Relief training for Flemish kids

By Greet Oeyen
Belgium, 04.03.2023

For years, we have noticed that youth in Flanders can keep up internationally in the youngest categories (D/H-10, D/H-12), but by the time they are juniors, there is a gap between Flemish athletes and their international peers. In this article, I will explore the possible causes of this and how we, as coaches, can respond to it.

In the northern part of Belgium, maps with lots of trails and small relief are mainly to be found. In the southern part, we are more likely to encounter large terrain like hills and valleys. Abroad, however, you more often encounter more complex terrain.

map fragment northern part
map fragment southern part

In Belgian terrain, rough orienteering is generally the most obvious technique. By following linemark points you can often solve a lot of route choices problems. In addition, the controls are often on (or close to) a linemark point, so you are not forced to change technique in Belgium. Youth in Belgium are therefore very well trained in rough orienteering, but often fall short when it comes to fine orienteering.

Fine orienteering is seeing and walking from feature to feature. This technique is necessary in detailed relief. Since in Belgium we don’t have a lot of maps with detailed relief, this technique is perhaps insufficiently taught. As a result, in my opinion, young people start orienteering roughly in terrain that is not suitable for it.

Actually, a combination of both techniques should be taught. Rough orienteering can usually be applied at the beginning of a leg. It is then enough to know approximately where you are and the details around are less important. Fine orienteering you usually need in the area around the control where any detail can help you to find the control. So the first part of a leg you are going to cover a large stretch at a fast pace (rough orienteering), while closer to the control you need to slow down and switch to an adapted technique (fine orienteering).

Since fine orienteering is less prevalent in our Belgian forests, it is necessary that we start training extra on this from youth onwards. A good training form for this is oro-hydro. Perhaps this training form still seems a bit difficult for the D/H-12 and D/H-14 age categories, but with the help of a trainer who shadows, such a training form is very instructive. The trainer then has the chance to discuss the contours together with the athlete. By having the athlete articulate the predetermined plan for each leg and naming the follow-up path with successive features, the trainer gets a better idea of the athlete’s mindset and can make adjustments if necessary. This way, the athlete is obliged to apply the fine orienteering technique.

If insufficient trainers are available to shadow, the background can also be made partially visible, allowing the athlete to fall back on the base map, if needed.

Last week, I tried this training form with Kobe (H-12). I noticed while shadowing that he understood the contour lines well and used his thumb to locate himself. While executing his predetermined plan, he sometimes forgot to check the direction, but overall it was a successful training. He himself also found it very instructive. Moreover, confirmation followed the week after, when he indicated that he had used the contour lines as a tool for attacking his control. Goal achieved!

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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.