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Running with maps: Using non-mainstream sports in development work


Running with maps: Using non-mainstream sports in development work

Development projects tend to use only a handful of sports, football being the most popular. Sometimes it is worth considering the merits of using less mainstream sports such as orienteering.

Orienteering is a competitive sport that requires participants to sprint through a course using a map and compass. Control points are set up and competitors must check-in, to prove they have visited each one. Being a fast runner is helpful, but physical fitness is just one aspect of the sport.

The sport requires concentration, reflection and understanding of one’s surroundings. Competitors look at the map to determine the fastest route to a control point. The direct route is not always the best solution as there might be obstacles in the way and sometimes longer distances help competitors reach points faster. Competitors also need to understand the symbols on the map that tell them what type of terrain they will encounter. Events can be held in rough, forested or urban areas.

At first glance, this sport might not seem the best option for some development projects. Printing maps and buying compasses are expensive, and sending participants (particularly youth) alone into certain areas might not seem safe. However, the sport has real benefits for participants and is easy to adapt.

Benefits of orienteering
Athletes are acquiring new skills by translating information on paper to the outside world. The sport teaches about the environment and general awareness in practical ways. Though getting lost can be frustrating and potentially scary, learning to cope and find a way out builds self-confidence and resourcefulness. Orienteering allows for individuals or pairs to compete, teaching them about teamwork based on trust and strong communication. Development organisations can also use it to educate and deliver information in creative ways.

Adapting the mechanism to different needs
Orienteering teaches important life skills and is adaptable to an organisation or participants’ needs:

  • If security is a concern, staff can adjust their supervision of participants throughout the course
  • Control points can incorporate educational material. Participants prove they visited each control point by sharing something
  • To eliminate cost of a compass: participants can first map the area in a group. Staff then mark points on the map and on the course
  • Communication and teamwork can be enhanced by making a relay course where participants each complete smaller sections

The above points are only a handful of ideas on how to take advantage of the flexibility orienteering provides. It is not a sport that can or should be used in all development projects, but it has the potential to offer organisations an opportunity to think beyond mainstream sports that have limitations.


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Leena Woodhouse-Ledermann


Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - 23:00

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