Motivating a 6-Year Old…

Is like herding cats.  What worked yesterday is worthless today.

My daughter is six.  Being a racing enthusiast since about that age and having parents that wouldn’t (maybe couldn’t is a better word) buy me a go-kart, I want to make sure that my little girl has the opportunity to try out this racing gig early.  She sees racing all the time, spending quite a bit of time at the track when I’m in the Formula Ford, and she was interested in giving it a go herself.

In our area, kids as young as five can race karts.  They are called Kid Karts in our local club.  50 cubic centimeters of two-stroke fury and a carburetor with an intake opening smaller than a dime.  The karts weigh 150 pounds with driver (and the kids weigh nearly 100 pounds by themselves once they’ve got all the required safety gear on) and everyone uses the same specified sprocket ratio.

These things scream to speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.  You get the idea.  But when you are six, this beast is cool.

This past Sunday was race day for our local karting club.  As usual for a weekend day during October, it was cool and wet.  That won’t deter the kids, though.  Wet is a way of life in the Northwest, and this is like parent sanctioned mud-puddle stomping.  Mom preps the rugrat and pays the entry fee, dad preps the kart and keeps the stopwatch.  Today, first order of business is putting air in the rain tires and mounting them on the kart.

A quick cruise through the paddock reveals 4 other Kid Kart entries, 3 of them on rain tires.

I’m telling her about the rain line, how to tenderly massage the throttle and brake (rear brakes only), and coaching her to be aggressive but still careful around the kid on slicks… she’s not listening.  Start the kart to warm it up.  The safety gear… get on the right shoes, the chest protector, the rain gear, the helmet, the neck collar, and the gloves (all of this on top of denim jeans and jacket).  She starts to climb in and I put my foot in front of the kart.

Half the time she bumps the throttle getting in and my foot is the emergency brake.

Rolling starts.  You can imagine what a rolling start looks like with a bunch of 6-year olds on track.  The starter waved off an attempt because the kid on pole didn’t wait for everyone else (who were all lined up behind the kid outside the front row).  Second start is OK.

Things are jumbled, because we rotate who starts on the front row so everyone can learn what that’s like.  The kid outside the front row is the one on slicks.  He falls into second place headed into the first turn and my daughter slots in behind him.  And rides there.

The first lap time tells me that she can go 10 seconds faster than the current pace, but she’s not pulling out to pass.  The leader is driving away.  Another lap goes by… same lap time, same order, no moves to pass.  Now they’re 25 seconds or so behind the leader, all the kids patiently in line behind the slow one almost as if they’re in the lunch line at school.  On the third lap, my daughter loses a spot to the other girl in the group.  Sigh.  Going into the first turn on the fourth lap, however, she picks up two spots taking back the one she had just lost and getting around the kid on slicks.

She starts motoring away, but she’s got company.  The other girl got by, too.  There’s a race on and only a little time left (These are timed races that match the attention span of a 6-year-old).  She’s not as quick as the other girl during this race, but manages to hold on for a distant second place.

Me:”Kiddo, you could have passed him anywhere.  Why did you wait so long?”

Katherine : ‘Shrug’.  “I dunno.”

Now, how do you motivate a 6-year old?

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