Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Monday, June 21, 2004

Picking my WOC team


A couple of weeks ago I described a thought experiment -- the basic idea is to think about how I'd pick a U.S. WOC team assuming:

1. It was entirely up to me.
2. I financed the team.
3. I had enough money to pay entry fees and expenses in Sweden (and maybe a bit left over to help one or two team members with some travel expenses). But, I didn't have enough money to fully pay for the trip or compensate team members for time away from their jobs.

You can read the original post if you want to know more.

My selection process

Without getting in to too many details, here is what I'm thinking about as principles for my selection process:

The relay is the goal. I want a team to do as well as possible in the relays. I also want runners who will accept the relay-focus as a goal. They'll still run the individual races and have their own individual goals. But, what I really want my team to do is have a good relay.

Having the relay as a goal should have a couple of side benefits. First, the relay is the last event. Having the focus on the last event should keep the individual runners focused throughout the week. Second, it should help keep everyone on the team motivated. If you're the last person to make the team, you've still got to work hard because you've got a reasonable chance to run in the relay, and the relay is the main focus.

Pick the team relatively early. I'd want to have my WOC team picked no later than the end of May. Why? In the U.S. orienteering is a true amateur sport. The WOC team members will need to fit the WOC travel and time around their work or school schedules. This is easier if you've got a fair amount of time to arrange things. I'm also hopeful that having the team picked relatively far in advance will give the team members time to get over to Sweden well in advance of the WOC itself.

Test races, but no automatic picks. I would use spring A-meets as test races. I'd look at those results very carefully. They'd weight heavily in my decisions. But, I wouldn't automatically pick the winners of those races. This is very different from the way the U.S. teams (not just in orienteering) get selected. In the U.S. we tend to have selection races where, for example, the top 3 finishers are automatically on the team. We place a strong emphasis on having a process that reduces the chances for selectors to have discretion. I understand the thinking, but if it was my money, I'd want to use my discretion.

Looking back at this spring's schedule, I think the races I'd use as tests would be the A-meet in Wisconsin and the A-meet at Harriman. I might also use the North American Champs in Ohio. The Wisconsin event was in "neutral terrain." It wasn't home terrain for any of the top runners. I'm a believer in the idea that neutral terrain does a good job of finding the best runners. The Harriman meet was in terrain that feels a bit like Scandinavia. So, it gives some information that might help find orienteers who have skills that transfer to Sweden. Harriman is also convenient for a lot of orienteers. The North Americans would be a good test race because the competition would be tough (largely since the Canadians used it as a test race).

As a selection I'm going to talk with everyone I think has a shot at the team. In the 6 months or so before the WOC selections, I'd touch bases with the top ten or so men and women. I'd like them to know my plans, understand the goal of the relays, and have chances to talk about anything else that comes up. Note that I said "talk" not "email." I think you've got to be face-to-face to really have a good discussion.

Focus on the top. I've written before about the importance for the U.S. to have the top orienteer at the WOC even if they might not be at their personal best. Brian May was the example I used. The U.S. is a whole lot better off if Brian is at the WOC. That's the case even if Brian might not be at his best. I'll put effort in getting Brian on the team. If he isn't sure, I'll try to convince him -- remind him of how much he can mean to the relay team, for example.

One way I'll judge the success of my selection process is if the top man and woman actually go to the WOC. If they don't, then the process didn't work well.

Help from others. I'd try to put together a small group (maybe 4 other people) to help me view my selections critically. If I'm thinking of putting someone on the team, I'd like someone else to be able to think about that selection and give me some critical feedback.

In general, I think decisions are better when they are subject to some different points of view. Any selection process will leave some people with questions about runners who didn't get picked. I'd like to hear those concerns before I've made decisions.

Ultimately the decision is one person's. While the selection process needs some feedback from other people, I think it is best if it ultimately comes down to my decision (remember that in my experiment, it is my money!).

posted by Michael | 7:56 PM


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