[ARDF] Fun and Frustration

Charles Scharlau charles.scharlau at gmail.com
Thu Oct 8 13:25:31 PDT 2009

On Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 12:42 PM, Marvin Johnston <marvin at west.net> wrote:

> I am not convinced that high quality equipment is necessary; the equipment
> only needs to be adequate to teach the skills necessary to DF.  If someone
> is interested, they will obtain the equipment required for them to do
> better.

I agree that the quality of the equipment is not what keeps most people from
trying, or staying with the sport of ARDF. I still contend that ARDF's
retention rate, at least in our area, is similar to that of orienteering:
close to zero. Those that do stick with orienteering tend to fall into one
of two camps: those that enjoy walking in the woods, and those that want to
compete. The latter are mostly recent immigrants who have fond memories of
the sport from childhood. There's nothing in ARDF that is uniquely
interesting to either group.

I think we may have to deal with the reality that ARDF, like
orienteering, is a niche sport, and is likely to remain that way. The only
thing that might change that would be an evolution of the sport into
something that it currently is not.

 While I am certainly in favor of developing/obtaining good equipment, I'm
> not so certain that the lack of good equipment is hindering the growth of
> My suspicion is that relatively few people are willing to dedicate regular
> time to promoting ARDF, and that is the real problem. Anyone disagree?
> And if this is the problem, what is needed to get more people to devote
> time to promoting ARDF?
> I respectfully disagree. Would more promotion help? It could help bring
orienteering retention closer to that of orienteering, perhaps, but always
with the handicap of additional technical hurdles inherent to ARDF. I don't
see there being some mystical threshold of promotion that once attained will
unleash a flood of new participants who have been searching for this
activity. I think we (or at least I) need to try something different.

I spent more than a year holding monthly ARDF practice events in conjunction
with our local orienteering club. My efforts were tolerated well, and looked
upon with the same curiosity that might be shown to someone promoting
orienteering on a unicycle. I also visited ham clubs, and talked up the
events on the local repeater. Periodically I would rope a few folks into
giving it a go. They would comment afterward on how fun and interesting it
was, but strangely would not find time to try it again. A few hams
contributed equipment, and spoke longingly of having the time to try the
sport someday. Funny, they always had time to spend at all the regional ham

I'm sure I wasn't the best promoter in the world. But I don't think that was
at the core of why the crowds didn't form at my table of receivers for loan.
I was selling soccer to football enthusiasts. How is soccer finally making
inroads into American culture? It got started locally first, many years ago,
with small teams that could compete against one another, and kids
who learned from an early age to understand and appreciate the sport.

I can only repeat the idea I related earlier: Sell the sport to the
leadership of two local groups who are willing to make a small commitment:
to provide a minimum number of motivated participants. Foster competition
between the groups. Encourage them to bring in more groups. If we want ARDF
to "take off", then we need to launch it locally. And I suspect we should
plan on the sport requiring a long runway.

Most of all ARDF needs to be kept fun. If ARDF isn't fun, no one will stick
with it, including the promoters. Sitting by yourself, waiting for the
participants who aren't going to show, is no fun. If that is what is
happening to you, please try something different before you lose all

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