Q: “How do I find and select a driver coach?”
A: First, I have a personal interest here, so be forewarned and take that into consideration. And there are many factors to consider when finding and selecting a driver coach, so this is not as simple a question as it seems! It’s a big topic that I could almost write a book on – so this is not a short answer!
Let’s start with options for finding a coach. You could do the obvious – start with a Google search. But understand that the best coach for you may not be very good at ensuring they’re found with a web search. Still, it doesn’t hurt to do a little online research.
Ask around. Post a question on social media or on forums (and again, the usual warnings with advice found on social media!). Ask other drivers, ask coaches whom they would recommend (if not themselves). At this stage, get as many opinions and options as you can, because you’re going to make a decision after you do more research on them.
Typically, you can trust the coaches and drivers who have been in the sport for a long time (decades, not just years). Hey, I’m not looking to spend all my time advising drivers on who they should or shouldn’t hire, but it does surprise me how few ask for my advice (but you did!).
Make a list of as many coaches as you can, then start thinking about whether they’re the right one for you. In the selection process, it basically comes down to this:
- Be clear on what you’re looking for
- Hire the right coach for you – it is critical that they fit with you and your needs
When considering which coach is right for you, you might think that the obvious place to start is the cost and what you have to invest. And I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I think that is the wrong place to begin (even though I believe it’s an important factor to consider).
The most important thing is whether the coach is the right fit for you. So, start by taking the time to really think about what you want to achieve from the coaching.
Do you want someone to be in the car with you? Use data and video? (What “tools” do you have to help the coach do their job? Do you have 2-way radio communication, data and/or video?) Do you need help with your mental game? Do you want a coach to provide other training resources? Do you need help with your career, with car setup, or something else?
Do you want the coach to drive your car? Some coaches are overly-eager to drive your car. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there are some for whom that might be their main motivation for coaching you. They’re really frustrated, “under-employed” drivers who are coaching to make money, while doing everything they can to drive more. I recommend staying away from coaches who put driving your car near the top of the list of ways to help you improve. If you ask, “How will you help me improve?,” and one of the early responses is, “I’ll drive some laps in your car and you can either watch and learn from me, or you can see what my data and video looks like,” go elsewhere. The coach’s motivation is wrong. Their priorities are wrong. The priority should be on you driving, not them.
Ask a potential coach what got them into coaching. Take your time to understand the real reason, and not just the first answer they provide. It’s no different from interviewing someone for a job. You have to listen for the meaning between the words that are said. You want a coach who is motivated by helping you. Look for a coach who loves to help people.
A coach’s own driving skills and experience have little to do with how well they will be able to help you. Some of the best coaches I know do not have tons of driving/racing experience, and haven’t won multiple championships. It helps if they have some relevant experience so they can empathize with you and understand your challenges, but it’s not a requirement. Personally, I would take a coach who is motivated to do what it takes to help you over one with multiple championships as a driver. Remember, you’re hiring a coach, not a driver.
A coach should have a basic understanding and experience level with the type of car you’re driving, but again, they don’t have to have driven it. If you drive an open-wheel car, for example, a coach with some open-wheel experience is a benefit, but not a requirement.
It’s critical to be honest with yourself about the kind of help you want from a coach. If your mental focus is a challenge for you, then look for a coach with a proven ability to help in that area. If you want to understand data better, then look for a coach with strong data skills. If you want someone to tell you about the nuances of a specific track, then use that as your main criteria in selecting a coach. Is it physical driving techniques you’re looking to improve? Some coaches are stronger in one area than another, so as part of your interviewing process, find out what that is.
In addition to these coaching skills, fit is critical. By that, I mean some coaches communicate and get along with some drivers better than others. Consider what personality type or teacher has worked best with you in the past, even in other activities. Do you want someone to be tough on you, or are you looking for a more subtle approach? One is no better than another, just different. Are you looking for a supportive kind of relationship, or for someone who will knock you down before building you back up again? Do you want a coach to be pushy and aggressive, or are you okay with taking the lead on some things.
How do you best like to be communicated with? Are you a more verbal person, a visual person, or someone who prefers to experience things first before you fully understand them? Some coaches have a tendency to use one communication style, while others are more flexible in their approach. Ask about that. Understand how they pace their coaching. Some just dump everything they have all at once on you, while others have a more strategic approach, adapting the pacing of the coaching to suit you.
Are you looking for a coach or an instructor? Be clear on what you want and need. An instructor will tell you what to do, and a coach will draw out what you already know, while helping you learn things that will stick with you for a long time. Do you want to be told what to do, or learn how to do something?
How much time do you have to invest in a coach? Are you looking for a quick fix or a long-term solution? That doesn’t mean the coach needs to be with you long-term, but are you looking to truly learn, or just quickly shave a few tenths or seconds off your lap times? See, there’s a big difference between someone who will tell you what to do, and another who will help you learn what to do. It’s the old “Teach a man to fish…” kind of thing. If you’re looking for a quick fix, then having someone tell you what to do is okay. But if you want to learn, so that you don’t need to rely on someone to tell you what to do over and over again, then look for a different coach. A good coach, in a couple of days, can give you the tools that you can apply at any time, at any track; a not-so-good coach might find you some lap time, but only because they told you to “do this,” and you’re unlikely to be able to do that on your own in the future.
There are some people who call themselves coaches who are more interested in how much money they can make from you, so it’s in their best interest to keep working with you as long as possible. Telling you what to do, rather than helping you learn what to do, provides job security for them. On the other hand, there are coaches who can help you learn more in two days than someone else will in a season. Again, do what you can to understand the true motivation a coach has, and whether they’re a teacher/instructor or a coach.
This is related to cost, obviously. Some coaches will appear to be less expensive in the beginning, but will end up costing you more in the long run. For example, one coach charges more up front, but helps you learn more and how to figure things out on your own so you don’t have to rely on them in the future. Another coach might be less expensive, but just tells you what to do (often telling you to copy what they do when they drive your car), and therefore you need them to keep telling you what to do. It seems less expensive up front, but may cost more in the long run.
The advice of “You pay for what you get” applies to coaches… typically, but not always. There are coaches who charge more, but do less; there are some who charge less and deliver more. But most often the best coaches will charge more. If you find a “bargain” price on a coach, well, you know what that probably means.
Also, look at how the coaches structure their fees. Some charge less per day, but add on all sorts of expenses; others include everything as part of their day rate. That’s what I do, as it makes it simpler for you and me. But that’s not for everyone.
Geography might be a consideration, as hiring a “local” coach might save in travel expenses. But again, you might not get as much from that local coach, so there’s a false sense of economy.
Look at a coach’s past results, and not just the ones they advertise and talk about. Dig around a little. When I read reviews of a book or product online, I read the “bad” reviews first. Why? Because they often tell me what I need to learn more about. If you find a driver who had a bad experience with a coach you’re considering, find out why. It might be that the reason had as much or more to do with the driver than it did the coach, but at least you know.
Ask for referrals from your prospective coach. This is no different from hiring someone for a job.
A coach’s reputation should be part of the decision-making process. The key is to understand why a coach has a certain reputation. Is it deserved, whether good or bad? Is it something on your list of considerations?
Ultimately, start with your purpose in looking for help, then find out what a coach’s motivation is (this is probably the most important), what their past results have been, whether they’ll fit with your personality style, and finally whether this person will fit your time and financial budget.
Finally, Michael Zimicki (a great coach) and I talked a lot about this very topic in Speed Secrets Podcast #35 – you can listen to it here. I highly recommend listening to what Michael has to say.