This article discusses coaching and training at Steps A-D in the Step System, equating to Stages 1 and 2 in the Long Term Athlete Development framework. (See the introduction article for details of the Step System and Long Term Athlete Development framework.)
A White course follows line features (ideally paths, but, if necessary, fences, walls, streams, vegetation boundaries) and has a control at every decision point - an example of this is where a decision has to be made at a path junction on which path to follow. Controls should be no more than about 200m apart and, in tricky areas, even visible from the previous control.
A Yellow course also follows line features, although might make more use of a variety of line features, and allows up to two decision points between controls. The distance between controls can be up to 300-350m and controls can be a few metres off the line feature (but clearly visible from it). These courses must by physically achievable for young children and neither should include route choice.
So, on that basis, what are some coaching and training suggestions? A coach will have numerous introductory exercises she/he can deliver, but I have chosen to describe the four below because they can also be done as training exercises without a coach. The first three can be done with just an orienteering map in hand and on your own, but the fourth requires a course to go round and a partner. A good principle is not to rush an exercise to begin with, but take time to get things right and digest what you have learnt.
- A popular introductory exercise for coaches is a map walk round a network of line features, each participant with a map, to practice identifying the features in the landscape, either by seeing them on the map and looking to spot them in the landscape (what we call map-to-ground map reading) or vice versa (called ground-to-map map reading). This also involves using the key of map symbols and getting used to the map scale. In a group there is usually plenty of discussion during this exercise with participants helping each other to improve their map reading - it shouldn’t be rushed.
- An extension of this exercise is to practise keeping the map oriented to north while on the walk, so that the line feature you are following leads away from you when you look down at the map - this makes it much easier to relate what you see around you to what’s on the map. It’s called keeping the map set. There are two ways of keeping the map set: using a compass, knowing that the compass needle (usually the red end), when settled, points to north. The other way is to make use of the features you see around you and turn the map to get these features in the right position with respect to yourself, e.g. that pond is over to the right, that fence is over to the left, that path junction is behind me. The process of keeping the map set is somewhat counterintuitive, because as you change direction to the left you have to rotate the map to the right to keep it set, and vice versa. Try it!
- A further extension is practising to thumb the map. This is to keep track of where you are as you go round the walk or round a course. It’s easy to lose track as you look up at what’s around you or walk a bit more quickly to the next feature. The best place to keep your thumb on the map is a couple of centimetres away from where you actually are (e.g. beside the control circle you have just left), so that when you look at the map again you know straight away which part of the map to look at. It might be necessary to fold the map a little bit to thumb it properly, but don’t fold it so much that valuable information is folded away.
The map extract above is from a Yellow course at Corstorphine Hill, and you are progressing from control 6 to 7 and 8. The map is “set”- rotated so that the magnetic north symbol points to North and your route from 6 to 7 and 8 is then directly ahead of you. This helps you at control 7 where there is a path junction and you can see that you must go straight ahead to 8. You are also thumbing the map.
- Steps B to D of the Step System mention decision points and control sites just off a line feature. Perhaps the best way to coach a beginner orienteer to recognise and successfully navigate through decision points and/or tricky control sites is by shadowing (following them) round an orienteering course and advising when appropriate. A substitute for this is to have a discussion with the athlete before they begin their course, focusing on the nature of the decision points and control sites they will encounter, what they will see as they approach them, what they will look like and what decision to make – but encourage the athlete to take the lead in this discussion.
Good ESOC areas near Edinburgh for a map walk, setting the map and thumbing the map are Cammo Estate and Corstorphine Hill, but basically any wood or park with a good path network is best. Even if you have progressed beyond White and Yellow courses, revisiting basic techniques allows you to use them without thinking too much, so that you can devote your brain power to more difficult tasks.
- Roger Scrutton