Hindsight Diary - Quebec 2018
LAX. Not much to say, really.
We will never get that 2.5 hours in the custom hall back.
Travel is boring for everyone, I'll only mention that I took being sick very seriously and wore a SARS mask the whole way, kindly provided by various members of the womens team as the masks wore out.
Unclean but conscientious.
Anyway once we had flown halfway around the world, we finally arrived in Canada. Caught a glimpse of the Aussies sprinting through the carpark with the Trophy case on a trolley while we waited for hire cars... first taste of the comp. Classic.
So, off to find the uni dorms where we were staying, and bundled into our rooms after the usual amount of buggering about.
I was still sick, and sick of SARS masks. Good to have a manager with a sense of humour at times like these.
We had the day to get used to things, then the following day we were having a practice session to get used to the pool.
We had a mooch around the pool to check things out, such a great facility! And cool to see it empty before things got crazy.
Soon to be less tranquil.
So, there's a bit of downtime when you're actually on location with a team. In between eating, sleeping, and Uwh things people generally start looking for ways to amuse themselves, bugger about tinkering with their gear, or just relax. We immediately started upgrading our accommodation by looking for something we could use as an ice-bath.
Yes the science isn't very proven they say, but the thing is, Canada is hot, as it turns out. So this was a good project.
In the end everyone jumped in, the womens team had a go, eventually later in the week the Dutch and Belgish players were using it too. One at a time though. Good community project.
Back to intro after that photo, this is Rob Tinkler, Captain of the NZ mens team. He's played all over, he's lived with Tom, you can't get more Uwh than that. Playing center, using custom Chunky Rockets with holes cut in them and covered with rubber, sporting a Ninja glove, Full-foot Breiers and with the roughest hands of any builder you've met.
Meanwhile, others were trying to get their new gear to fit. Nick, who has a massive head, always struggles with getting his caps to fit and came up with this genius plan.
He doubled down with the set overnight, and eventually we got to eat the melons.
Still introducing as we go, this is Nick. He is very tall, very very fit, and half of the Jackass routine that is Nick & Ben. He uses Soft Rockets, his own custom glove with a Ninja as a backup, and Najade Irons. Nick came through the U23 grade and is known for saying things like "let's try that!" on hearing of any kind of horrible physical test or challenge. Playing Winger in 2018, which is like an aggressive half-back.
Now that I've mentioned Ben, here he is too.
Ben came straight in from the 2017 U23 team for his first Elite worlds, guns blazing. He uses a Whiptail, a custom glove with a Ninja backup, and Najades. He plays forward and while I thought he was fast before Quebec... now I know he's fast, and I'm not the only one. He's a guy that responds well to being motivated, whether it's to win every strike or to eat a raw red onion after losing a bet.
This happened. That is a red onion the size of a small pumpkin.
Back to the trip. So, I'm hazy on the exact timings but our first warmup friendly game was against Argentina. They have had a team for a long time, I remember playing them in 2000? Definitely in 2004 in NZ, but in the last few years they have had a lot of enthusiasm, new players and a lot of development. They had some great results in the U23 comp, and they have been getting Sebastian Lugo across from Colombia to train them. Lugo was coaching the Argentinian Elite men in Quebec, as well as playing for Colombia!
So, the Argentina game was a good initial match for us. They were fast, all very fit, good skills and they were very disciplined in holding onto the puck. In particular we struggled a bit when they built sequences of lay-backs together, running angles and turning to give to a support player behind them. This is Uwh 101, and reasonably effective in a shallow pool, but in 3m it becomes far more powerful as it's harder for the defending team to disrupt possession with the extra depth. So it was a great exercise for us to get some experience figuring out how to try to defend it.
It works a bit like this drill in a game, everyone swimming as much angle as they can manage or busting forwards through traffic as far as they can until they get turned, then turning before they are dispossessed to a mate who does the same thing, ideally in the opposite angle. Legend has it this is the gameplan devized by player/Coach Jill Ford that helped the NZ Women win worlds in 1988. Unfortunately recorded history only goes back so far so we'll never know for sure. Jokes! I could have just asked Jane who was the Women's manager and played in that team as a youngster.
Technically you might say Argentina played 2-3-1 or 2-1-2-1, but you might just as easily say they played 5-1 from a certain point of view, will get to this when we look at our RR game against them. But certainly a very different style of play to what we play and are used to, so very exciting and fun to play against.
But wait... what is this numbers gobbledegook? What code is this? So, for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, this is a short-hand and very vague way to basically describe the tactical setup of a given team, with some rough assumptions about positions. Popular formations are 2-1-2-1, 3-3, 3-2-1, 2-3-1, 1-3-2. In football they talk about 4-3-3 as 4 backs, 3 midfields and 3 forwards. Confusingly, in Uwh we go the other way around, so 1-3-2 means 1 up front, 3 midfields and 2 backs/fullbacks. What does this mean in practical terms? Mostly, a forward line are the players that operate at the front of the formation, and in most teams this extends to operating between the puck and the oppositions goal. The centers and backs tend to operate between the puck and their own goal, behind the puck or sometimes next to it for centers, and there are often rotations between centers and backs and between backs to keep bodies behind the puck. Occasionally teams bring their entire forward line behind the puck as well, but this isn't taken into account when you name their formation, which confuses things. More about this later when we look at teams that do this (Argentina, Colombia, Turkey). Some teams are pretty elastic in these roles, some teams are very regimented, and of course WHAT a team does from these setup positions varies tremendously, so that you can have Australia and France both arguably playing forms of a 3-3 formation setup, with Aus constantly swimming into the middle of the pool and across looking to operate in a lane in the middle, and Fra forcing to the wall and working a tight channel on the walls all game (past French teams, not the 2018 french mens team which we will look at later). I've found an app which will help whiteboarding this stuff as we come to the games, so that should help make things clearer. For the record, the kiwi teams at worlds were all playing variations of a 2-3-1 setup, which has slowly become popular in NZ since 2001 when Andy Carr brought it into the Mens team from the agegroup and school teams. Before this time most teams played variations of 2-1-2-1 or 3-2-1, in fact there was for many years a formation clash of 3-2-1 (auckland) and 2-3-1 (wellington) at NZ regionals every year, until the Wellington win streak got pretty long (and coincidentally I moved to Auckland), and the northern team switched over as well.
Back to the warmup game, I'm not sure who scored how many goals... I did keep track of such things many years back, but results from warmups are really quite meaningless, depending how the opposition are using it. In fact you could argue that you would rather lose those games, at least get goals scored against you, because then you can troubleshoot what happened and fix the problems so they don't happen in a real game. Anyway I think both teams scored goals. Some teams always go hard in a warmup game, but some really just test the waters, and the difference between say a Colombia in a warmup game, and Colombia in a test-match is literally worlds apart in terms of intensity, so you take what you can from those games but with a pinch of salt.
We found a squirrel in the carpark after this session. Incredibly exciting as always.
To understand how exciting this is for New Zealanders, you have to consider that we are so far away from the rest of the world that there were no rodents in our islands and birds evolved into every spot on the foodchain that rodents usually take, for instance Kiwis. Until rats came on ships and killed them all that is. So, squirrels are a real delicacy. Just kidding! Strange and fascinating though. We always have some fool who will chase them non-stop.
...Perfectly leading into the last intro of this post! Now I can't remember him doing it this trip, but Brendan is just that sort of guy who would chase a squirrel. Stopping him gnawing down the tree with his teeth would be your biggest concern though, because he doesn't do things by halves.
Brendan is a forward, but with a famously booming pass, a rarity in NZ. He uses custom Katanas stuffed full of extra reinforcing because otherwise he will break sticks like dry twigs. He uses a Ninja glove and Full-foot Breiers. His speciality, or one of them, is terrorizing backs with un-expected hits, especially on free pucks. He is famous within the team for using no more than a handful of spoken words in any given year, which imparts immense gravitas and meaning to anything he says, like some holy monk breaking a vow of silence.
Next post, more on our Pre-Competition Camp.
We had an epic selection camp, bit of a new thing from Benson, 4 days long which is 2 days longer than our standard camps.
Before that we had camps in Rotorua and then Wellington, which is middlish of the country. In Wellington we could billet players even which helps with costs. NZ is a small country and we can get together for camps and selections fairly easily... not as easily as say, Holland where they can drive across the country in a couple of hours, but we certainly don't have the issues facing a huge country like Australia or the USA. More on this later.
For prize winners in the driving for Uwh categories, the best contenders I know of are Slovenia in 2007 who drove from Llubjana to Bari non-stop (about 10hr), and the hands-down winners, the Portuguese team who have driven from Portugal non-stop to places like Breda in Holland. That's 19 hours non-stop. Those guys are insane, more about them later I'm sure.
Well I hope someone managed to sleep
The standard at camps was high and the playing group was very tight, with great players making the team but also great players staying at home when final selections had been made. We ended up with a good mix of enthusiastic young fellas, players in their prime(theoretically!) and old timers (me).
I should do some introductions as we go along.
First, the ones keeping me on my toes.
Danni prefers to stay in the background, but she put in an absolutely mammoth shift making it possible for me to do the training to make the team and get to the comp. She's a superwoman and anyone who has trained for these comps with kids will know what I'm talking about. It's a very hard thing working toward a dream but at the same time that work taking energy and time away from your family. It did mean that I pushed really hard to get the most out of every session. I think I ended up the fittest I've been in a couple decades of international comps, I certainly trained the most, ironically when time was most precious! Danni held everything together to make it possible with our 2 kids under 5, running our own business through endless camps, tournaments, selections and then the big comp itself.
And now our coach, who had been masterminding it all from the beginning. Benson is #66 in the NZ player numbering system. So fitting.
Benson at rest.
Benson coaching us.
Benson Taylor Wolf likes to live life on the edge, and with a reckless disregard for timing he and his partner hatched a plot to make things as exciting as possible by threatening to have a baby at each of the last couple of camps, and then doing it. This was very cool and the guys all appreciated this level of commitment.
Benson uses a stick of his own design, computer modelled by us here at Hydro and similar to the Shiv (which is based on his design) but 3mm shorter. Which tells you what kind of attention to detail you are dealing with when it comes to Uwh for this man. He also uses one of our Ninja gloves on occasion, which I am proud of as he is hard to please. He is a Najade guru with thighs like alaskan tree trunks.
Our manager Sarah Arnold stepped in at the last minute when she finally realised that we were all going to wander off like badly herded cats if she didn't keep us sailing straight, she had been organising everything all the way along as caretaker manager anyway.... was in denial until the very end I guess.
Sarah. Serves mince for breakfast.
I better introduce myself. I'll do all the fellas as we get to them.
Me in first NZ Mens team, 1999.
19 years later, worn around the edges.
I'm Liam, bewildered Dad and professional Uwh gear-maker. #75.
More intro later, now a bit about Positions.
After a really gutting result in 2016 where we got knocked out by the great GB comeback in our quarter-final, I played forward at club level to do something a bit different and really enjoyed it.
First time playing forward since 2000, but back then I was a little fella with a wee stick who practised backflicking more than anything else and hardly ever turned.... Now I was a goalie playing forward with a giant stick and hook (for NZ hockey), swimming around slowly and doing nothing but turning and trying to hold possession. I kept at it and ended up trialling at forward for the 2018 team, as "that guy who gives you something different in that position" kinda thing. As our style of forward goes, the kind of forward where your partner forward knows he is on strike every time you're in the water with him and knows he can't pass to you until after 1st phase because you'll be back behind his fins. But didn't I come back and do work on D! I sure did. Backs trying to play forward, that's what we do apparently.
Playing forward in a deep pool changed my training quite a bit, trying to go for long bursts of play at high intensity and then resting, simulating big involvements and then subbing. I've always been a high workrate type player and struggled with long breatholds (and deep pools). However, towards the end of our selection Benson changed things up a little and tried me again in the backline, and I ended up getting selected as some kind of utility. The balance of the team could go a lot of ways with lots and lots of guys able to play different positions and configurations, but I ended up looking like I was going to play goalie or maybe wing, in the backline anyway. Goalie would be for the first time in ten years, although it felt like it had always been my default position. Funny how that is, like an old glove I guess. Goalie in NZ is like a fullback, center-back, or 6 in other countries.
Like a glove.
So after the selection camp, we had our team. A few weeks more of pretty fanatical training with a couple of last camps to round off the rough edges, and we were nearly ready to head off to the competition.
In terms of getting some time in 3m pools, Jesse had a comp in the Quebec 3m pool itself to get a bit of a handle on it and do some reccie for us earlier in the year, he went over to play in a team with Jake and a bunch of fantastic players from a few different countries.
The boys who went to Hawaii did get to play in 3m there and Benson was very careful to do a lot of analysis of that comp, it was useful in helping figure out what parts of a 2m game he could take through and what bits needed to be basically re-built or ditched and replaced. I got over to Aus Nats in Perth and played for QLD in the 3m pool there too, so a few of us did get a bit of practice in the depth and we all had an idea of what it would be like.
And so, after all that careful prep, it turned out the last thing I did before leaving the country was pick up a cold to take with me to Canada.
Next post is Welcome to Canada!
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.