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Discussion: A-meet volunteers

in: Orienteering; General

Sep 14, 2011 10:54 PM # 
How many people are needed to run an A-meet? National meets are held to very high standards (though sometimes they fall short), and that requires considerable competent manpower. At the Badger Orienteering Classic Champs in 2009, it seemed that very few people were involved - though I may have gotten that impression from Kevin Teschendorf mapping, directing, and course setting. In contrast, the website for the Sierra 3-Day puts out a call for "85-90 volunteers."

It has been my observation that you can divide A-meet personnel into the organizers - those who are heavily involved in the planning, including directors, course setters, and vetters - and the workers, who work on the day of the event with tasks like running the start and finish.

To focus the question more, for those of you who have participated in A-meet organization in the past:
  1. How many people were organizers, i.e. put it 10 or more hours of work before the meet
  2. How many distinct people helped out during the event, including start/finish crews, results, control pickup, set up, and so on? How many person-meets would have been needed; that is, if you had a set of workers who didn't run and worked full time on the event, how many would have been needed?
Assuming competent people, what is the smallest number that could comfortably pull off an A-meet held to the usual standards?
Sep 14, 2011 11:29 PM # 
For TT weekend, roughly equivalent even if only part A-meet, people working on it prior/post event weekend.

Meet director, Planner, Course Consultant, two Vetters: Many, many hours.
Registrars: Many hours.
Coordinators and ESC-related people: several to many hours
Treasurer: many hours?

In the less than ten hours per person category, I would guess we have:
Sanctioning committee

Control and epunch preparation
Map printing, bagging, sealing, organising
Heads of Start/Finish crews site visit
Material/Equipment organisation, purchase etc

Each of the last four is at least two people working for several hours. Sometimes the people overlap, so they go over ten hours.

I'm sure I'm missing out on some people, and I'm leaving out all the jobs the weekend itself - your no. 2.
Sep 14, 2011 11:41 PM # 
Cutting down... one CC, one Meet Director, one Planner, one Vetter are essential, I would say.

Assuming some of these people are unemployed and extremely competent and willing, they could do registrar/printing/maps/control preparation/site visit.

Weekend itself you'd need a lot more...
Sep 14, 2011 11:46 PM # 
300 to 400 minimum total hours for an SML event; not including the main work on the map, but including the additional mapping course setters usually do.
Sep 15, 2011 1:02 AM # 
DVOA just compiled this number for the Hickory Run Rocks A event last fall. I'll see if I can get the numbers.
Sep 15, 2011 1:13 AM # 
If you are going to go with a minimalist crew, I hope there would be someone who is anal, obsessive, uncompromising and charismatic... [edit: like GuyO]
Sep 15, 2011 2:02 AM # 
@ndobbs: If you want to see a minimalist crew in action, come out to the Flying Pig next year. [edit: for which I am Registrar. Again]
Sep 15, 2011 2:41 AM # 
Minimalist, but exceptional crew.
Sep 15, 2011 12:21 PM # 
I disagree with the minimalist approach. IMO If the Meet Director doesn't try to include as many club members as possible to help put on his A-meet, the club is missing a great motivating and recruiting opportunity.

Local meets come and go...the average newbie has little opportunity to "get" the real attraction of the sport. But with an A-meet, the club can generate not only some good cash revenue, but much more enthusiasm for the sport in general...kinda like the first day of your first Swedish O-Ringen: "Ohhhhh...NOW I get it!"

Done correctly, A-meet week is exciting; why not share it? Synergy takes over for one weekend in the year. Club members learn to work together in a variety of jobs. Orienteering "rock stars" appear, age group results materialize, trophies are awarded, crowds of strange club uniforms are seen in the woods... It's kind of an application of Daniel Burnham's dictum in planning the City of Chicago:

...make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood...
Sep 15, 2011 12:46 PM # 
I think Vlad's estimate of 300-400 hours is pretty reasonable. As I put on A-meets as fundraisers for a cause I very much care about, I'm happy to put in about half of those hours (plus an additional 100 or so mapping, which is part of the joint agreement between Carol's Team and SLOC). I'm also blessed with some course setters who seem willing to do more than just set courses (they basically serve as field directors for the event they set courses on). The result is that SLOC/Carol's Team gets by with a pretty small crew. We still need 20-30 people on meet day, but the advance work is done my a group much smaller than that.

I seem to recall that OK put on an A-meet with something like six people a few years back and it went quite well. It's really just a matter of how much each person is willing to do.
Sep 15, 2011 2:58 PM # 
Without giving any numbers I would like to comment that the number of people needed would naturally grow with the number of participants. All kinds of on-the-day logistics are put to test as the number of participants increases.
Sep 16, 2011 1:17 AM # 
The more volunteers, the less burnout. This also results in more experienced volunteers for future A-meets. BAOC has been having two A-meets a year with this philosophy. So if a club wants to have a program that includes an annual A-meet(s), it is essential to spread around the work. We have an ethic that everyone in the club does a small job at an A-meet. (Plus a few do the larger jobs of course setter's, registrar and meet director) Our A-meets usually have 75-90 volunteers. It usually is easy to find volunteers, if people know they won't be exploited and have to sacrifice their competitions.

As for the clubs that put on A-meets with skeleton crews, I have great admiration for them, but worry how long they can continue before the key people call it quits.
Sep 16, 2011 2:57 AM # 
The event director's writeup for the Sierra 3-Day lists about 50 different people, many doing multiple jobs. There are doubtless some who pitched in and didn't get written down. Most of those people also ran a course each day. One thing that is useful is to designate a volunteer coordinator, whose job it is to see that the positions are filled. As Geoman said, it's easier to get people to volunteer if they know they won't sacrifice their course. No one wants to spend the money to travel four hours or so and sit around all day watching other people have fun.
Sep 16, 2011 4:14 AM # 
I recently ran a running race that had 200 participants and there were 250 volunteers! Running the race requires entering a lottery. Apparently they were also turning away volunteers!

Good race organizations engage their communities and have volunteers that don't even do the sport. Many organizations (Rotary, Scouts, youth organizations, etc.) do a great job of volunteering at events. The volunteers have fun and enjoy being part of the event. Aid stations, food prep, traffic, are all areas where no sport-specific skills are required.

I will admit It does get quite a bit more challenging when the race venue is hours from the community. When BAOC holds events in Tahoe, I can see that engaging the local community might be a bit more of a challenge.
Sep 16, 2011 5:13 PM # 
Local for-profit trail runs get by just fine with what I'd call skeleton crews (they are skeleton compared to BAOC's A meets or most of the long-running trail ultras in this area). They also put on a lot more events per staff/volunteer than say BAOC or the long-running trail ultras, and generate an order of magnitude more sales (two orders of magnitude more sales per staff/volunteer).
Sep 16, 2011 6:23 PM # 
In a trail race you dont need people to put out bulky controls in the middle of nowhere. there are no maps to be printed and no courses to be planned, controlled, checked, map updates, splits download, staggered start etc
Sep 16, 2011 6:28 PM # 
Really? Why not?
Sep 16, 2011 6:59 PM # 
Yes but you need people to drive lots of food into several middles of nowhere, there are some courses to be planned and marked (at least one marker to be placed and then removed for every 50 m of an up to 50 km course), and there are communications and emergency care to be established. The amount of labor per participant, although smaller than that for an O event of the same size, is of the same order of magnitude in hours.
Sep 19, 2011 12:33 AM # 
The DVOA treasurer has been away on vacation which is why I haven't been able to post the reply to the number of volunteer hours we logged for the A event last fall. However, he's back and I saw him today and he said he'd get me the number in a couple of days. He did mention that the club logged well over 4,000 hours for the year between local events, our annual training event and the A event. And he thinks that the real number is most likely quite a bit higher - that people were under-reporting their time.
Sep 19, 2011 1:53 AM # 
Benchmarking the smallest crew needed for an A meet is one way to drive efficiency, making it easier for any size staff, but having the smallest possible crew should not be the end in itself.

As other posters have noted, getting more people involved in the organizing trains the future event leaders, bonds club members and reduces burn-out. Plus, working an A meet can be fun* - as long as the demands are not too stressful and there are backups (i.e. extra staffing) in case things go wrong or someone is unavailable at the last minute.

* Full disclosure - this comes from someone who has spent more time working A- meets than running in them - go figure ;-)

But as much as I like working events, I would shy away from being involved in one where the staff was at a minimum, 'cause if the $#*! hits the fan, it gets all over you.

That said - I think another way to ask the question is "what tasks can be simplified, automated or eliminated without sacrificing the quality of the event experience?" I personally think local events are a more fertile ground for this. We could have more self-service, at least for experienced participants. Ideally the day of event staff should be responsible for course setting, control hanging and maps, with 2-3 people for helping newbies. Everyone else should register, time their run and report their results on their own. E-punch can help in ths regard if your club has it and lots of experienced operators, but maybe just letting everyone fill out their own start and finish times is easier.
Sep 19, 2011 9:17 PM # 
"Everyone else should register, time their run and report their results on their own"

Oooo... that hit one of my hot buttons. I have been unpleasantly surprised at times at some local club meets by this process. Of course this results in unreliable and sketchy results. If you are going to cut down the work by not posting accurate results, please warn everyone ahead of time, so maybe they can instead choose to attend an actual competition.
Sep 19, 2011 9:19 PM # 
Thanks George. Automation does not equal self-service. Automating away registration and asking people to time themselves are very different animals.
Sep 20, 2011 1:19 AM # 
The number of volunteer hours reported for the A event last fall for DVOA was 571. I'm sure the real number is much higher - I know I forgot to include a bunch of time doing related tasks that I forgot about when I was asked and I'm guessing others did too.
Sep 20, 2011 1:25 AM # 
Sandy, does this include the mapping hours?
Sep 20, 2011 1:39 AM # 
No. Mapping was not done as volunteer work.
Sep 20, 2011 3:36 AM # 
This is quite in line with my estimate—DVOA's events are not nearly as barebones as you'd get with 300 hours. The 300 hours is a bare minimum, assuming a compact area, not a lot of driving around, and friendly park authorities. I know that CSU will spend over 100 volunteer-hours just on meetings for the U.S. Champs!
Sep 20, 2011 4:29 AM # 
@Sandy: Did all Hickory Rocks volunteers report their hours?
Sep 20, 2011 1:56 PM # 
Key event personnel were asked to estimate hours for their areas. So, for example, I was in charge of the map overprinting, clue sheet gluing, bagging and sealing operation and I estimated the hours spent by the group. Since I didn't keep notes I had to estimate and if anything underestimated. Same for the control hanging and pickup and vetting. Someone else did registration, start, finish, and so on.
Sep 21, 2011 2:16 PM # 
I have never known a club to keep track of it's volunteer hours in these parts (New England). Maybe for this year's Blue Hills Traverse I will do that.
I will say I agree with clark, get club members involved for tasks.
Some people have prepared A meets via email. I think having many workers and meeting face to face is important to keeping people involved.
I know CSU has been doing this.
Sep 21, 2011 4:01 PM # 
We're pretty lucky in DVOA in that we have many long time club members willing to volunteer for A events. Thus, someone who volunteers to be the start crew chief, for example, has most likely worked start several times and possibly been the chief. This means that a whole lot of our planning can be done via phone or email - just making sure things don't fall through the cracks.

Note that those 571 hours that were reported were spread over lots and lots of people - probably 50 or so. Sure there was a core group that put in large chunks, but then there were lots more that had jobs either before the event or the event weekend that consisted of just a few hours a day for a day or two.

Not sure if anyone's interested, but here's a link to something I put together several years ago (so it's a bit out of date) just trying to list things that need to get considered:
Sep 22, 2011 3:56 AM # 
So I'm going to call something here. Assuming Sandy's estimate is slightly under, say there are 700 volunteer-hours required to operate a DVOA event, and perhaps another 500 mapper hours if all the maps are new. That's 1200 hours of labor. If the event is attended by 400 people who average 3 hours on the course for the Sprint + Middle + Long, this works out exactly to one hour of labor for one hour of running. Assuming we're a closed in-club, that is, all volunteers and mappers come from the group of people who compete, this means that in order for the model to be sustainable, everyone, on average, should put in as much time volunteering as they do competing.

So this sport isn't really about running with a map. It is only half so. It is about running with a map, and then helping out (or before) for an equal amount of time. And when we say "come discover orienteering", what we really mean is, "come discover running and helping out, because if you don't help, the show will stop". (It's not quite as bad, since the labor to enjoyment ratio has got to be better at local events, and perhaps close to half of the labor hours are reimbursed in some way, but after accounting for that I'd guess it's still a work for an hour, run for two kind of thing.) The higher the standard a club holds itself to, the larger the proportion of A meets among its events, the more skewed this ratio is towards working and less towards running.

And is this what we want?
Sep 22, 2011 4:12 AM # 
I don't know if it's fair to count the paid mapping time in that calculation, but the point is still valid. On the other hand, I also spend more time traveling to and from meets than I do competing. This is true for almost every meet I have ever attended.
Sep 22, 2011 4:26 AM # 
What I am trying to say is that I doubt that any successful sport has this ratio of enjoyment time to unpaid volunteer time. I'm sure it's close to 2:1. Within a factor of 2, I'd say the ratios are 5:1 for Street Scramble, 10:1 for a sub-ultra trail run, and 6:1 for say a soccer game.
Sep 22, 2011 5:18 AM # 
Pink Socks:
So, simplifying this a bunch...

Orienteering USA wants to increase starts.

There are two formats of orienteering in the US.
1) National A-Meets meets sanctioned by O-USA.
2) Local meets put on by clubs affiliated by O-USA.

And pretty much, that's it.

The problems with A-Meets are that:
a) It's a lot of volunteer work (see Vlad's post)
b) It requires attendees to travel around the country (see JJ's post)
c) The mapping/setting standards are high and getting higher.
d) It's not beginner-friendly. The longer courses are too hard, and the easy courses are too short for the travel required to get there.

An A-Meet is pretty much an event organized and attended by a clique of jet-setting perfectionists. And such an environment is not one ideal for getting a bunch of beginners and increasing starts. The average age of an A-Meet participant has increased about 10 years in about the same time. We're not getting new people... we're just keeping the same ones we've had.

I think what Orienteering USA needs to do is to introduce something else entirely, such as a national/regional chain of beginner-friendly "hard-core" events. Look around at the current racing landscape. We've got thousands of people doing terrain running (Warrior Dash, Survivor Mud Run, Dirty Dash, and several other clones). These are people who don't have much, if any, experience, but they come out one big race a year. Warrior Dash, for example, does pretty much the same event each time, but they do it all over the country. Instead of bringing the people to the events (like what JJ does when he travels), they bring the events to the people.

(Road Runner Sports is essentially trying to do the same thing: organizing monthly events in each city, and getting people to do it who don't really have any experience navigating around.)

If 25,000 people come to a single Warrior Dash race, some of them would be interested in a "dumbed-down" orienteering race, one with less-technical courses, easier-to-make maps, a much better enjoyment/volunteer ratio, and a much easier marketing strategy. For many of the participants, maybe that's the only time a year that they come. But for others, maybe they get hooked and come to a couple more local events.

O-USA wants to drive starts by getting more people to local meets, and then more of those local meet people to travel to a national meet. But what is O-USA's strategy to get more people to local meets? Just asking clubs to try to get more starts? I'm on the board of the US club that had the most starts in 2010, and I've seen very little interaction with O-USA in terms trying to get us even more in 2011.
Sep 22, 2011 5:40 AM # 
I've thought about these ratios too. I'm involved in rogaines and MTBO because each hour does more good.

See for some input/output ratios. See also for an analogous activity.

I agree that foot-orienteering is of the order of 1:1

We are lucky that "enough" volunteers vote with their hearts not their heads. They volunteer because they DON'T realise how much time it's going to take, heh heh.
Sep 22, 2011 6:00 AM # 
There! Isn't it amazing how you can twist almost any thread round to your favourite hobby-horse:-))
Sep 22, 2011 11:23 AM # 
While I hadn't done the math for the upcoming CSU A-meet - the SML Champs (though I'm confident we have spent more than 100 man-hours in meetings alone), I have reflected on the volunteer to competition ratio for local meets and scalability.

In June 2011, I set a local meet at which I had help for registration and control pickup; I worked alone for course design, setting, map printing, results, etc. It rained heavily the day of the event, and only 34 doughty people came out to compete; the ratio of volunteer to competitor time was nearly 1.

I think that with both A-meets and local meets, it is important for us to find ways to minimize volunteer cost without reducing event quality. At NEOC and CSU local meets, the controls for shorter advanced courses are often a subset of the longest - so you generally set WYO and either Red or Blue. This is an acceptable compromise for a local meet. E-punching has also helped reduce volunteer workload, particularly for computing results and managing start and finish times.

Foot-orienteering doesn't have to be 1:1. Assume the map is a sunk cost, a capital investment. Many aspects of volunteering are constant with respect to attendees. At an A-meet, course setting only becomes more costly if the number of competitors is very large. Designing two green courses is only slightly more expensive than designing one; course setting and vetting is basically constant. To maximize the competitor:volunteer time ratio, we need to minimize volunteer costs that increase with competitor numbers and pump as many competitors through the events as possible.
Sep 22, 2011 12:17 PM # 
For a local meet, ignoring the map, scalability goes as:
- Course design, vetting, setting, and pickup (constant)
- Map printing (constant)
- Meet day volunteers (linear)
- Publicity (linear)

Publicity is definitely non-linear - a decent model for attendance might be a polynomial on the log of publicity - but there is a causal relationship in that more publicity yields more participants. Publicity suffers from diminishing marginal utility - the first places you advertise (club website, AP) will bring in the most additional competitors. Doubling the effort expended on publicity should less than double the number of competitors, assuming intelligent prioritization of publicity effort.

Based on my experience, assuming the organizers live near the event site, the first two terms can be as low as 30-40 hours per event. The meet-day process can be streamlined by a club so perhaps 10-20 hours will suffice. With 20 hours of publicity and 1 hour per competitor, only 80 competitors are needed to break even. With veteran course setters and minimal publicity, the workload might be reduced further, to 40-50 hours. Is it realistic to think that local meet competition time might exceed 1 hour per competitor, e.g. if a supplementary course (say a sprint) or training exercise were offered? Or, is it the time-scale of physical activity for most people?

For an A-meet, course design is very expensive. However, the meet day volunteers vary little between meets. In all but a few cases, the start crew is the same everywhere. An experienced A-meet crew on paper should be able to run the regular aspects - registration, start/finish, results, parking - with minimal preparation. I think decentralized authority introduces redundancy; a single meet director (or two) making decisions about prizes, transportation, and all the fine details and then presenting their decisions to a group (if such oversight is deemed necessary) minimizes cost. Committee action is painfully slow.

Finally, what resources exist for disseminating information from more experienced clubs (e.g. DVOA, BAOC) to less? How can lessons be passed on?
Sep 22, 2011 12:34 PM # 
An interesting observation: the most recent event I was involved with from the organizing side, and the next one that I will be, are both pretty good in terms of the O:V ratio. Neither is aimed at a beginner target audience: the Wicked Hard Night-O and the Hudson Highlander. That's not to say that they are a good model, it may just mean that I strategically choose events to help out with that can be done with minimal work.
Sep 22, 2011 12:53 PM # 
@JJ: You're also good at organizing events that take a long time to race. Ninety minutes winning time on the WHNO and 3 hours on the Highlander basically guarantees a high competitor:volunteer time ratio. Perhaps organizing lots of long races is a viable course; while satisfaction is not solely related to running time, I definitely enjoy a course like the WHNO more than a 15-20 minute sprint.
Sep 22, 2011 1:03 PM # 
They are also single-course events (with shorter options that consist of subsets of the full thing).
Sep 22, 2011 1:19 PM # 
The problem is there are so few local participants. If we had 500 active orienteers in HVO-land we could have local leagues and events practically every week without huge amounts of volunteering per person – and a whole lot less travel time.

To get to ten times as many orienteers, we do perhaps need to go via PinkSocks' model. But once there it is potentially sustainable.
Sep 22, 2011 2:44 PM # 
Yes, it's a chicken and egg, and looks like the egg has won. It's there and it's not hatching.
Sep 22, 2011 4:07 PM # 
I'm not sure that's completely fair. At some point there were no orienteers and the sport grew. It's just it got to a stage of complacency... or pseudo-sufficiency.
Sep 22, 2011 4:18 PM # 
T/D wrote: The higher the standard a club holds itself to, the larger the proportion of A meets among its events, the more skewed this ratio is towards working and less towards running.

That is interesting because GHO went from hosting 3-4 "A" meets a year to only one weekend of "A" meets every 3-4 years...and our race participation, programs and membership, revenue and 'standards' have continued to climb.
Sep 22, 2011 4:45 PM # 
I appreciate Vladimir’s refrain, but I don’t see a solution or the point of this line of argument.

OK—yes, orienteering requires a lot of labor to achieve baseline quality. Quality acceptable to the median participant. Yes, it is a closed system, where that labor comes from within the sport.

The entreaty (hope, dream, fantasy) is that the labor will come from outside the sport. But, how? There is no indication that fees can be increased much from where they are, lest current participants balk. There are indications of price elasticity in this forum and elsewhere. While people may (briefly) bemoan technical failures, they forget about them, and it is the same old same old.

So, if we can’t raise prices (asserted above) and we can’t increase participants (OUSA strategic plan sputtering), how can we increase revenues and fund this professional labor, especially when there is no robust appetite for technical improvements or other enhancements that a “professional” organization might afford current participants. What that might afford potential participants begs the question of where those will come from.

I don’t think you can make the case that it is the lack of professional labor that is holding back the sport, but I would like to see you try.

Also, orienteering requires some administrative/organizational skills that demand a learning curve. Outside current devotees, where are the professionals going to come from? Who who is not an orienteer would make the human capital investment to build the skills required to add value as a professional.

And it is not a solution (at least not in my mind) to offer stipends. The opportunity cost for most people on this forum to substitute paid orienteering work for their regular professional or academic pursuits does not make sense on economic grounds. It may if you reintroduce affinity or avocation, but then you are back where you started.
Sep 22, 2011 5:11 PM # 
It's not an a-meet but what about GVOC's WETs? I think they've had a lot of luck with having weekly trainings, people sign up online so there's no registration, construction pin flags instead of proper controls are used. It's a low risk way for people who are new to the sport to get started organizing, usually approached as 'you're getting pretty good at this, you should organize a wet.' obviously mapping all those sprint maps took a while but now it probably takes under 4 hours for someone who knows what they're doing to set up a wet. In the two years I lived there the minimum number of participants was 8 (freezing rain!) and the max was 54 so definitely way over 1:1.
Sep 22, 2011 6:01 PM # 
I don’t see a solution or the point of this line of argument.

The point is not that professional race management organizations are the solution. You can probably take it there but as I pointed out in another thread, they'd be stupid to go into this business since it's a lot of work and little pay because the customer base is used to free labor and bargain prices.

My suggestion was that perhaps A meets aren't as good for the sport as they are rumored to be. While serving the top of the devoted base, they impose a lot of externalities that are in the end detrimental to development.
Sep 22, 2011 6:09 PM # 
The theory in my part of the world is (or at least used to be) that A-meets were something of a losing proposition considered by themselves, but they were what caused maps to come into existence that could then be used for local meets.
Sep 22, 2011 6:13 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Closed system.

That's what Clem mentioned above, and I think that's what drives so many of our issues. We try to do it all by ourselves, and for ourselves. And that's why we're not seeing many new orienteers, and therefore new volunteers coming up.

Look at the landscape from the past decade. We've seen trail running on the rise, geocaching on the rise, mud/obstacle runs on the rise, and urban adventure running on the rise. Some of these activities are becoming insanely popular (Warrior Dash has 700k+ likes on Facebook, more than Major League Baseball or the PGA Tour).

Yet orienteering can't seem to get any traction, even though our product is similar to a lot of this other stuff. There's this raging river of outdoor adventure activities, and we're stuck in this closed system stagnant pool along the side. We're similar enough that there's potential for hybrid-izing events, and maybe if we do some of that, we can get pulled into the current.

Also, orienteering requires some administrative/organizational skills that demand a learning curve.

I see mapping and course setting/vetting/consulting. That's it. Probably some e-punch stuff, too. Am I missing something?
Sep 22, 2011 6:23 PM # 
they were what caused maps to come into existence that could then be used for local meets

Looking at over half of A meets I've been to in the past say decade, the areas are so far out that the host club is lucky to put on a local event there every several years. The VWC is an epitome but most of what the large clubs do falls into the same category. A meets do cause maps to come into existence, but the location of these maps mostly then necessitates the 1:1 or 2:1 ratio to reinforce itself.
Sep 22, 2011 6:26 PM # 
Dealing with cranky people.

A-meets also provide goals, reasons for people to train, when there isn't local competition.
Sep 22, 2011 6:56 PM # 
...trail running on the rise, geocaching on the rise, mud/obstacle runs on the rise, and urban adventure running on the rise...

And now, a year after the first CMOUSA event, Corn Maze runs are on the rise...for only $30 ($36 on race day). Except that they've emasculated the maze by streamering the entire 5k course.

What, I ask, is the point of that?
Sep 22, 2011 7:07 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Except that they've emasculated the maze by streamering the entire 5k course.


So they're charging $30 to run through a cornfield.
Sep 22, 2011 8:14 PM # 
A-meets may not be the best vehicle to build mass participation, but it does serve an important purpose and we need to keep organizing them, in parallel with other methods to attract newcomers.

The A-meet type orienteering event is what dominates the rest of the world and it connects us to the international community. The A-meet is what our elite orienteers need to run in order to prepare for JWOC/WOC/WCs etc. The A-meets is what a majority of the already established core craves.
Sep 22, 2011 8:50 PM # 
A meets are an important part of the pyramid of events:
At the top are Championship events
Then A meets
Then local meets
Then training events

In Ottawa we host our A-meet, the Ottawa O-Fest, every year and every few years it's a championship event. We host 20-25 local meets each year mostly in the spring and the fall. On top of that we have technical training events one evening a week for two months in the spring and two months in fall and non-technical training every Wednesday evening throughout the year.

Keeping in mind that more volunteers are required for an A-meet than for a local meet or training event, volunteer hours need to be proportioned accordingly.
Sep 22, 2011 8:50 PM # 
If they crave it, perhaps they are prepared to pay more for it?

The problem with the present model is that the core is sucked all into volunteering and has no time for promotion. If the sport were bigger, it wouldn't be a problem since the relative amount of promotion required would be smaller. But as of right now, the egg is getting cold.
Sep 22, 2011 8:52 PM # 
Vlad, the problem isn't that no one has time for promotion - it's that no one wants to do it... but that's another discussion
Sep 22, 2011 9:18 PM # 
Looking at over half of A meets I've been to in the past say decade, the areas are so far out

Very true. I think this is a mistake that has been made often. One of the questions that I think a club needs to ask itself when putting on an A-meet is "will we get any future use out of this map?". The CSU events coming up are likely to be good choices in that regard, and Pawtuckaway and Hickory Run are shining examples of maps that have gotten lots of regular future use. But even in New England, there are maps that have essentially lain dormant since their initial A-meet: Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod, and the maps up near Dartmouth College as examples.
Sep 22, 2011 9:44 PM # 
promotion ... no one wants to do it.

True, because people who are good at it -- perhaps even enjoy it -- are not in the typical orienteer demographic.

If promotion involved software development, maybe it would get done.
Sep 22, 2011 10:37 PM # 

So this sport isn't really about running with a map. It is only half so. It is about running with a map, and then helping out (or before) for an equal amount of time. And when we say "come discover orienteering", what we really mean is, "come discover running and helping out, because if you don't help, the show will stop".

I've articulated the following points before, but I see no harm in reiterating them, especially when the evidence suggests that they appear true, at least to me.

What Vlad is articulating is an extra cost, above race fees, for playing in this hobby. Either you pay this cost in actual time and materials (whether Vlad's math is correct is irrelevant), or you pay it in guilt -- that incessant drumbeat from the culture that you are a lower form of life if you are not doing your share of the work after you have run a handful or races or join an orienteering-related forum or read a newsletter.

My contention is that this cost is in excess of the race fees (a real economist can figure it out if they want to), and that the market is not willing to bear this cost, or that it competes poorly with alternative hobbies. I know I can speak from my point of view -- I have a very hard life, and am interested in hobbies without this cost. I want my hobbies to be pure recreation -- I work hard enough at work and family and home maintenance, to name a few.

I would posit that the foregoing cost is a barrier to starts/market share gains, based on my knowledge (both as a consumer and producer), in the relevant market. My recommendation would be to look for ways to eliminate this cost, if possible, to make the product more appealing in this market.

My second point is that orienteering is not a virtuous charity (in fact, it is not a charity at all, but enables tax deductions due to a specific carve-in for amateur sports organizations, IIRC). It is a hobby. By virtuous, I mean things like disaster relief, organizations that fund disease mitigation research, and so forth. Hobbies are not things that merit volunteerism because they are not virtuous. They merit volunteerism because you love them, or it is clear this is part of the cost (peer pressure), per my first point.

For my part, despite being called a "stingy curmudgeon" by a USOF board member in front of my peers, I do volunteer for charities that are virtuous. Moreover, despite winning an award in the past for USOF volunteerism, the drumbeat continues that you need to give even more (some of us only have so much to give, especially if they wish to reserve capacity for virtuous charities). I would draw two conclusions from the foregoing -- a) orienteering competes poorly in the volunteerism market for volunteer capacity, and b) USOF's et. al. marketing of it as a volunteer opportunity is horrendous, to the point of actually being alienating. I have no recommendation for a) (it is simply a systemic fact of life); the recommendation for b) should be obvious.

My final point is that the cost for all is not equal, even if the time/materials may be economically equal for person A vs person B. For person A, it may not be volunteering, but socializing. Those in or near the social core receive this benefit -- perhaps it even outweighs the cost. Moreover, an additional benefit for person A may be the prestige of success. However, these benefits do not necessarily accrue to person B.

Therefore, it is economically untenable for person A, who is in the social core, and/or seeks prestige, to say to person B -- I've put in 100 hours, won't you do the same, if person B is outside the social core and/or doesn't care a whit about prestige. (That is why person A is either required to use guilt, or compensate person B with free hobby fees (as is done in my son's youth soccer league)).

The problem is that social groups are size limited. There are only so many individuals that can be in or near the social core. The core just can't grow out beyond it. (There are anthropological reasons for this (I don't have a reference handy, but google to your heart's content to prove me wrong if you want -- life experience and common sense suggests that it is mostly right)). Therefore there can only be so many person A's, and thus a model based on this social benefit exceeding the cost is growth limiting.

FWIW, all JMHO, and blah blah blah. I'm not trying to be a jerk by writing this. I think about this stuff alot, because I find it interesting. Its simply observation/opinion based on experience, common sense, and a ton of reading. HTH.
Sep 23, 2011 12:45 AM # 
In Wolfeboro, NH., there is the Muddy Moose. Someone goes for a 12 mile run through the woods putting out little flags showing the route and then 100 people go and run it. Often, they don't pick up the flags. Hard to run an O-meet like that. This discussion shows what is involved in running our kind of meet as compared to others.
Sep 23, 2011 1:14 AM # 
There is another reason a club may put on an A meet: to raise funds. Our small club is bidding for an A meet, so we can raise the necessary funds to finally purchase epunch equipment, for example. I'm pretty sure Tuscon and RMOC did the same thing in recent years.
Sep 23, 2011 2:10 AM # 
One thing that some other sports have, though, is people who really don't participate in the competition at all, they just organize. The one I've been exposed to quite a bit is bicycle racing. The people who put on bicycle races are, for the most part, not bicycle racers. A lot of them are volunteers. I'm not sure what motivates them. This is probably true for some other sports as well. Who puts on tennis tournaments?
Sep 23, 2011 3:39 AM # 
Something about this economic assesment of orienteering is bothering me - I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I think it has to do with the notion that volunteering is a negative "cost". I'm not as articulate as some, but let me struggle to try to express another view... Most of the volunteers at last weekend's Barebones would say they enjoyed their experience and learned from it (rewards of joy and personal growth). In fact, try to get a job as course planner at Barebones - jeepers, even I have to pull some strings to get half a chance at that job. And some volunteers were parents who don't really orienteer themselves and were happy to pitch in and have something to do while their kids were enjoying themselves. So at least at Barebones (where complaining is forbidden (which might be at the root of the "cost" sentiment?)) I think the volunteers in general "break even" on their experience, with reward being at least the equal of grief. The participation hours are a bonus.

I don't know - I'm probably missing the point. But something seems rotten in the state-ment of this economic calculation ;-) Not to say that the points aren't valid - I just think perhaps the negative side is being over-stated.

PS: list of volunteers (not including control pickup & other spur of the moment volunteers) is at For the record - 25 volunteers for 145 competitors X 3 races plus bonus UrbanO event.
Sep 23, 2011 3:52 AM # 
For Randy's Person A, volunteering was not a negative cost. Many people (partly by necessity) enjoy volunteering in various ways.

A big problem in the US is the distance to events, so one has to drive 40-60 minutes each way to a "local" event... so to volunteer for three hours you have to drive for two. If you want to make three or four visits to the terrain before the race, that's already 6 or 8 hours before you've done anything.

Gas is too cheap in this country.
Sep 23, 2011 4:17 AM # 
Aye - there is definitely a tendency to host events at close maps. Our far-away maps are going into disuse. I could actually run to "my" Barebones map in under 10 minutes.

One of the original (and long-abandoned) goals of Barebones was to re-discover unused maps. There was also a rule that planners were allowed only one site-visit. But that was in the days when Barebones really meant "barebones" - before it became a brand name ;-)

As for Randy's Person A and Person B. I guess I don't like Randy's list of what motivates people. Just two things? - socializing or prestige. I think that misses the mark by a long shot. There are many rewards besides those. And even some that might accrue to Randy's Person B. Most people I would think would be able to find some reward in volunteering.

I'm going out on a limb, but I wonder if the cost (in Randy's Person A&B) are so very high that they wipe out the rewards in his view. In other words, if we shouldn't be working a bit to reduce the "cost" of volunteering. To whit (is that how to use those words?) I would say start with eliminating the whining. Nothing multiplies the "cost" of being a volunteer more than having to listen to people complain. Maybe I'm off on the wrong tangent as usual, but I'd say it is very easy to shut up and not complain or, even better, to bite your tongue and just say 'thanks' even when the job maybe wasn't done so well. That has the amazing effect of not only reducing the "cost" of volunteering, but also increasing the "reward" - a pretty stupendous gain. And really just for being polite ;-)
Sep 23, 2011 5:44 AM # 
I'm with you, AZ. I think there are plenty of people who don't fit Person A and Person B. There are plenty of us who think it's fun to organize things, like being busy with some kind of technical/logistical problem. But I do think Randy has a good point about the guilt-tripping, and that there are a lot of Person Bs, and it can be a problem.

There are also seem to be people who volunteer even though they don't enjoy it, because they feel like the world will stop spinning if they don't, etc., etc., and those people say things like, "I know it really sucks to be a meet director, but if no one volunteers then we're going to have to cancel this meet." Which, IMHO, is the exact opposite attitude to take. I don't have solutions, but obviously we're doing some things wrong...
Sep 23, 2011 5:53 AM # 
So we can state the "Zissos Rule" which is that from the moment you invent a new, low-key form of the sport, there will be pressures to add this and add that feature, and to compromise on some of the founding principles. I can see this at work around here, the first afterwork rogaine had zero field visits, nothing at the controls, and scoring was on trust. Inexorably the standard rose and now pizza is provided to all at the end. The term "shoestring rogaine" isn't used as much now, funny that:-)) Should we be thinking in terms of "branding"? Oh aren't we naive.

And as for Z-level events, so for A-meets.
Sep 23, 2011 7:08 AM # 
jj, aren't most of the people who volunteer at bicycle races recreational cyclists? I suppose there are some who never ride, but I suspect the majority use a bicycle regularly. In orienteering, there isn't the distinction between elite events like the Tour de France and the ride to the local park, except for the WOC and a few other events. Many of the other workers are connected with local bike shops or sponsors, from what I've seen.
Sep 23, 2011 11:30 AM # 
Ok, I figured 'prestige' was being used to catch all sorts of feelgood phenomena, but maybe not.

There is definitely a sense of worth and a good feeling to being part of something and seeing a big event pulled off. I was a pretty insignificant and anonymous part of the LidingöLoppet organisation (putting fences together, handing out race packets, sorting bags, that sort of thing). There was certainly no prestige involved, but being in some small way involved in having 30,000 people descend on the island to run a few cross-country races was pretty damn cool. [It's on this weekend, by the way.]
Sep 23, 2011 11:55 AM # 
For T/D et al:
Sep 23, 2011 1:27 PM # 
There are plenty of us who think it's fun to organize things

Plenty but not enough. My point is that the in-club has a persistent mentality that makes things that are unusual and perhaps bizarre to most of the population seem ordinary. When some of the new converts say they enjoy the racing + volunteering package, we think great, that's going to be happening to them converts from now on. But the sport appeals, without marketing or "Joe brought me along"-type marketing, to a tiny number of people. Tacking on the volunteer load is multiplying that number by another small number. We have to do something about both of these numbers.

Bicycle races have sustainable entry fees and pizza at the finish, so comparisons with them aren't apt. European realities are also very different. I often wonder if the development of the sport in the U.S. went the wrong way from the start when the founding Scandies brought along the club-volunteer model. The model works well (sometimes) in Europe with community and government financial and logistical support, but that ain't how (successful) things are in the U.S. It's a lot easier to be altruistic when the government is backing you with infrastructure, funding, and, in Eastern Europe, free promotion/recruitment.
Sep 23, 2011 1:37 PM # 
Do all clubs want to get bigger?
Sep 23, 2011 1:52 PM # 
Do all clubs want to get bigger?

No. That's a big part of the problem. If you enjoy the status quo, unless you are an elite trying to win international events, there's not really much wrong with it. There are plenty of events if you are willing to travel, maps are mostly excellent, technical standards are good. There's only one problem. The membership is aging about a year per year, as Patrick proved. And barring major advances in life extension (Jon T), there's certainly an end in sight.
Sep 23, 2011 1:58 PM # 
There is no indication that fees can be increased much from where they are, lest current participants balk. There are indications of price elasticity in this forum and elsewhere

Well, I hoped someone else would draw this conclusion for me, but I guess nobody else wants to. There are plenty of indications that people in general have money to spend on outdoor activities (like paying $30 to run through a cornfield). I would strongly guess that a reasonable data analysis would show this segment of the market growing in sales in the past couple of decades no matter how you define the segment (unless, of course, you limit it to events held in accordance to USOF Rules of Competition on ISOM maps).

If so, perhaps there is a lot more to be gained by breaking the price model? You lose some aging stalwarts but gain a bunch of enthusiastic 20-year-olds. The sport won't be the same but it'll just simply die in about 15 years under the current model.
Sep 23, 2011 2:39 PM # 
Bicycle racing (in the US) hasn't always been like it is these days. A lot of my exposure was to the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, one of the major races in the US (and which was not held this year, for the first time since 1960, due to a failing building that threatened the course). My father was a bicycle racer, and for many years he was the only person involved with organizing the race who was. Yes, it's true that some of the others owned bicycles, but to say they were involved with the sport is like saying someone is a orienteer because they use an atlas in the car from time to time. Most of the organizers were people from the city who were interested in the event as a civic promotion thing. Chamber of Commerce sorts of folks. And they somehow got other people to volunteer as well. Bear in mind that this is much more of a high-profile thing than an A-meet: held in the same place every year, shutting down Main Street for a Sunday in July, live coverage on the local radio station, lots of people coming to watch who knew nothing about the sport. Compare with an A-meet, which happens once in a given locale, out in the woods somewhere, and there might be some mention in a newspaper. There were smaller races going on as well, but the equivalent of a local meet was a Tuesday night training race, where everybody showed up, there was virtually no organization required, and the race staff was one guy's wife with a clipboard.

Bicycle racing (in the US) has grown significantly since the 1960s-1970s, when it was like orienteering still is now. I'm convinced that one big factor in this is that orienteering has no gear to buy. When there's expensive gear, there are manufacturers of that gear willing to advertise and sponsor things. The manufacturer of a $50 compass is not going to be as excited about doing that as the manufacturer of a $3000 bicycle. But I've also been involved a little with canoe racing, which takes less to organize than bike racing, but does have the expensive gear, and it's not exactly taking off, it's at about the same level as orienteering, so having the gear requirement isn't enough just by itself.
Sep 23, 2011 2:54 PM # 
What is bicycle racing? Is that where you twist pieces of metal together to make chains and use the chain to make round things go round? There's lots of oil involved, right?
Sep 23, 2011 2:54 PM # 
I agree, at least on first order, with T/D's most recent two points: 1) that the European situation and American situation are not the same, and 2) (perhaps a different version of his argument) that while the current set of US orienteering participants may have steep price elasticity, there are other market segments, and pricing allows one to meet different parts of the market where they are.
Sep 23, 2011 3:33 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I'm convinced that one big factor in this is that orienteering has no gear to buy. When there's expensive gear, there are manufacturers of that gear willing to advertise and sponsor things.

I'll agree that bicycling gear is significantly more expensive than orienteering gear. But essentially, orienteering is a running sport, and there are tons of sponsors around for any big road race. Pricey shoes, pricey sports watches, energy drinks, etc.

If we're thinking about big sponsors at A-meets, it's not going to happen. But I also think what's into play here is that the average A-meet attendee is not your average consumer demographic. Not only is the gear not super expensive, but most orienteers are thrifty.

But if you have a gateway-to-orienteering event, with a lot of trail runners, road runners, and casual runners, I think it becomes more marketable. Trail running shoes, plus road running shoes for other training, would be more marketable. And Garmin watches, too. (An aside: one thing I have a hard time understanding is how Garmin has seemingly never once glanced over at us in the orienteering community, considering how well they are doing with us.)
Sep 23, 2011 4:33 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Also, and I don't think this has been mentioned yet in this thread.... free/reduced entries for volunteers at A-meets?

I have a friend who is starting to get into orienteering and other adventure-y races, but she also doesn't have a lot of money, so whenever there's an event to attend, she sees if there's a way to volunteer so that it's either free or very cheap for her to go.

For some people, they volunteer for a social or feel-good benefit. For others, it's guilt. And for others like my friend, it's an opportunity to participate when otherwise she wouldn't be able.
Sep 23, 2011 4:44 PM # 
Thank you Patrick. I'm getting very tired of hearing people complaining that various things can't get done or won't get done. Just about anything is possible if approached from the right angle. Seriously - who has more use for gps watches than orienteers?
Sep 23, 2011 5:15 PM # 
Slightly off topic on the bicycle-racing-sidetrack, but my team, when it still existed, could only be a member of USA Cycling if they promoted one race a year. Thus, the entire team of 25-30 racers had to volunteer at the race, and it was usually a production put on by 2-3 teams joining together. This may have changed in the last few years. But that sort of isn't relevant, because orienteering just doesn't have the numbers that cycling has.
Sep 23, 2011 5:22 PM # 
Pink Socks:
A follow-up with my Garmin aside...

I've got a 610, and previously a 405, which does the whole automatic load to the internet. (Yes, yes, I know the AP GPS app is better).

Anyway, when you edit a Garmin Connect entry, you can choose what type of activity it is. Here are the choices:

-- Street Running
-- Track Running
-- Trail Running
-- Treadmill Running
(I'd love to see the GPS tracklog of one of these)

-- Cyclocross
-- Downhill Biking
-- Indoor Cycling
(what is this?)
-- Mountain Biking
-- Recumbent Cycling
-- Road Cycling
-- Track Cycling

Fitness Equipment
-- Elliptical
-- Indoor Cardio
-- Indoor Rowing
-- Stair Climbing
-- Strength Training

-- Lap Swimming
-- Open Water Swimming

-- Casual Walking
-- Speed Walking

-- Swim to Bike Transition
-- Bike to Run Transition
-- Run to Bike Transition
(seriously, people are specifically logging transitions as separate entries?)

-- Backcountry Skiing/Snowboarding
-- Boating
-- Cross Country Skiing
-- Driving
-- Flying
-- Hiking
-- Horseback Riding
-- Inline Skating
-- Motorcycling
-- Mountaineering
-- Paddling
-- Resort Skiing/Snowboarding
(oooh, aaah)
-- Rowing
-- Skate Skiing
-- Skating (not to be confused with Inline Skating, apparently)
-- Snowmobiling
-- Snowshoeing
-- Stand Up Paddleboarding
(Take my wife seat, please!)
-- Whitewater Kayaking/Rafting
-- Wind/Kite Surfing
(But not real surfing?)

So that's the exhaustive list. No orienteering, no off-trail running. No other really good choices. I've suggested directly to Garmin twice to add this (once to their support line, once to an employee), and nothing. And there are other orienteers on the Garmin forums discussing this, too. Oh well.
Sep 23, 2011 5:22 PM # 
Yeah, that's a requirement that goes way back, to when it was the ABL (before it was the USCF, before it was Cycling USA). Every club/team had to put on a *sanctioned* race. For many years, the club in question (Fitchburg Cycle Club) was very tiny, in proportion to the size of the event.

I wonder what would happen if every Orienteering USA club had to put on one day of A-meet per year (or a two-day event every other year). Would people figure out easier ways to do it? Would we wind up with "junk" A-meets? Would clubs fall by the wayside?
Sep 23, 2011 5:30 PM # 
how Garmin has seemingly never once glanced over at us in the orienteering community, considering how well they are doing with us

I've seen plenty of Garmin banners at European events, and one at every rogaine in Europe that I've been to. Granted these are most likely local offices that authorize this promo, not the HQ; the HQ appears deaf indeed. Or very smart; of Patrick's list, I bet if you take the number of hours spent on an activity and divide the equipment expenditures by it, orienteering would be below all but one or two. (Equipment only; no plane tickets.)
Sep 23, 2011 5:38 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I just don't think it would kill them to add "off-trail running" or "terrain running" or "adventure running" if the O-word is so taboo. Can't be too hard to code a 44th activity type in the drop-down menu. If I still worked at Garmin, I'd try to pull some strings myself.

I bet if you take the number of hours spent on an activity and divide the equipment expenditures by it, orienteering would be below all but one or two.

I won't dispute that, but I'd think that orienteers would be near the top of that list in terms of percentage of users who use GPS tracking devices.
Sep 24, 2011 1:45 PM # 
This is a great thread and there are a number of ideas here that may help move our sport forward. I have been reading it and appreciate the time that people have taken on these posts.
Sep 25, 2011 7:00 AM # 
Are you getting the answers you wanted Ian?

Went to a 2-day A-meet this weekend (sprint + middle + long). From my knowledge of the people involved I think 6 people worked heavily prior to the day and a dozen on-the-day. Pretty small event, under 200 orienteers. I think these (regional championships) are treated less seriously than they used to be. Don't know if this is cause or effect.

There's an international next weekend 3-4hrs flight away. People are either interested in a quality hit-out, or they are saving their pennies for the bigger trip.

This discussion thread is closed.