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 coach your driver right now, and you don’t even have to be a racer!
Instructors vs Coaches
The first thing that we have to do is clarify the difference between an instructor, and a coach. An instructor is designed to help a driver with developing specific areas of his technique. How to brake, how to look ahead, how to read a track, etc. Instructors definitely need domain experience in the subject matter, because they are instructing a driver how to do something.
Coaches are different. A coach, in my opinion, is there to encourage the driver mentally, and provide feedback of what they see on the track. That’s because a coach acts as a guide, working to ask the driver the right investigative questions to help shape their understanding of why something is happening.
What you need as a coach is an inquisitive mind, the ability to be observant and to know how to ask the right questions.
How to become a good coach
The goal of a coach is not to simply judge your driver’s performance, but to be descriptive in what his performance is like compared to the other competitors around him. Good coaching provides the driver with an objective description of what is happening to his machine, compared what they observe happening with his competitors’ cars.
The driver and the coach must act as a team. By being able to provide the driver with information about the rest of the field, that the driver would not be able to collect from his perspective on the track, a good coach helps the driver to understand the circumstances that prompted him to act in a particular way. This allows them to begin programming good habits into the driver, or deprogramming behavior that needs to change.
These conversations are critical in developing a support system between you and your driver. The coach is learning about how his driver thinks, so he knows how to communicate to get the best information out of him. The driver is getting comfortable with being able to listen to the coach, and provide detailed and honest feedback of what is happening.
Always asking “why”
Each time that you and your driver exchange feedback, it should be to provide an alignment between what the driver feels is happening, and what the coach sees is happening. When you see something specific in the driver’s behavior that you want to identify, it’s important to ask the driver why they believe they are doing it. Regardless of the type of driver you’re working with, asking why they have done something should always be a constant theme in the conversations between the two of you.
Each driver will respond differently on what is affecting him in their own way:
- – Some drivers provide more technical responses. These types of drivers will give descriptive physical details about the car, such as mechanical problems with the vehicle that prompted the driver to change his driving style in order to safely negotiate the track.
- – Other drivers respond more 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.
Sometimes the reason why a driver’s performance is different from the rest of the field is because of a setup change that needs to occur increase the driver’s confidence level on a particular area on the track. Other times, it’s down to the driver’s mental programming that needs to be adapted towards how they approach a specific situation.
By asking “why”, it provides an opportunity to determine if something needs to be changed, or to reinforce a positive behavior that is providing an advantage. Encouraging your driver is just as important as deconstructing his behavior.
Here are some good examples of skilled coaching questions that can prompt your driver to think more deeply on what is happening:
- “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 ridge. 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?”
The questions are designed to ask why, so that the driver can begin to pull out the understanding of what is causing his level of performance to be the way that it is.
Fundamentally, your driver already knows how to drive, so you don’t need tell him what to do technically. Just be his second set of eyes, and give him information that he wouldn’t be able to see from being in the car. This helps him internalize what is happening, so the two of you can determine if there is a need for a change.
A driver coach is just one part of the team, but it’s an important part. Your driver depends on his coach to be a visual ‘safety net’, providing him with more information over his competitors that do not have this support structure. Although having some context in motorsport is helpful, your ability to observe and provide detailed feedback is one of our most useful roles as a coach. With practice, anyone can make quality observations of how a race car moves, so anyone can help a racing driver improve.
So get involved! You’ve got some observing to do!