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Tweet Wednesday 22nd May 2019

Swansea Bay Orienteering Club Coaching Series 2019

If you are part of a small club, you are probably dealing with some of the same problems as us at SBOC;

  • reliance on a small team of very busy people doing a lot of organising and planning,
  • worrying about where the next generation of orienteering champions is going to come from.

In order to try to solve some of these issues for the future, we are trialling some beginner-focused coaching sessions this spring as a way of getting more people signed up for events and spreading the love for this amazing sport. If this sounds like something that you are/would consider for your club, read on.

Firstly, the idea came out of discussions by the club committee.  We have always done our best to break people into the sport gently by giving a bit of help on their first event, however, this often means a 2min lesson in how to orientate the map then showing them how the dibber works before sending them on their first course.  Some of these people have returned for a second event but some probably haven’t. A bit of more formal coaching, we thought, might encourage more of them to stick at it and get some success.

Mass start on the Score Course (session 2) at Pembrey Country Park

A plan was duly hatched and a programme of sessions was together with help from some of the committee sorting out maps, funding, incentives and access etc.  The original plan was to book people onto four consecutive sessions which would follow a series of logical progressive skills based on the ‘step system’, each including a short practise competition and culminating in an introductory event using SI punching in a relatively friendly area that would hopefully give people the confidence to enter events such as our summer league events.  As an incentive, we planned to offer free membership for a year and a free copy of Carol McNeil’s book for people booking onto the full series.  To promote the sessions we spent about £20 on Facebook advertising and put an Ad in the local ‘What’s on’ publication. Of the two, Facebook gave the best results, possibly as social media makes it easy to click on details and booking forms and also encourages sharing with friends.  50% funding support from the Welsh Orienteering Association helped to run the programme, incentives and advertising and make it affordable for the club.

Locations are a key factor in providing an enjoyable event and even more so for getting beginners hooked. We opted for Pembrey Country Park, Clyne Valley and Clyne Gardens, all easily accessed from the Swansea/Llanelli area and with reasonably non-intimidating, safe terrain with good path networks. Having some open areas where it is easy to keep an eye on the junior beginners was also useful.

Each session basically consisted of a map walk with coaches helping out beginners, some coaching exercises followed by a small event using old school control cards for the first few then SI punching on the final session. Club members helped out with the coaching so we could work with groups of 3-5 beginners for most exercises.  Getting buy-in from the more experienced club members is essential to get the programme to work and we are fortunate at SBOC to have some very enthusiastic and capable orienteers who are happy to pass on their expertise. 

New Juniors having completed their first Yellow course with SI timing

Learning points: 

  • A lot of the participants are not going to be available for all the events so you will probably end up with people paying for individual sessions, not the whole series. Families that are interested in trying orienteering are also likely to be involved in other sporting activities so think about the timing of sessions to avoid clashes with junior football, gymnastics or other events in the area.
  • Following on from this, people will miss session one or other sessions so the carefully planned sequence of coaching is likely to need adjustment.  Every session, therefore, needs to have the capability of looking after complete beginners as well as people who have done the basics already.
  • Some of your participants will have done some orienteering before, others will have no idea what the symbols are or how to use a compass, therefore you need a range of options.  If possible, it is good to combine the introductory coaching with something suitable for club juniors so that new families can meet your club members and see the range of ages involved in the sport. We also got the Welsh junior squad coaches to help out with the final session so that new juniors could get an idea of the progression opportunities.
  • For successful sessions, you will need support from the rest of the club. One of the main factors that will impact on whether new-comers come back is if they feel welcome and enjoy the company of the club members. 
  • Venues need to be beginner-friendly; not too steep, sheltered from the worst of the weather and with a good path network. It also helps if you have easy parking, toilets close by and not too much mud. Bear in mind that most participants will not have specialist O shoes so it’s good if the terrain is Ok to run in trainers.
  • Facebook advertising worked really well for this and was certainly better value for money than printed publications.
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