
Baldwin, who has a background in martial arts and free diving, has been able to hold his breath under water for more than seven minutes.
He also encouraged the players to shut their eyes and focus on their breathing while half submerged in the shallow end.
Baldwin praised Fittler for embracing different methods and strategies to get the best out of his players.
“Freddy has such an open mind, and part of his brilliance is he looks at the bigger picture stuff,” Baldwin said.
“He’s making these guys better humans, not just better rugby league players.
“That’s what will bring out the best in individuals. Treat them like humans, then the athlete will take care of themselves.”
Baldwin passed on his wisdom one day during a talk at NSWRL HQ, and Fittler thought it would be a good idea for him to work with his players.
Members of last year’s squad attended a steamy Armidale where the Blues have an arrangement with the University of New England.
“It’s an edge. It’s interesting,” Fittler said after the pool session.
“If the players want to go back and use it, it could prove the difference between say a David Klemmer and Jordan McLean [starting].
“By the end of it everyone could consistently lie on the bottom of the pool for 50 seconds without any air in their lungs.”
As some of the Blues squad were wrestling in an Olympic pool, the Maroons were holding a straightforward field session for their emerging squad on the Sunshine Coast. The most exciting thing to happen was the arrival of future immortal Johnathan Thurston to assist with a few drills.
Fittler’s funkiest training method during his first year as Blues head coach last year were the bare-footed earthing sessions, which was meant to help players absorb the minerals from the Coogee Oval soil through the soles of their feet.
He stressed the importance of the Sydney teams again starting the NRL season well if the Blues were any chance to defeat Queensland a second straight year.
The biggest positional debates surrounds Roberts’ right centre spot, five-eighth – James Maloney versus Luke Keary – and which middle forwards to select. Victor Radley, Tevita Pangai jnr and Cameron Murray are all young and not without a hope.
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