Youth Coaching Working Group

Erin Schirm has convened a new Sport Development Group for OUSA. The team has held three meetings, and will continue meeting weekly in order to set the framework for the tasks we plan to take on. Other group members include Tori Campbell, Andrea Schneider, Ethan Childs, Bob Turbyfill, Mike Schuh, Greg Ahlswede and Barb Bryant.  If you are interested in contributing to the work, please contact Erin at 845-364-1752.

What we want to accomplish in 2019:

  • Update the Levels 1, 2, and 3 OUSA coaching certification program, with an emphasis on youth coaching.
  • Create an introductory course for people who want to teach orienteering to children.
  • Develop a physical education curriculum for schools.
  • Create a fun program that clubs could offer for children on a regular basis.
  • Building on existing content

We plan to start from existing resources, including Discovering Orienteering, the USOF (now OUSA) coaching manual, and Orienteering and Map Games for Teachers that USOF published in 1996. We are collecting information from orienteering federations around the world, as well as national governing bodies of sport, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s coaching team (for example, see!), physical education resources, and peer-reviewed journal articles about learning and coaching orienteering and other sports.

The working group is focused on generating content. Graphic design and dissemination of the content is outside our 2019 scope. However, as we carry out our work, we will be thinking ahead to how the materials and information will be shared.

We had a good discussion at our first meeting about how to communicate orienteering to the public. Orienteering, as marketed by OUSA, appeals to a certain segment of the population. We are proud of orienteering being the “thinking sport” and running solo through the woods  — but those messages might unintentionally limit our audience. We feel that there are many other aspects of orienteering that would be hugely appealing to school administrators and teachers. Orienteering games and activities can address executive function, fundamental movement, and building life skills.

Getting started on our philosophy

Our first step will be to identify our philosophy and fundamental approach. This will allow consistent messaging and methodology throughout the coaching courses, lesson plans and activities. In a brainstorming session at our first meeting, group members felt that the following aspects would be important components of the philosophy.  We orienteer to…

  • Have fun.
  • Engage, play, tell stories.  Andrea had a great example in which she overlays a story about bringing aid to towns after a natural disaster onto an orienteering activity.
  • Learn navigation skills.
  • Communicate using maps.  
  • Build relationships with family, friends, teammates, and our community.
  • Develop confidence and become empowered.
  • Foster physical fitness: fundamental movement skills, healthy bodies, lifelong health.
  • Increase self-awareness, observation, self-monitoring and self-regulation.
  • Teach others, regardless of family income, developmental stage, or ability.
  • Understand and reflect on how orienteering activities develop transferable skills for other areas of life.
  • Appreciate nature, experience environmental immersion and awareness.
  • Discover — not just the woods, but also parks and school grounds, and see the indoors in novel and complex ways.
  • Seek excellence and self-actualization. Travel the path to mastery, realize the milestones we achieve.
  • Use what is at hand; no fancy equipment required.

What framework should we use?

It is important to establish a framework that provides common language to be used across the projects. One existing framework is the American Development Model (ADM), which addresses problems in American sports: over-specialization and prioritizing winning over having fun and long-term development. The ADM emphasizes fun and age-appropriate activities, such as small-sided play and participation in multiple sports. Another framework is the Swedish Orienteering Federation’s model, which considers the sport first through psychological, social, physical and technical areas, with age being a secondary consideration.

In choosing our framework, we should consider our audience. What is working, and what do we want to change about how orienteering is practiced in America? How do we adjust our messaging to communicate these changes? Within the existing orienteering community, we would like to see more age-appropriate activities for children. We would like to see much more emphasis on the social arena, with group and team games. Outside the existing orienteering community, we would like raise consciousness throughout the school system about the existence and value of orienteering for physical education and habits that support learning readiness.

At our third meeting, we agreed on an initial framework, and look forward to developing it and sharing it with the community.

Getting our message right

We had a good discussion about the messages that are currently in existence about orienteering in America.  While many club websites have very welcoming messages and excellent beginner support, there are some consistent website and YouTube video themes that may be unintentionally exclusionary.

Common misconceptions or misleading terminology:

  • Orienteering is a thinking sport. For a kid, that sounds like school.  Parents whose kids struggle in school immediately anticipate the fight involved to take their kids orienteering.  
    • Change: Orienteering makes your brain stronger.
  • Orienteering is a race.  For kids who don’t like sports, this doesn’t sound like fun.  Another battle parents don’t want to fight with kids who dislike sports.
    • Change: Orienteering is fun whether you want to run as fast as you can, or slow down and enjoy what you discover along the way. Develop new formats for orienteering events that are games.
  • Orienteering is a solo activity. For most kids, especially beginners, this is just. not. fun.
    • Change: Develop new formats for orienteering events that encourage — or require — participation in groups.
  • Orienteering involves misery.  The first picture a prospective orienteer sees should not involve rain, ponchos, or environmental hazard warnings.
    • Change: Orienteering is fun. Balance safety and stories of perseverance with content that shows how orienteering is achievable for anyone.
  • “Real” orienteering involves a long course through the woods.  Forests and long distances may be intimidating to kids who have never been on a hike before, and venues may be inaccessible to those without cars.
    • Change: Promote more park and urban sprints that are accessible by public transportation.
  • Orienteering is not a “real” high school sport.  Promoting the “foreign” roots and obscurity of orienteering undermines it as a socially acceptable sport for teens.
    • Change: Emphasize what orienteering has in common with more mainstream sports, such as cross country.

There are also some common lay beliefs that we might want to address:

  • Orienteering is the same as land navigation.  People with a scouting and military background expect to start on the most challenging courses because they already have some applicable skills.
    • Change: Acknowledge land navigation experience sets people apart from raw beginners. Highlight how orienteering maps are different from topographic maps, land navigation skills that are transferable, and additional skills that might be helpful.
  • I will get horribly lost orienteering, and it will be a bad experience.  Americans are uncomfortable getting lost without the protective shell of their cars.
    • Change: Link orienteering to skills and habits people practice every day, such as using a map in a video game, overriding a GPS route using local knowledge, or even finding the bathroom at night without turning on the lights

Who are we?

Andrea is OUSA’s Junior Team Administrator, and mother of two Team USA orienteers. She is also the owner and operator of I Know My Way, LLC, a company dedicated to bringing orienteering into schools and summer school camps, homeschool groups, and others. She works with teachers to create own orienteering classes, being accessible to children of all abilities.

Erin and Greg coach the OUSA national junior program. Greg is currently on the senior U.S. team. Erin has had lead responsibility for growing the quality of our elite youth program over the last few years.

Bob is a former U.S. and North American champion. He has been teaching and coaching orienteering for 20 years, at all levels. His Zero to Orange in Three Days course is legendary, and he has trained many people who have gone on to teach and coach themselves. He co-authored Discovering Orienteering with former OUSA President Chuck Ferguson.

Tori is a former coach of the USMAOC team and has course consulted for COC’s Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League for the past three seasons. She is currently an education graduate student studying neurodevelopment and executive function in children. She feels that PE curriculum should not just be for kids who identify as athletes or thinkers, but should be inclusive because all kids can benefit from orienteering. She will help us figure out how to bring orienteering to kids who learn in diverse ways.

Ethan (GVOC) has raced for Team USA on both junior and senior orienteering teams. In his role as teacher, coach and Program Director for Navigation Games, Ethan has spent the last 2.5 years bringing orienteering to thousands of children in eastern Massachusetts. He is a main author of a new 15-lesson progression for teaching children in grades K-5, curricula that is in active use in after-school programs in Cambridge, MA. Ethan coached the 2018 Junior Nationals Varsity winning team, as well as JV and Intermediate teams who medaled.

Barb (NEOC, CSU) is the founder and president of Navigation Games, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (and member club of OUSA) dedicated to broad education in orienteering for children and families. Barb is on the OUSA board, and currently serves as the Vice President for Youth Initiatives. She previously was the Junior Team Administrator for OUSA. She will be stepping down from OUSA in September, and would love for other community members interested in taking youth orienteering forward to step up.

Mike (COC) provides “how to get started” instruction to first time participants at local events. He also individually coaches more advanced juniors, including some who have medaled at Interscholastics and Intercollegiates, as well as JWOC team members. His coaching credentials: OUSA Level 2, the Norwegian Orienteringsforbund Trener 2, and Level 2 from USA Track and Field.