“Very simply, we’re teaching them how to regulate their fight or flight response. Breathing is the master-key to how your nervous system reacts.
“When you get stressed out your heart rate will increase, your breathing will increase.
“The deal with this is to give them a tool to help them regulate that fight or flight response and bring in the sense of calmness around the intensity.
“When you get stressed, you go into three different responses, fight, flight, freeze – we want them to be in that arena where they can be calm and intense at the same time.
“It’s a very short breath-hold, because for them it’s a very different environment to be in.
“So I stress them in the water, or on the bike, with different activities, then teach them how to breath very effectively when they’re in stress.
“So it’s a tool they can use out on the field, so they can bring themselves down out of that intensity whenever they need to.”
There is no bigger pressure cooker than Origin, particularly for a NSW player at Suncorp. The combination of adrenaline before the game, as well as fatigue during it, has been too much for some Blues over the years. In a bid to regulate stress levels, Baldwin will talk the players through a breathing exercise as they approach the stadium.
“Before we get off the bus, we go through a breathing protocol of keeping them calm and bring that intensity up, so that when they step on the field it’s all-in,” he explained.
“We create that ritual. Either I will (do it personally), or there is a recording of me going through it.
“It’s four or five minutes of just specific breathing protocol and just getting their mindset to lean into being very present, not thinking about anything, in the future or the past, just be here.
“So that when they walk out, their intent has been set.”
Both camps have used alternative methods to get the best out of the teams before Origin I. Maroons mentor Kevin Walters has altered his approach after consulting with “coach whisperer” Bradley Charles Stubbs, while Fittler has included yoga and earthing – in the form of barefoot walks – in the Blues’ build up.
Having worked with the likes of Stephanie Gilmore, AFL side Richmond and the Olympic kayak and sailing teams, Baldwin believes his methods are transferable to league.
“It’s so intense and we want to keep that intensity, because that’s the game – but we want to keep a level of calmness there too,” he explained.
“And breathing will always provide that for you. And we’re teaching them how to get better sleep, because if you want to sleep better, you’ve got to calm down the nervous system in the brain.
“So I’m teaching them how to, at night, use a breathing method to calm their body and mind so they can better sleep and therefore wake-up more recovered and ready to go.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.