Thursday, 11 October 2012

Shadowing a nine-year old orienteer; she'll beat you

It has taken me a while to get to writing this post...

Two weeks...errr... three weeks ago we had SA Orienteering Champs. This was a three-day event with middle distance on Saturday, Long on Sunday and relay on Monday.

On Saturday afternoon I shadowed a friend's son on the M12 course, which was about 2.5km. I'm not sure how old Liam is - maybe 7 or 8? It was really interesting to watch such a young orienteer in action. 'Shadows' are not allowed to assist; we're just there to keep an eye on the young ones and to make sure that they're ok and safe.

What I learned from this is that young ones, like adults new to orienteering, tend to rely too much on what they see around them. They aim to leave the previous control in the right direction to the next and seem to 'hope' to catch sight of a control or another orienteer. Too much of a visual reliance. This young chap isn't very competitively focused so as we walked he kicked pine cones like they were tin cans and walked without urgency. He sometimes used his compass to re-orientate his map but even when I tentatively prompted, "Use your compass", he tended to rely more on what he saw around him - yet not necessarily to use his surroundings to orientate his map. He made it successfully around the course and was pleased to have found all of his controls.

It was interesting to see the learning and navigational processes magnified. I've never worked with young ones or have seen them in action, so this was really interesting. I think it is also good for these young orienteers to have someone other than a parent out there with them. They're more reliant on a parent, who they're used to, and the would probably give up on solving navigational problems a lot sooner, looking to their parent to assist. But with a stranger, they'll try harder to figure it out. I've most definitely volunteered to shadow again.

Then, for the Sunday, my good friend Tania asked if I would shadow her nine-year old daughter. Tania would be out on her course for a while. I jumped at the opportunity.

Both of Tania's daughter have been orienteering since they could open their eyes. Tania plays orienteering-skill games with them at home and they've done a lot of drills and map reading exercises.

Let's just say that I had to run - seriously run - to keep up with young Sarah. A lot more experienced and focused (I'm told that young girls are generally more focused than similar aged boys for this kind of thing), Sarah really is a orienteering whiz - and she is unbelievably fast! I really had to run hard, especially as I was only just starting to get over a bad cough and cold. Most challenging was that I didn't get a moment's respite on the steep hills on the course because she runs up all of them and doesn't let up.

Sarah uses her surroundings to keep her map orientated. I seem to think that she did have a compass too - I can't quite remember (probably because I was huffing, puffing and coughing behind her).

At one point we got to a section where I'd put out the controls the previous afternoon. It's a tricky area with few distinct features and numerous controls for the eight courses. For the first one, she walked along the road and correctly judged the distance to turn off the road. Tania has said to me that Sarah wasn't great at judging distance but I certainly beg to differ - she's pretty good. She immediately spotted the control from the road and went to it.

For the next control I'd gone straight line and I hadn't found the feature when putting out the control. The vegetation represented on the map isn't quite as it appears visually. I'd resorted to going back to the road to take my distance from a vegetation boundary before heading back under the trees. Sarah went back to the road immediately (correct decision) and then she turned off the road at exactly the right place. Initially she didn't walk far enough in to see the control which wasn't visible unless you were directly in front of it. She stood for a while, orientated her map, looked back at the road and then kept walking. Metres later she saw the control. My heart swelled with pride.

The next control had many adults foxed because the terrain is challenging, visibility is low and there were about four controls in a small area. We saw a couple of adults wandering around. Here Sarah went as-the-crow-flies and without using her compass she had a spot-on bearing. She ended up about 15-metres to the right of the control, which she was able to see as she approached. We shot off cross-country again to link up to the road leading to the finish.

I muttered a 'well done' as we were ploughing through the trees and she replied that she hasn't done much of going cross-country before - only like once or twice for short sections. I think her successes here would have boosted her confidence for other events now because she's totally capable of doing so. Goodness, even adults mess up regularly when they go tiger-line.

I was chatting to Tania afterwards, so proud of my young ward. Let's just say that on a W12 course I think Sarah will beat a new adult orienteer. She's a beautiful runner and in a year or so I'll probably be hard pressed to keep up with her. Over the next few years her technical navigation will improve and I have little doubt that as a faster runner she'll beat me on sprint events. I hope to keep her at bay on the longer distance courses at least until she's 16.

Being a shadow lets the parents off the hook and challenges the young orienteer because they know they can't just make big eyes and ask you for help. They also want to show you that they can do it.

If you're a regular and keen orienteer I can really recommend volunteering to be a shadow. I most definitely intend to be. But I'd better put in some speed training to keep up with young Sarah!

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