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The issue facing Walters over 'coach whisperer' and why new-age methods aren't new

Queensland coach Kevin Walters may have first met the self-proclaimed "coach whisperer", Bradley Charles Stubbs, in the South Sydney dressing rooms during the 2015 season.

Walters was a guest of then Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire, who Stubbs says sent a text referral on his behalf to Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Souths officials are furious about claims by Stubbs that he was Maguire's "secret weapon" in the club's 2014 premiership triumph.

They are also angered that he says on his website: "After winning the 2014 NRL premiership, we then went on to win the 2015 Auckland 9s and the 2015 World Club Challenge".

The Rabbitohs say Maguire and the players won those titles – not Stubbs.

The reaction at Redfern towards Stubbs highlights a potential issue facing Walters after engaging him for this year's State of Origin campaign – if the Maroons lose it will be Walters' fault, but if they win will he get the credit?

The involvement of Stubbs has dominated media coverage in Queensland during the build-up to Wednesday night's Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium, and demonstrates the lengths teams and coaches are now reaching for to gain an edge.

NSW coach Brad Fittler has embraced "earthing" and requires his players to walk bare-foot around the field after each training session, while breathing coach Nam Baldwin has been working with the Blues.

Walters: No I haven’t lost the plot

In the Queensland camp, Maroons players have been banned from referring to the opposition as NSW or the Blues.

This is similar to Cheika referring to the All Blacks only as New Zealand and Socceroos coach Graham Arnold calling Melbourne Victory simply Melbourne during the 2016-17 A-League season, in which he took Sydney FC to grand final glory.

Arnold is understood to have referred Stubbs to Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson before last year's Telstra Premiership winning season.

At the Rabbitohs, players were also instructed that they were not to use certain words, such as "hope", "want" and "tough", with media interviews scrutinised to determine if any fines were warranted. The penalty for each utterance was $10.

Queensland players are also facing fines but sceptics question whether or not being able to mention the Blues by name is of any benefit to the Maroons if they have to think about words they can't say.

Those who have met Stubbs describe him as intense and say he is usually seeking an introduction to other coaches.

However, supporters of Stubbs say that coaches and players can take as little or as much as they want from his "expect to win" philosophy.

The idea of a "coach whisperer" or personal advisor for Origin coaches is not new as Craig Bellamy used life coach, John Di Stefano, when he was in charge of NSW, as well as at Melbourne Storm.

Di Stefano has also worked with former Carlton AFL coach Brett Ratten and recently departed Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat.

Much of Di Stefano's advice centres around words the coaches should and shouldn't be highlighting to their players or the media.

Manly coach Des Hasler worked with mind coach John Novak during his previous premiership-winning stint with the Sea Eagles before the pair left for Canterbury in 2012, where Novak assumed the role of Head of Mind Management until 2017.

Novak, who was once the face of aerobics in Australia and also defeated Dolph Ludgren (‘Drago' in Rocky 4) at a karate tournament, was involved in two grand finals and a minor premiership during Hasler's tenure at the Bulldogs.

In American sports, it is now common for teams to have a mental strength conditioner, with Trevor Moewad being one of the best known through his work with star quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Alex Smith.

The use of new-age techniques in NFL dates so far back that the 1977 movie Semi-Tough, starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson as Miami players, parodied new religions and self-help movements gaining popularity at the time.

Among them were Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training ("est"), which involved 60-hour workshops of up to 200 participants who were not allowed to wear a watch, talk, eat or go for a toilet break.

Almost two decades after Semi-Tough, the father of Tiger Woods, Earl, credited "est" for his success after the golfer was named the 1996 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. 

Fittler has introduced "earthing", yoga and a five-minute breathing ritual developed by Baldwin for the NSW players to perform on the team bus on their way to training each day.

Baldwin, who has worked with the Warriors and champion surfer Mick Fanning, taught Blues players how to hold their breath under water for long periods during a pre-Origin camp earlier this year.

Proponents of "earthing" claim that walking barefoot on grass, sand, dirt or rock enables a connection to the earth's natural energy that helps to combat chronic pain, fatigue and other ailments.

Veteran Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers is a long-time advocate of "earthing" to aid his preparation and recovery for matches, while Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Davidson walks barefoot around the diamond before each MLB match he plays.

 

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