Interview with team Hamok

As often in the history of “The knijptang”, an unexpected message suddenly appears in our mailbox. Greet and Dries are proposing a new subsidized project that will give our youth the opportunity to go training trips all over Europe. Our youth initiative started last year with a training session at Kapermolen and subsequent swimming – and it’s now growing into something big. “The knijptang” wanted to know the ins and outs of that. On a Wednesday evening, we met virtually. Dries cycled exactly 100.00 km on Strava the day before while Greet had just returned home from the POM in Portugal. Perfectly on time, we begin a surprising and fascinating interview.

How did you ever start the Hamok Youth project?

Dries: For years we didn’t do much for our Youngest athletes. Mostly we leave it up to the parents to educate their children in orienteering. It was also a generation where there was quite little youth: Jorn, Maya and the Mylle family. 

In recent years, we tried a few times to start an initiative until we suddenly saw last year that it was catching on. We brought the youth together properly the first time in Kapermolen and then worked towards a joint weekend around the Belgian Championships. Now we are trying to build on that.

How did you ever start the Hamok Youth project?

Greet: I started orienteering when I was the age my children are today. It is very important to start from an early age with those technical skills. When your own children are doing it, of course you want to commit to it. But also because now there is also a larger group coming up where I think there is a lot of potential anyway. 

I also continued to do orienteering because I liked it so much to go on training camps with my friends. Later it becomes more competitive, but initially the atmosphere within the group is very important. That’s why I do it: I want to give my own children and the other children the same opportunities I used to have myself.

Is it easy to get the whole group on board with your enthusiasm?

Greet: The Hamok youth are incredibly motivated. You only have to say everything once, they are very eager to participate and they also listen well. It is a very rewarding group to work with.

Do you get enough support from the board, the parents …?

Dries: I think everyone is supportive. When we proposed a training weekend, there was immediate support from the board. They immediately asked “what can we do to make it succeed”. But also every parent feels involved in their child’s learning. We are lucky that among the parents there are also a lot of trainer capacities. Greet of course, but also Ellen and Dieter, Tania and Kristof or Sofie and myself. They are all people who care and are enthusiastic to train the children as well as possible. As Greet said, it is very nice to work with this group.

We met once last year and then also asked ourselves the question “what is the purpose of our youth work”. The outcome was that we would like to have a good group that will automatically start looking for each other at the orienteering events. That alone causes them to ask more and more often: can we go to another orienteering event?

Greet: I also think it is very important not to focus only on those who really perform, but to pay equal attention to everyone. If it’s just fun, then they keep doing orienteering and then the rest will come naturally.

How will this youth group continue in the coming years, as each year they get a year older?

Dries: Those who want to continue in the Junior teams of Be-Arrows can certainly do so. Hamok support all Juniors and Seniors in their top sports to a large extend. We will evaluate year by year and plan activities to help them in the best way. Perhaps new youth will come in as well. We are going to try to put together the best possible program each year. 

You are working on an international initiative. Can you tell us more about this?

Dries: The main objective of the project is to bring together groups of youth in orientation sports across countries. Training camps are central to this. Next to this there is also an exchange of experiences between the trainers. In this way, a network of European trainers is created who share their expertise and can learn from each other. There are also a number of sub-goals. It is a widely documented EU-granted project. And there will be a website

Do you work directly with the foreign clubs or is there an umbrella body?

Dries: One of the clubs that took the initiative is Associazione Nirvana Verde from Civate (Italy). They are an organizer and participant at the same time. It is quite hands-on to cooperate with those six clubs. In this Erasmus-plus sports program subsidized by the European commission, it’s about a collaboration between Spain, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Italy and Belgium.

Greet: The project lasts 15 months. I hope this project will put us in contact with coaches from other countries. I just got back from Portugal (POM) yesterday, where I met one of the trainers. That was nice, because he spoke to me: “I’m from Poland, we’re in this Erasmus-plus project together.” If we can keep those contacts, then we can also more easily say to our youth, “We want to do a training camp in your country sometime, do you have any ideas? Can we come to you?” In this way, I think that the project will also be able to be very positive in the future.

Are our youth already aware of the project or is it all still top-secret?

Greet: Right now it has been under the radar for most people, but with this we start promoting it. 

 There are a lot of training camps on the calendar but they do not always correspond to the children’s vacation periods. Each country has its own vacation calendar. So it’s not always obvious to be able to go to those training camps.

Dries: The promotion of this project starts with this interview. At the same time, we will inform everyone by mail and Whatsapp to see what interest there is for which training camp. Then we’ll see how we can organize ourselves. We should plan it carefully. After all, we can not send an eight-year-old to Krakow or Riga alone.

Do you focus purely on Hamok youth? Or are there possibilities to involve other Flemish or Walloon clubs?

Greet: The project outlines that we should try to involve other clubs as well. In August we plan to organize a training camp for three days, just before the Four Days of Limburg. We would also open that camp to young people between 6-14 years of age from other clubs.

Does it make sense at this young age to gain international experience?

Greet: In my opinion, definitely. It is very important to train in other areas. The maps in Belgium have little variation. Running on contour lines, for example, is something we encounter more often abroad than in Flanders. It is important to encounter these different challenges at a young age. I noticed this a lot with my own children in Portugal. If you don’t point it out to them, you notice that they don’t see it. Through these training camps they get the chance to experience it.

Dries: You notice that the Flemish youth in general keep up with the Swedes and Swiss until the age of eleven. Until that age it is mainly running on the trails with a short time in the forest and then back on the trails. From the age of nine we notice that they start crossing forests. And running through a forest in Flanders is totally different to Portugal. From 9 or 10 years old, an apprenticeship abroad definitely makes sense so we don’t fall behind technically, which we then have to try to make up during junior time, which is quite difficult.

Greet: Around 14 you really see the difference. You do have the project of the Be-Arrows as of 16 but in the period before that, little is done with the youth. Through this project we can make sure the gap doesn’t get too big.

Are there any plans or goals for the future? Greet, maybe the Hell of Kasterlee like Sam?

Greet: … (exuberant laughter)

Dries: To become club champion, but officially. (exuberant laughter from everyone)

Greet: I never have long predetermined goals. This year my goal is to do well in Switzerland. Orienteering is really a routine sport and I haven’t had enough technical opportunities last year. 

I notice that I am coming up short. My goal is to get back into routine in the coming months. Of course, that’s not a specific goal like the Hel van Kasterlee (laughter). I will just be happy if I can say in Switzerland after 6 days that I did 6 very nice orientations. My place is not so important then.

And you Dries, any other goal besides club champion?

Dries: Yes, I want to participate in the Transcontinental race. Cycling from Geraardsbergen to Greece. 3500 km non-stop. Self navigate via your GPS with only 5 checkpoints. I had signed up but I am not selected for this year so it will be for 2024. 

That’s a really clever plan. Suppose you had to start today, could you physically handle that?

Dries: I think so. It’s 350 km a day, I should be able to do that. Last year I once cycled 450 km in one go. You especially have to be able to handle those distances day after day. I still have to train for that. You also have to do it wisely. The first ones only sleep three hours a night, but I’m not going to go that extreme.

Until you’re in the race, of course. Just wait. We’re going to dot-watch you all the time. Clever plan! 

Just as they used to always end the episode on Top Gear with “And on that Bombshell, see you next Week! Goodnight!”, just like we end this fascinating conversation. Again, it is incredible what a difference volunteers like Dries and Greet, but by extension all parents, coaches and others involved can make for our youth. And as Greet and Dries said, if it’s FUN , they’ll keep doing the orienteering and the rest will come naturally.

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ORI-YOEU is an international project to improve orienteering practice for kids  and trainers network.
The project is co-funded by the European Union.