A few days ago, I wrote an article about the importance of having a good driving coach, regardless of a driver’s skill level. Soon after, I received a reader comment which resonated with me:
- “Loved your article on driver coaching. My friend races go-karts. I wish I could help him more, but I’ve never raced a kart myself, so I don’t think I’d be that helpful as coach.” -Reader Comment
This statement could not be any less true. You could be helping your driver right now, and you don’t even have to be a racer!
You don’t have to be a racer to help coach one. That’s because a coach acts as a guide, working to ask the right investigative questions to help shape their subject in developing his or her technique. This does not require specialist skills to do this. What you need is an inquisitive mind, the ability to be observant and to ask the driver the right questions.
Here are some good example of skilled coaching input that prompts your driver:
- “Most of these cars have their brake lights come on at the 100 ft board. Your brake lights come on around 150 ft board. Why?”
- “Car number 12 turns in before the pole. You’re turning in after it. Why?”
- “You’re on the power right over the crest. Most guys are on the power right after. Why?”
How do become a good coach
Providing objective observations is a key coaching tool to gaining a better understanding of how to improve a driver’s performance. The goal is not to judge your driver’s performance, whether good or bad. You’re just pointing out what is happening on the track, and helping the driver properly rationalize it.
Good coaching input provides the driver with an objective description of what is happening to his car and his competitors’ cars. It also asks the driver why he believes the circumstances were that prompted him to act in a particular behavior.
These conversations are critical in developing a solid relationship between you and your driver. You, as the driver coach, are learning about how your driver thinks. The driver, on the other hand, is getting comfortable with being able to provide you with detailed and honest feedback of what is happening physically to himself, the track and the car.
How to read your driver
As a driver coach, each time you provide your driver with feedback, it is important to allow him time to digest what you have said, before analyzing providing his initial assessments. Each driver will respond on what is affecting him in his own way.
- Some drivers provide more technical responses, giving descriptive physical details about the car, such as mechanical problems with the vehicle that require the driver to change his driving style in order to safely negotiate the track.
- Other drivers respond emotionally, giving feedback on the level of confidence that they have in particular areas of the car, the levels of grip of the track or their comfort with other drivers around them.
Regardless of the type of driver you’re working with asking “why they have done something” should be an over-whelming constant in the conversations between the two of you. Each time that you and your driver exchange feedback, it provides an alignment between what the driver feels about his own of performance compared what is actually happening on track.
It’s an important job, but it’s definitely something you can do.
“Don’t believe me when I say asking the right questions can help your driver improve?”
–Let me tell you a story that might help.
A few years ago, my father came with me to an autocross that I was driving in. In the morning session, I wasn’t driving very well. I was frustrated with my performance, because I was around 1 second slower than the guys around me. What was worse was that I did not understand why.
My father, of course trying to be helpful, started to come over and tell me how he thought I should be turning into the corner or how he thought I shouldn’t be using the brakes in particular places.
Now, I love my dad, but he’s not a racer. He’s really smart, but he doesn’t know a lot about the technical skills of driving. So his instructions were not very helpful. Actually, his ‘feedback’ was just upsetting me, because he was just telling me what to do. Many of the instructions he was suggesting I should do were not correct, or were ones I knew would not make me go faster.
After my third run when he came back to the car, I noticed that my dad’s approach had changed in what he was telling me.
“I noticed that most of the other cars aren’t using their brakes through that slalom. When your car gets there, your brake lights come on. Why?” – Dad
It was a good question. There was no judgment there. He was just telling me what he noticed happening, and asking me why my behavior differed from the rest. His observations got me thinking. When you’re autocrossing, you can’t see the other cars on track around you. I didn’t even know that other cars were not braking and I was.
So know that I knew my performance was different from the others, I started to visualize about the moments before entering the slalom. Keeping in mind what my father had observed, there had to be a reason behind it.
I started to ask some questions about my driving:
- Was I on the limit of the tires prior to entering? I knew that I wasn’t, so I had more tire left over to use in order to go faster.
- Did the car have any lateral load placed on it that I needed to settle down from the element before I entered the slalom? No, so the car wouldn’t be unstable if I did go into the corner faster.
If I just were to lift off the throttle slightly before entering the slalom, I would still achieve the deceleration action that I needed to slow down while managing not to over-decelerate by using the brakes. I could still carry the speed through the corner, and exit the element faster. I decided that there was not a good reason to use the brakes to slow myself down before the slalom. That meant, I could go faster!
The next run, I lifted before I drove through the slalom. Therefore, I was able to carry more speed into the next element. At the end of the run, I found the second overall that I was missing.
My dad didn’t provide me any technical solutions. However, he was able to give me valuable information so that I could piece things together through of his observations. He was able to let me use my driving experience to figure out the actual solution, but it was his insight that gave me the needed information to get to the right conclusion. (Thanks, Coach!)
“So what’s the point?”
Of course having racing experience helps, but that not the point. Anyone can make observations, so anyone can help a racing driver improve. Your driver already knows how to drive, so you don’t need tell him what to do. Just be his second set of eyes, and give him information that he wouldn’t be able to see from being in the car.
At the very least, providing the driver with an coach provides a solid support structure that he can rely on for help. He knows that someone has his back while on track, and so he will be less likely to second guess himself.
So get involved! You’ve got some observing to do!