Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club

Coaching & Training 1: An Introduction

This is the first of a series of articles by Roger Scrutton, on how you might improve your orienteering through coaching and training, by yourself (so-called self-coaching), with a friend, or with a coach. In this introduction a distinction is made between coaching and training, and we look at the Step System as a framework for progressing in the sport.
This article first appeared in the June-July 2019 issue of 'Capital-O', the ESOC newsletter.

No matter whether you are new to our sport, wanting to get more enjoyment or satisfaction out of your participation or keen to improve your results, some coaching and training will help you develop as an orienteer. Orienteering is a rather unique sport: a combination of physical and mental abilities is required in almost all sports, but in orienteering the combination is uniquely challenging. This is because every course you tackle is itself unique, and the course planner will have set out to challenge your ability to select the right navigation technique to use in the right way at the right time to successfully complete the course. Do you decide on a safe route to the next control, which may well allow you to use your running speed along a path, or do you take a shorter, potentially quicker, navigationally difficult and possibly more physically demanding route? This is what we call ‘route choice’.

There is a difference between coaching and training. Coaching typically begins with an assessment of an athlete’s strengths, weaknesses and needs in navigation skills and physical fitness, and, possibly, in relevant aspects of sports psychology, nutrition and even lifestyle. Also unique to orienteering is the fact that it is difficult for a coach to observe you as you orienteer, and therefore the coach must rely on what information you can provide about your performance. Assessment leads to the design of a tailored coaching session or programme with intended outcomes, and then a review of what has been achieved over an appropriate timescale. In the case of navigation skills, the long-term aim is to progress through the Step System. More on the Step System below.

Training, on the other hand, is typically done by the individual or group on their own and without necessarily involving a coach, although a coach might have given advice on how to train. It is the case in orienteering that training to improve navigation skills commonly requires someone to set out a course (or, at least, a few control points) on which to train. This opportunity might come along only once every couple of weeks. But even without a course to practice on, some very useful navigation skills training can be done through self-coaching. Nevertheless, because of this limitation on training for navigation, an individual’s training sessions tend to focus on running skills and general physical fitness.

A broad framework for training that is used across sports is Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD). Strictly speaking, it is designed to take young people through from beginning in a sport to performing at a high level and beyond. However, the stages can equally well be pursued by anyone wanting to get more enjoyment or satisfaction out of taking part or wanting to improve their results. A six stage version is given here: I’d imagine most of us would like to get to stage 4 at least.

StageWhich means...
1. FUNdamentalsHave fun – get used to being active.
2. Learn to trainMaybe get some advice from a coach on what training.
3. Train to trainGet into the habit of training; consult coach as and when.
4. Train to comp(l)eteBe confident enough to successfully complete a course; progress to more difficult courses.
5. Train to winHave the motivation to win, get some coaching and train to win.
6. Active for lifeLook after your body and don’t do anything silly that will stop you taking part.

Returning to the Step System … this is based on the development of navigation skills, from White at Level (Technical Difficulty (TD)) 1 to Short Green to Black at Level/TD 5, but with a parallel indication of what the physical demands of a course might be at each level (column 6: e.g., a Level 4 course is likely to be twice as long as a Level 1 course). (White through to Black are the names given to courses on offer at colour-coded events). Like LTAD, this system is primarily tailored to young people: it might take 10 years for a junior to progress from Step A to Step O. However, it applies equally well to anybody who is interested in developing their skills: a newcomer in their 40s might start at Level 1 on White courses but then progress quite quickly to courses at Level 5. You will see, for example, that Step 2D introduces orienteering away from line features, and Step 4K introduces the use of contours for navigation. However, as you move up through the steps, all skills learnt up to that step in the system remain in use.

The Step System

A very useful framework for coaching up to about the Light Green (TD4) standard is the Star Award Scheme. It contains more detail than the Step System and has the added incentive for children of an award structure, from Star Award 1 to Star Award 4. Details of the Star Awards, along with other coaching and training information, can be found on the Coaches page of the Scottish Orienteering website.
There are also several books on developing orienteering skills: the most recent by a British author is “Orienteering: Skills-Techniques-Training” by Carol McNeill.

A key question to ask yourself regarding coaching and training is, “Am I happy with my orienteering as it is, to ‘learn on the job’, or would I like to receive some coaching and training advice?” Then, if you are keen, “Do I have the freedom and time to do it?” Actually, the vast majority of orienteers are happy with what they are doing at the moment, improving their skills and maintaining their fitness by participating in events as often as possible. However, if you would like some coaching and training, as an individual, a small group or a family, a good first step is to talk over the pros and cons with one of our ESOC coaches: perhaps arrange to meet the coach at your next event for a chat before and/or after your run.

Please contact me in the first instance if you would like to find out more: email hidden; JavaScript is required

- Roger Scrutton

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