Why be a controller? Your sport needs you!

A Grade C controllers’ course is being run on 22nd April at Kinnoul Hill near Perth. If you are interested in becoming a controller and providing a vital service for the growth of our sport, please fill in the registration form.

Is this control in the right place?

We asked our president and Operations Director, Richard Oxlade, about his role as a controller and why he would recommend it to others.

Richard, what does the controller do?

I’ve heard some of our top orienteers ask this question. There’s a long list of responsibilities on the British Orienteering website but I like simpler description: it’s to represent the interests of the competitor at an event. This means that the event rules & guidelines are followed, that the competition is fair and that the event is safe. The controller should be seen as a quality consultant rather than a policeman, advising the planner and organiser so that the team can put on a high-quality event.

What does the controller get out of the role?

Quite a lot. The satisfaction of being part of the team delivering a great event and putting something back into the sport. The enjoyment of time in the forest with no competition pressure. And controlling is great for developing orienteering skills – you have to think long and hard about routes, control sites, map quality etc. and come to appreciate the compromises that have to be made. The advisory and mentoring side of role, helping to develop inexperienced event officials,  is also very satisfying.

Controllers are usually in the spotlight when something goes wrong. Doesn’t this put you off?

There is no doubt that there can be some challenges! Orienteers tend to expect perfection but we’re all human and mistakes do occur, even at the highest level. My advice would be to remember that although the controller has an independent role, they are also part of a team, both on the day and as part of the orienteering community, and can always draw support from others.

Competitors are usually most passionate about issues at download and some wise advice I received was to ask them to go away, have a bite to eat, get changed and then come back to discuss the problem. Try to have an honest discussion, try not to be defensive and see what can be done. Nine times out of ten this deals with the problem – most folk realise that nobody makes mistakes on purpose.

Do we have enough controllers in Scotland?

At the minute yes, but we have some challenges. Many of us started controlling in our 30s and 40s and we’re getting older. We need to develop new controllers and this takes time – controllers have to have some experience to be licensed by British Orienteering. To become a Level C controller this includes:

  • organising a competition registered with British Orienteering within the previous 10 years
  • planning a minimum of 3 events, with at least one at Level C, and at least one within the previous 5 years.

I like planning but why do I need to have experience as an organiser?

I’m often asked this question and there is no doubt that volunteers often have a bias towards organising or planning. Although fair routes and checking that controls are in the right place with the right codes is clearly a large part of the job, the role of the controller is to make sure the whole event is fair and safe not just the part between the start and finish. And of course, the controller is responsible for signing off the risk assessment which covers all aspects of an event.

Few women seem to control. Why is this?

I could also ask why few younger orienteers control. I don’t think there’s a simple answer. A few reasons are often mentioned including concerns about being alone in forest; all the good jobs being taken by existing controllers (the old boys’ network) and not enough opportunities to get planning and organising experience. The good news is that we can do something about all of these. For example, by making the process of appointing controllers more transparent, running planning & controlling courses (e.g. women’s only courses), encouraging mentoring or pairing to develop confidence.

What have you enjoyed most about controlling?

Lots but most of all happy finishers enthusiastically discussing a great competition.

How do I become one?

The most obvious place to start is by doing some planning for your club. Make them aware of your interest and also volunteer for some organising experience. Find a mentor or two. You do not need to be a qualified controller to get some experience – consider volunteering as an assistant at a larger event or try controlling at a low key local event which would not normally be controlled.

Any final thoughts?

We want to develop more controllers and would love to see more young controllers and more women. Scottish Orienteeering needs you! So, if you’re interested and want to know more get in touch, or and come and have a chat at an event. And if you have any ideas about how to make it easier to become a controller we’re always open to requests and suggestions.