Not many athletes, make it all the way to the top in elite sport, that’s a fact. So as many people before me, I'm wondering about what factors that effects the development of top-level athletes. In other words, talent development strategies. I will focus mostly on Norwegian orienteering, because I have a lot of knowledge about it. Still I hope that people outside Norway think that it’s interesting to read about.
Obviously we need talents to develop to top-level athletes in Norwegian orienteering if we again wan’t to become the best nation in the world. The “natural” way is to get selected to the national junior squad and perform as a junior, which will give you a spot in the senior development squad. After that you perform as a senior and get to elite squad and perform at elite level. In that matter how you perform as a youngster in many ways effects if you get the possibility to become good or do it? Is the federations environment the best for development and should it be? If you look at the last years selection to the development squad, only juniors that has been performing at the highest level will get chance to make this team in first year as a senior. Normally 2/3 of the junior squad and everyone else is left without support from the federation in the first years as a senior.
The last two years of WOC only approx. 50% of Nordic medalists (NOR-SWE-FIN), have performed top 6 at JWOC. So the question is if we should select the development squad only on top performances as junior and if the junior and development squad provides the athletes with the right tools to make it to the top. From this perspective it’s okay to ask questions. A lot of science especially from Cotè and colleges, Bloom, and Güllich tell us that we have to be careful with doing a selection like this. Maybe other factors are more important?
Still it’s possible to get in a position to become a top-level orienteer without making the Norwegian squad as a junior and the first years a senior. I’ll take a look a examples from Norwegian orienteering, that is up to date. I’ve contacted Bjørn Ekeberg and Heidi Bagstevold, to ask them about their way from junior to senior. For sure you can argue about which level you have to have before you are at the elite level, and if Heidi and Bjørn have reached that level yet. Still their story is interesting because they both made the transfer from junior to senior successfully. In that perspective also because Heidi did’nt make the Norwegian national squad before her 3rd year as a senior and Bjørn only had one year in the junior squad and still not have made the senior team(hope he will make it next year). So Heidi and Bjørn did’nt take the “natural” way, but are now in a position to really achieve great results. I tried to ask them some questions, on how they managed to make this transfer.
How do you describe your strength when you performed as a junior?
Heidi – Selfconfident, taking time to do my orienteering.
Bjørn - Technique. I believe I was at my best when I focused on the orienteering, because that is what you can effect on the day of the competition. Still with good technical races, I didn’t make the top of the list.
If you should describe the way from junior to senior, what was the most difficult to adjust to?
H- The challenge in transferring to the long distance was tough.
B-the most difficult was to adjust to getting beaten quite hard. Even in good days I was way of. I realized that I needed to become better physically and that I needed to perform well to get a decent result.
How did you manage to motivate yourself the first years as a senior? What where your goals?
H- I had progression both in mastering skills and in results. To get picked out for the world cup and euromeeting motivated me. The training environment at Ås, motivated to aim high. I had no goal of results, but only in developing technically and physically.
B- I was prepared to give it some years before I could believe in results. I had a high goal to get selected to Euromeeting the first year, something I realized by performing well at the WOC-selections. To get to Euromeeting was motivating; esp. to run against runners from other nations and to learn form the others in the team. I also saw that I developed in the long distance and that motivated me to keep working harder.
If you should do a recap of the first years as a senior, what is the recipe for success?
H- Change of environment. Living at Ås made it easy to combine sport and education. Training with boys gave me better physical training. Being selected to international events; it gave motivation, expirence and sparring.
B-The main reason is that that I’ve been patient and believe that it took more than a season to get to a good level. I’ve developed slowly but always in the right direction(apart from injury and illness). I’ve always got good confirmation about my level and used it to become better in all aspects.
You participated in JWOC (Bjørn 2 times, Heidi 1 time). How important where that experience?
H-I believe, very important. I gave me good experience and motivation to aim for more.
B- It was important to compete against the best. And I’ve learned a lot from my process with trying to achieve in JWOC, even though the results were not that good. I’m not a person that gives up easily, but I use bad performances to learn and become better.
Which persons has been important for your development og which role have they played?
H- Persons from Kongsberg OL, whom has thought me orienteering and arranged camps and trainings in many years. My coaches in the national squad. Kjell Arild, my boyfriend and training companion, who has supported me. My parents; for economical support.
B- Tyrving is important. The elite group motivates each other to become better. The runners that I could look up to(Audun Weltzien, Anders Tiltnes and Torbjørn Sagberg), who has been giving good sparring. The focus on the relays has been important. Morten Christoffersen, Arne Tiltnes and Matthias Gilgien were important persons, who made it possible to aim high with Tyrving.
So what to learn from these two cases? Maybe nothing, maybe Bjørn and Heidi had developed to this level anyhow or maybe there are some ways that we can improve the chances for making it trough the first years as a senior. No matter what, the stories of athletes like Bjørn and Heidi need to be told for information and motivation for athletes that are in the start of the same road.From a perspective in the organizational part of Norwegian orienteering, it’s important to think about these points; how the selections for international events, motivate the runners even if they don’t perform at them. That a long time work, is more important than top performances as a junior. That selection after junior age maybe should be done in another way, that focuses on the the talent of developing? or maybe no selection at all? That the environment in the development squad, should support development and have a long term perspective.
From a perspective of a young athlete who doesn't make the federation squad, it’s important to realize these points; Don’t let your physical level demotivate you, focus on performing your best on the day. Focus on slow and patient development, while maybe even getting a hell of a beating at the same time. Focus more on development than in results, but your results should motivate you to work better. The road is as wide as you make it.
For sure you can say that the Norwegian system works just as long as someone makes the level Heidi and Bjørn did? But I still believe that we can become better at picking out talents and provide them with a good environment through the federation. I do not have all the answer but some ideas. But for now I’ll rest my case, but I’ll get back later………..