There's always excitement around a world championships in any sport. The first time I ever saw Uwh played was at the 1992 Worlds in my hometown (home suburb almost!) in Wellington, swimming at the pool and having a watch on the screens, fascinated. I took up the sport that year at school.
It's easy to think that a Worlds is only for the players involved when it's such a minority sport, but who knows how many people have found the sport they love through the ripples of publicity these competitions produce when they roll through town? Me for one I guess.
My first Worlds was in 2000 in Tasmania, Australia. I'd been playing hockey for 8 years by then, from high school on through age groups. Since then, when my country has competed at Worlds, I've tried (hard!) to be there.
So I've been lucky enough to be at a bunch of these comps. Following on from those competitions, Quebec 2018 was an outstanding tournament. Our teams had a great result and so I have both motivation to remember it, and a lack of the mental trauma which comes with not achieving your goals and trying(failing) not to think about what might have been forever after. Sport seems like a casino sometimes when it comes to results... very few walk out winners, and the house always wins. When you get a result, especially in the scene today which is so incredibly competitive, you have to appreciate it and realize how lucky you are.
I'll include some tactics and strategy in this blog, as that is one of the many areas where I like to geek out. In fact when it comes to anything uwh I do sidetrack all over the place like crazy... So this could get a bit long. But, it's all about Uwh. And you love that stuff! Probably. If you don't, you're a tourist in a world of weird, and you'll get bored soon.
While this Worlds campaign finished in 2018, of course for many or even most teams it began long beforehand. There was months (years) of prep that teams and players, coaches and managers put in well before they arrived in Quebec and drowned together at the tournament.
Most of us don't get paid, but we put all the time and effort in on our own wallets. We are profoundly amateur, so most players I know seem to feel a little like this when it comes to $$$ and Uwh...
Trying to do everything as professionally as you can, but with very little $$$ help.
So if not for the big dollars, Why? Good question. I guess because we care, one way or another. And one of the best things about Worlds is being surrounded by people who all care about our sport, train for it, take it seriously. It's awesome. There are so many Uwh players together we could probably take over a part of the town and hold it for at least a few hours... and that's comforting. Isn't it? If that's a bit militant, I guess there are enough of us to empty the town of, say, canned beans if we all banded together and ate and bought nothing but canned beans of a certain variety all tournament. Or at least cause a mild shortage.
The kiwi mens team of which I was a part was no exception to this. (Training well before the comp started, not eating a diet of only beans.) The "official" leadup to this comp for NZ began with the prep for teams to go to Hawaii in 2017. For me, I stayed at home for that one, so my buildup began just before our family moved cities, alongside all the madness of moving and packing. Training started somewhere in June in Wellington, mostly swim sessions, and after we moved to Hawkes Bay in... August/September(?), I did about 2 months of Crossfit at a local box, dragging myself out of bed at 5:30am for most of those sessions. I am NOT a morning person.
Camps were popping up every few weeks as the Hawaii lads prepped and then flew off, battled valiantly, improved themselves and then reformed with the remainder of the squad for more camps afterwards leading into christmas. The U23's trained with us too then had their own comp and keen guys joined back into the main mens squad afterwards. It was quite the merry go round for a while there, but we had a great squad.
Did I mention our family runs an Uwh equipment business? I should mention that. I'll probably mention it again, though the website is a bit of a giveaway.
Training at camps is a little tricky when the comp you are training for is in 3m, and there are no 3m pools in your country. We did our best with the 2m pools our comps are played in, and ventured nervously into the depths of Naenae pool for camps. This pool has a 3.5m dive-well, 45deg angled slopes around 3 walls to make sure any wall-play is rendered meaningless for proper practice, and a stainless steel trench across the middle of the pool complete with rivets, bolts and holes to snag, bobble, grind and grate pucks, sticks and gloves (and elbows, knees, etc). And it's about 15m x 15m square. We had quite a few sessions in this grotto and it did us a wonder of good over the months. Mostly by reminding us that what may work in 2m, doesn't work in 3.5.
How surfacing feels during your first 3.5m training session
After a few weeks of Crossfit-induced DOMS which went mainly like this...
"Oh pull-ups are fun!" (can't bend or straighten arms for a week)
I considered the ball to be sufficiently rolling and ditched the kool-aid. I joined a "normal" local gym where I could turn up and be that weird guy doing odd exercises in the corner, where I stayed for most of the remainder of the buildup.
Crossfit is good for general strength but I tend to pick up niggles and feel like I need something more uwh specific than the random Wods you might get. Plus, maybe it's just me but when I'm fittest in the pool my HR drops really low, but crossfit training tends to keep your HR high, which I wanted to avoid. I've done lots of Crossfit training for hockey before and it just didn't seem to give me quite the result I wanted underwater carrying it all the way to the competition. Just me. But anyway, a couple of months was great to get some general strength and all-round fitness going, and then it was into more specific stuff.
I joined a local pool complex where gangs of old ladies floated along the lanes aquajogging and noodling their hearts out while I swam in the other lane next to them. They were good sports about eating waves every time I went past, but I think it was probably entertainment for them too, wondering if I would eventually just fail to come up. The pool tiles were nice and smooth, but the grout-work was poor, as I found when I promptly broke a tile the first time I flicked a puck, and then had to avoid that spot for months afterwards. I feel guilty but I don't think they will read this and the place is being refurbished as we speak so no harm no foul!
Rush hour at a pool in a small town. Bliss. (This is the big pool too)
What about training specifics? Well, generally the standard approach to training for Uwh in NZ is pretty similar to those I've seen from other countries, everyone seems to be running the same approaches. There are some example pool sessions in our Foundation Coaching download, for example. (There is a preview image in the listing that shows some schedules, you don't have to buy the download to see what kind of sessions I'm talking about). It's normally based around sets of various exercises in the pool, at varied intensities and with varied amounts of rest depending on what energy systems you are trying to develop. Same as any sport.
Things start to change as you move exercises underwater with breatholds, as those energy systems start to bend a bit and things like lactate buildup become more of an issue.... how exactly? Dunno! We have to go on anecdotal evidence of what works don't we? Ask an exercise scientist what happens with aerobic/anaerobic energy systems when you hold your breath while exercising and watch them go cross-eyed, I've tried a few. Obvious solutions to this conundrum I have embarassingly missed in comments, please.
Does the NZ team have training given out to everyone with sessions etc to do? Yes. But this tends to be a beginning point, there's a bit of freedom to do your own alternative programs if you know what you respond to and if you can get results with it.
I used to have all my sessions printed and laminated in my gear bag, but I haven't tended to use them for a while. I know what kind of session I want to do, high intensity or lower, and volume is normally inversely proportional to intensity. So I decide on what exercises I'll do as I go along to get the desired result for the session, and as I've got older I now change what I'm doing or have partly planned depending on how I feel as well, feeling good or struggling a bit. I have my favourite exercises for various kinds of sessions and I don't need a lot of variety to keep me happy, I just grind it out and hit little targets within those exercises as things progress. I build skills stuff into as much as possible, but you have to do a certain amount of just core swimming, unders, streamlining etc. Boring and painful. Happy to answer questions in comments on specifics. Might cover a bit more when we talk about positions, as training for different positions can require different approaches.
Periodization? Yes. Planning? Yes definitely. Rest? Yes. Coaches banging on about Nutrition? Yes! All the stuff other sports focus on, we try to cover, and I would be very surprised if all the other teams we played at worlds didn't cover all the same bases too. That's why these competitions are so epic!
Gym work? Well, some guys train to put size on, some go to drop weight, some for power, some strength. I've moved from trying to put weight on in the gym to going for power (where I think I overdid it a bit, with a Crossfit angle) to just going for muscular endurance and strength for injury prevention really, trying to make sure all the joints and main muscles are strong so you can take a battering over 2 weeks and still have a chance of putting out a good performance at the end. A lot of my gym sessions ended up being pre-hab managing old imbalances and niggles. And then normal exercises to any gym bunny, squats, press, pullups etc.
Proper use of the Squat Rack essential of course
Next post will cover Selections, Positions and Pools.