The body of the Talent Squad’s season includes four monthly camps over the Winter to prepare for the forthcoming Spring’s selection races and the Summer’s international races Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC), European Youth Orienteering Championships (EYOC) and the (Junior European Cup). The January Blencathra camp is our third camp, and after coaching for a few years with the squad it’s certainly one of my favourites for a few reasons.
Firstly, by this point in the season, all the athletes are well into their training programmes and the athletes are gelling as a squad. Also by now, as a coach, I have a decent idea of where most of the athletes are and their goals and motivation for the season, which is really important for getting the most out of the limited time I’ll be able to talk to any one athlete over the weekend.
Secondly, training wise January is a turning point: the focus of this camp, after earlier camps working on basic skills, is about putting separate navigational skills together into ‘total’ orienteering. The emphasis isn’t about orienteering fast but about making plans and executing them well. Also in the classroom sessions, the physical training theory is moving from base work to introducing speed. This is fun for everyone – after a few months of hard work it feels like progress is being made and that the racing season can’t be too far away.
So what did I actually do over the weekend?
After a long journey, we rendezvoused on Friday night and settled in. The goals of the camp were covered as a group, which is always a good introduction when the Squad comes back together. As the athletes caught up and socialised, us coaches separately discussed our teaching aims for the weekend and the logistics for the shadowing and hanging/collecting that was to come.
On Saturday we trained on High Rigg, venue of last year’s British Orienteering Championships. The exercises focused on making quality navigational plans by practising talk-o and map memory, which the terrain was perfect for - High Rigg is lush. My time was spent talking through the exercises and shadowing athletes. If you’re not familiar with it, ‘talk-o’ involves verbalising everything you’re doing to a partner as you orienteer to make you think about what you’re doing; when I did this with an athlete it was good fun as we had very different navigational styles – I certainly learnt something from her (and hopefully she got something from me too).
The afternoon’s map memory exercises were, as always, impressive because, after making the right simplified plan, most legs can be nailed without looking at the map again. Shadowing my pair of athletes, I challenged them to add more or less to their plans as required and got them to reflect on how much information, and where in the leg, they needed it.
The evening involved a classroom analysis session of the day’s exercises and then individual athlete coach chats. These chats are useful to ensure the athletes are clear with their next few weeks of training and give them a chance to ask any questions. As a coach, you’re never quite sure where these conversations might go – this camp was a good example, as after talking orienteering I helped out with some physics revision (foam rolling tips, training periodisation and how nuclear reactors work – a genuinely banging Saturday night).
Saturday’s are always a long day as late into the evening us coaches will continue – the current team is a friendly and knowledgeable bunch, so as we share anything notable from the day’s training I always try to listen from everyone else about how they’ve approached things. We’re a good team as everyone is there to help move our athletes forwards.
On Sunday I was out early hanging controls on another favourite area, High Rigg, as the big contour features and good visibility make this my kind of terrain. The exercise’s focus was about making quality plans, and when shadowing athletes I tried to keep them honest by asking useful questions at the right time. All too soon it was lunchtime and we were finished - another great weekend of training, which hopefully taught our athletes some useful points.
Reflecting on the weekend, in general, it epitomises why I coach. I didn’t have the knowledge when I was an aspiring junior to avoid injury, and I didn’t really grasp the fantastic opportunities international level orienteering offered, so I want to help our next generation. But ultimately, spending time with enthusiastic and dedicated people to improve at the sport we all love always keeps me coming back.