Sharing Good Practice: Solway Orienteers Club Coaching

Feedback from the Club Conference in April showed that clubs want to hear more examples of good practice from within and from outside of the sport. By exchanging knowledge and learning between clubs we can use our resources more effectively. Learnings from outside of the sport can bring in fresh perspectives. 

In light of this, we are delighted to share the Solway Orienteers coaching series. From Solway’s coaching series we can learn how smaller clubs can put on coaching for all levels of experience and engage with new members to join the club. 

Solway Orienteers hosts four week coaching blocks throughout the year, catering from TD1-5. These coaching sessions let all participants practise orienteering skills, irrespective of their experience. During each session the group divides into two or three subgroups, tailored to different skill levels. Each sub-group focuses on a specific orienteering skill, with the option for individuals in easier groups to challenge themselves by moving up to slightly more challenging activities in the group above. These sessions take place once a week during the 4 week block, centring around skill progression in a fun, relaxed learning environment. 

Coach Tim O’Donoghue taking the TD3 plus group

During the penultimate session of the series the TD3+ group were focusing on taking bearings. We couldn’t have had a better location for practising taking bearings! The session took place on a raised peat bog which is formed over thousands of years as layers of dead vegetation build up in waterlogged conditions. The gradual growth of the peat creates a plateau-like platform. Starting in the middle of the plateau participants would take a bearing to the controls hidden by the edge of the plateau. You could only tell you had taken your bearing correctly once you reached the edge of the plateau making the exercise tricky. The TD3s would take a bearing from the middle of the plateau, meanwhile the more experienced orienteers would take a bearing between each control point. 

A control off the edge of the plateau
Control sites on the edge of the raised peat bog plateau

It was the family in the TD1-2 group first time orienteering and they were focusing on setting the map. To give them a flavour of orienteering beyond TD1-2, coach Helen O’Donoghue took the family to the raised peat bog to show them how they could follow the contour lines on the map around the raised bog.  The family loved being off the paths and seeing what was next once they start to build their skills.

First Time Orienteering!

Solway Orienteers consider their club coaching blocks as a key means of attracting and involving new members in the club. Tim O’Donghue, the lead coach explains;

The annual Solway May coaching sessions (4 linked sessions at a variety of mapped areas on 4 Wednesday evenings in May) are an important part of the club calendar.  We offer it as an excellent introduction to the sport and year on year it is our most effective member recruitment activity.  The sessions also improve club cohesion with members getting to know more other members and perhaps participate in team activities with them. Our 4 club coaches run sessions across the full TD range which gives us the opportunity of moving participants to groups working at different TD levels, or even to offer a taster of what the next level up will be like.  The coaches also enjoy the team working required’.

Regular orienteers in the club described the series as a ‘great feature’ on the Solway club calendar. 

Adults and Juniors are coached as part of the same group

The Spring coaching block has now finished and Solway have now moved on to their Summer series of Wednesday evening events. These events take place in and around Dumfries and Galloway. Participants from the coaching series take part in these events with the skills and confidence to orienteer independently. 

Solways coaching blocks exemplify how clubs can effectively offer coaching for all levels of experience, fostering engagement with prospective members. The summer event series following the coaching block offers a clear pathway for newcomers to continue their involvement with the club. The coaching block then event series, serves as an ideal starting point for a newcomer who is embarking upon their orienteering journey.

Thankyou to Tim and Helen O’Donoghue for inviting SOA to come visit Solway and see their coaching in action. Thanks to all the other Solway coaches and members for speaking to me and sharing their experience of the coaching blocks.