Q: “I recently had the worst experience of my life on the track. Due to various reasons, I was forced to take on a coach whom I did not choose. Later, I learned that this coach was a much slower racing driver than I am (although I am certainly not a champion). He kept talking non-stop, giving me multiple pieces of advice for each turn, and bombarding me with information that seemed very strange. My head was exploding from the overload of information, and I was unable to build any confidence, discover the grip level of the track, or learn how the car behaves. I felt like a terrible driver, even though I had been coached by much more renowned drivers who did not give me this kind of feedback. After returning home, I reflected on all the coaches I had worked with in the past, particularly those who were most renowned. I noticed that the number of tips and the flow of words were inversely proportional to the quality of coaching. Is it a golden rule in coaching to prioritize quality and minimize advice for maximum impact? Or am I mistaken, and are there some very good coaches who talk a lot during sessions?”
A: First, I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. For sure, the best instructors/coaches know when to talk, and when to be quiet. I would not relate his abilities to the amount of talking, as they are two different things. Sure, there are some good instructor/coaches who talk more than others, but the best know how much to give the driver they’re working with, and not to give too much. I agree completely that this “coach” talked too much – any time the student is not learning, the coach needs to adapt.
I would also not relate the coach’s ability as a race driver with their ability to coach. Some of the best coaches I know are not the best and fastest race drivers. Driving and coaching are two different skillsets. Yes, having experience as a race driver helps them relate to the drivers they coach, but they don’t need to be World Champions. In fact, there is some evidence that not having the abilities of a World Champion can lead to being an even better coach. If you know too much, you’re not going to be the best learner, and the best teachers start by being great learners.
I wrote an answer to a question about how to select a driver coach on this Ask Ross page a few years ago. Click here to go to “How do I find & select a driver coach?”
If you’re in that same position again, I’d suggest very politely informing the chief instructor or event organizer that the coach you have is not communicating with you the way you’d like and need, and ask for someone else. Done the right way, you will be assigned a new coach. If not, then you might have to reconsider the event you’re participating in.
As a coach, it’s critically important to know when to talk, and when not to. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “Let the silence do the talking.” I often like to ask my driver a question and then just let it sit with them for a while. And when I do talk, it should be about what’s coming up, and not what happened (which no one can do anything about at that point in time). My words and phrases are as short and to the point as I can make them, and eventually they become simple “trigger words” that even when I don’t say them anymore, the driver will hear them in their own mind.
I hope your next coaching experience is lot more fun and productive.
This is a great question as I hear it a lot, and have experienced it from both perspectives. Coaching, and being coached is a two-way communication. Sometimes what works for the coach doesn’t work for the student. Whether I’m coaching, or being coached, I talk to my coach/student about what they expect, and what works best for them. If I find my student doesn’t respond correctly with their method of communication, we talk about it again.
I can say that one of my most impactful coaches over the years was that individual that “talked too much”. I loved his coaching, just not how he communicated it. When I asked him to discuss it, we found a very happy medium and he helped me become a much better driver. Be open and honest with your coach, and both of you will have a better day.
SEAT TIME! Find a way to get seat time without spending a fortune. Some drivers want coaching every day they track because it is so expensive to drive the Shelby. Get a Miata and get to the track more often, and push yourself and the car. There are no words that will give you the feeling in your butt that is necessary to have the confidence to enter corners with more speed and truly feel what the car is doing.
In one of my first SCCA drivers school at Watkins Glen I was in a group being coached by a formula vee driver. I was driving my newly purchased used BT 28/35. The lines given to me were crazy. I was a multiple winner in ice racing and basically was able to figure out the correct lines on my own but was advised by someone to do what the instructor said. During a session break I was approached by a driver who asked why I was driving the wrong lines. I told him that these were the lines the instructor told me to drive and that I knew they were incorrect. We went over the correct lines and he verified that the lines I thought I should be driving were more or less correct and that I should ignore my current instructor’s advice and follow his advice which I did. The guy was Bob Dugo. Bob was the 1973 NYS Super Vee Champion and held lap records at the Glen. A bad coach can ruin your whole day, a good one, like Bob can make it.
After that I attended several of the Skip Barber schools and was coached by the likes of Skip and the legendary Bruce McInnis. Bruce often used the “ask a question” method. Two questions he asked me over the years were: “Your lines are perfect, why are you so slow?” and “You could have passed that guy with ease, why didn’t you?” The answer to the first, I wasn’t driving to the car’s (Crossle 62F) potential, to the second, I wasn’t aggressive enough due to lack of confidence and underestimating the extreme capability of the Crossle’s brakes.. Two simple questions from Bruce made me a much better racing driver.
So if you find your current coach to be unhelpful, find a better one asap.
The best coaches will take the time to learn how their drivers learn first. I have had great results with minimal radio chat and also when needing to feed every reference point and pedal position fir the entire race. It is 100% up to the driver’ s response to the type of coaching input. Great topic!