Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Sunday, June 27, 2004



Both times I've written about picking my hypothetical WOC team, I've gotten comments about the idea of picking a team for the short term or the long term. Here is a bit of one of those comments:

This is all good but only has one shot (one year) mentality. In building the team it is very important to have generations in the team.

In putting together a WOC team, I would pick the best at the time. If I was sending 4 men and 4 women, I'd want the 4 and 4 who I thought would be the best at the WOC. I'd only favor a younger, less experienced runner if everything else was equal. If I had to pick between a 20 year-old and a 40 year-old who were absolutely equal, I'd pick the 20 year-old. But, If I had to pick between a 40 year-old and a 20 year-old, and the 40 year-old was better, I'd pick the 40 year-old.

My criteria for selection, in other words, is "Who will be the best orienteers at this year's WOC?"

Without getting in to all of the reasons behind my thinking, I'd like to write a bit about experience.

Some thoughts about experience

It seems to me that three types of experience matter for sports:

1. Technical experience. In orienteering this means experience dealing with different types of terrain, different maps, different course setting and so on.

2. Side show experience. In orienteering this means dealing with all of the not-on-the-course distractions that go along with some events. A WOC has lots of side show stuff, like an opening ceremony, bus rides to the model events, etc.

3. Level of competition experience. I won't use orienteering as an example for level of competition experience, I'll use basketball. In basketball, you've got to work with team mates and against another team. Moving from high school basketball to college basketball is a huge jump because you're suddenly facing another team of people who are much better. You've also got team mates who are suddenly a lot better than they were in high school.

In terms of results for an orienteering, technical experience is probably the most important. Technical experience comes from lots of time in the forest using a map to find controls. It comes from racing and training. Importantly, technical experience doesn't require having been at a WOC (though travel to lots of different races in lots of different places is a great way to get technical experience).

You get side show experience from going to a WOC or from talking to people who've gone to a WOC. I don't think side show experience matters much. It doesn't matter much for two reasons. First, WOCs vary so much in terms of the side show experience. I've been to four WOCs and the side show stuff (accommodations, model events, opening ceremony, start draw, etc.) have been different each time. The side show experience I gained at my first WOC in France, didn't translate directly to my second WOC in Sweden. Second, an orienteer can get a lot of the side show experience by just talking to people who've been to prior WOCs. In France, I remember watching Eric Weyman carefully. I knew he knew what he was doing, so I watched him to get ideas about what I should do. If I'd been a bit more on the ball, I'd have spent some time months before the WOC asking questions of people like Eric.

As an aside, I think some of what people consider side show experience is really the stress of having to perform when everyone knows it is important. Because an event is a World Champs, everyone you know expects that you'll try to do your best. You can't hide. You can't have a bad race and then say, "well, I had a bad race, but I was just using it as a tune up before some upcoming event." I think the pressure from running a WOC is largely the pressure of having to perform publicly. You wonder, "what will everyone think if I screw up?"

continuing the aside, one way to practice dealing with this sort of pressure would be to pick a couple of events each year and declare them as your priorities. Tell everyone that you're aiming for the U.S. Champs (put it on your training log at Attackpoint), for example, and that'll put some pressure on you to perform. Another way to practice dealing with this sort of pressure is to run relay races.

Back to experience...

The third type of experience is level of competition experience. I used basketball as an example. I didn't use orienteering because I don't think level of competition experience is important for orienteering. In orienteering you don't even see your competition, let alone have your competition defending you.

If level of competition experience is important, putting together a team that mixes young and old members is important. That's why you see basketball coaches putting less experienced players on the floor even if they aren't the best players. The coach wants them to get some time playing against players at a high level. The coach wants them to learn and wants to see how they react.

But, as I wrote above, I don't think level of competition experience matters much in orienteering because you compete alone with very little feedback about other competitors.

Another aside...I should point out that I think regularly racing against tough competition matters. But not because you gain level of competition experience. What I think happens when you run regularly against tough competition is that small errors start to matter more. If you ease up on a trail and take it a bit easy, or miss a control and lose 20 seconds, you'll drop in the results list if the competition is tough. In most races in the U.S.,those small errors don't affect the results. You can get away with them. But, in Sweden, for example, those errors might cost you a place or two. Regularly facing that sort of competition teaches you to focus because it directly penalizes failing to focus. That is a sort of level of competition. But, I think it takes regular exposure to good competition, not a one-shot trip to a WOC.

posted by Michael | 9:47 AM


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