A guide to orienteering in Northern Ireland for junior athletes and parents
By Geoffrey Collins
The structure of orienteering for junior athletes in Northern Ireland is complicated but provides wonderful opportunities. This is an explanation for junior athletes and parents. By the end of it I would hope this these terms will mean more to you.
- JIRC Junior Inter Regional Championships
- JHI Junior Home Internationals
- EYOC European Youth Orienteering Championships
- JWOC Junior World Orienteering Championships
- JEC Junior European Cup
- JROS Junior Regional Orienteering Squads
- NIOA Northern Ireland Orienteering Association
- IOA Irish Orienteering Championships
- BOF British Orienteering Federation
- JK Jan Kjellstrom International Festival of Orienteering
- Six Day – Scottish Six Day Championship
Your very first introduction to orienteering may well have been through school, a youth organisation or a club. This explanation starts at the point where you are ready to move on in your orienteering “career”.
The first steps up from club orienteering are the Northern Ireland Orienteering Association (NIOA) competitions:
- the NIOA colour series (the NIOA’s “league” which runs Jan to Dec);
- the NIOA middle and classic distance championships and
- the NIOA score championships.
These competitions are an opportunity for junior athletes to make a mark which may lead to selection for the first representative level of orienteering…the Junior Inter Regional Championships (the “JIRCs”).
The JIRCs are a competition between the UK’s junior regional orienteering squads. NIOA is one region, there are twelve altogether.
NIOA send a team of 12 (4 M/W14s, 4 M/W16s and 4 M/W18s) to this annual competition. It is a great opportunity for the athletes to get to know each other better and make friends in other parts of the UK.
If you are enjoying orienteering you’ll soon want to do more by traveling to events outside Northern Ireland. This may lead to the next level – the Ireland Junior Squad.
The Ireland Junior Squad
At this stage you will have started to compete in events outside Northern Ireland. For example Leinster League events, the Irish Championships or the big UK events – the annual “Jan Kjellstrom”(JK) held during four days over the Easter weekend or the biannual Scottish Six Day – held over a week in late July or early August. In the years when the Scottish Six Day isn’t being held there is a week long summer competition which alternates between Wales (“Creoso”) and the Lake District (“The Lakes Five Days”).
The NIOA contact for the Ireland Junior Squad keeps an eye out for emerging talent and will bring them to the attention of the Squad manager.
At this point in your orienteering career you may be invited to attend weekend training camps of the Ireland Junior Squad. There may be 3-4 of these in a year across the four provinces. They are often based in youth hostels and you will be accompanied by a parent. Often they will run the same weekend as a league event giving an opportunity for some high quality competition.
This Junior Home Internationals is an annual competition between teams representing England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, at the invitation of the organisers the Northern Ireland team is extended to include all of Ireland. This extension provides a deeper level of competition.
To be selected for the JHI Team you need to achieve a standard in certain races and some other criteria. The races and standard may vary from year to year. The selection criteria will be published in advance of the selection races. The selection races are typically as many as possible of: a time trial at phoenix park in March (mandatory), the Leinster Championships (May), the JK middle and long distance (Easter), the Irish Championships (April or May) and one other colour series event in Ireland.
In practice the JHI Team is often managed by an Irish Orienteering Association (IOA) member. Selection criteria are published on the IOA website.
The European Youth Orienteering Championships (EYOC) is held annually toward the end of June/start of July. It is a competition between the youth teams of the international orienteering federations. You need to hold a passport of the federation you run for. To run for the British Orienteering Federation requires a British passport, to run for the Irish Orienteering Federation requires an Irish passport. As a resident of NI you may have one or both of these. In practice NI athletes generally run for the IOA as they tend to have built up a relationship with the Ireland Squad and there is not as deep a pool of athletes to compete against for places.
The EYOC team generally consists of 8 athletes (4 second year M/W16s and 4 M/W18s).
The Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC) is the pinnacle of junior orienteering. The competition generally takes place in July in a European country, though has been held in Australia.
The Irish Orienteering Association team consists of up to four athletes per age category. The athletes are second year M/W18s and M/W20s. In exceptional cases first year M/W18s may be selected. Selection criteria are published on the IOA website.
The Junior European Cup (JEC) is for M/W18 and M/W20 athletes. All nations can enter up to 6 athletes per category.
For each of JIRCs, JHIs, EYOC, JWOC, JEC, the Irish Junior Squad training camps and the JROS training camps the support of parents is an absolute necessity. This isn’t passive support from the sidelines. It means parents are needed “on the ground” taking active roles at these events.
If you are the parent of a junior athlete then you will be needed to take your turn as team manager, coach or organiser. You may be a good orienteer and this will help but it is not necessary in order to be manager or organiser. These are pastoral roles, ensuring the athletes’ well being and getting them to events.
It is good to get involved as early as possible. For example it is good to gain the experience of managing a team at JIRCs or JHIs before moving on to EYOC or JWOC.
Fundraising and Food!
If you really, really don’t see yourself as a coach, manager or organiser don’t despair! The juniors need fundraisers. Training weekends need volunteers to organise a team to provide food. In terms of fundraising there is, for example, a long and successful tradition of junior cake sales at events – everyone’s a winner there!
JROS Training Camps
The JROS organisation (Junior Regional Orienteering Squads) was created to pool the resources of junior orienteering squads across the UK. It is JROS who run the JIRCs and a series of JROS training camps.
The JROS training camps are one of the most rewarding opportunities for junior athletes. They are mostly week long events organised by age group. At these camps a real sense of orienteering community is formed. Athletes are with others of their age group. New friendships are formed. Names you only knew from results lists turn into real people. Following the JROS camps the athletes find that major competitions like the JK or Scottish Six Day are a completely different experience – the chance to reunite with their friends.
JROS is independent of BOF. It has a constitution and a committee. NIOA has a representative on the committee.
The JROS camps are:
Lagganlia (for M/W14s). An annual week long camp near Aviemore, held at the end of July or start of August.
- Deeside (for M/W16s). An annual week long camp in Deeside, held at the end of July or start of August.
- Hawkshead (for M/W16s). A weekend camp in later November or early December. At the invitation of JROS the IOA is invited to nominate athletes for Hawkshead from all of Ireland.
- Stockholm (M/W17s). A week+ long camp in near Stockholm in mid August.
- Gothenburg (first year M/W20’s and top second year M/W18’s). A week long camp in Gothenburg in the second half of August.
All camps, except Hawkshead, have selection criteria, published on the JROS website. The 2017 criteria are here. Hawkshead is not bounded by accommodation limits and is by nomination of the regions.
At major competitions such as the JK and Scottish Six Day there will be “string” courses for the youngest juniors. These courses are a few hundred metres long and follow a string with control points along the way. They are in safe areas, typically lightly wooded and bounded. Competitors are timed, so the courses give the youngest orienteers a flavour of finding their own way against the clock. Older juniors may often be seen “slinking off” to the string course with a mix of nostalgia and the attraction of the sweets or trinkets sometimes found there.
If you have young children approach the organisers of events and ask if it would be possible to accommodate a string course. LVO have string!
BOF Squads and Schools
There are things I haven’t covered. I haven’t covered the BOF talent squads nor their training camps. I haven’t covered schools orienteering. I don’t know enough about these – I’d invite you to find out more and add to this description.
Your age class is determined by how old you will be on the 31st of December of the year of the competition. So regardless as to whether you are aged 16 on 1st January or 31st December you will compete in M/W16 that year.
…And that’s it
Nearly. Orienteering is a community. Outside these formal events other things have been known to happen! For example families involved in the Irish Junior Squad have gotten together to spend time on holiday. In 2016 they visited France for a week of training and relaxation.