I’ve had some pretty amazing student success stories in the past 10 years I’ve been a riding coach with the California Superbike School but one of the most remarkable turnarounds came this summer while coaching at The Ridge Motorsports Park.
By “turnaround” I mean that my student, Chris, had hit a kind of road-block in his learning and was stuck thinking and stressing about his riding so much that he had lost all enjoyment and was feeling very frustrated with himself, and with me as his coach.
He was flustered and tense and making numerous mistakes on track.
“I’m thinking too much about my riding and noticing every little thing I’m doing wrong.” He told me. “Then I get hung up on it and I can’t let go of those inefficiencies and work on new things.”
I acknowledged what he said and was on the path to coaching him back to focusing on one thing at a time when he piped up, “And I’m hearing only the negative points you are making, and none of the positives.”
Seeing as he was one of the most stressed out students I had ever worked with I decided to abandon my current plan of action and try something a little more drastic.
“What I want you to do,” I told him, “is ride around for one entire lap and think about EVERY SINGLE THING you have learned the past two days. When you approach the corner I want you to think about your turn in point and your braking point, where you are rolling on the gas, when you are looking into the turn, what your line is like, whether or not you ran it wide or kept it tight. Think about everything.”
He looked at me like I was crazy.
“Then on the next lap,” I followed up, “I want you to let go of all that and think about NOTHING. Sing a song if you have too, hum, repeat a mantra or stay silent. Think of nothing. Just ride.
He smiled and nodded and said he would try and I thought I had smoothed things over and gained back his trust when I saw him talking to his coach from the day before. As I approached them I heard the coach say, “So what I want you to do is think about EVERYTHING for one entire lap of the track and then on the next lap I want you to think about NOTHING at all.”
Smiling about the fact that we were on the exact same page (a testament to our CSS training) we sent the student out for his session. As he left his previous coach told me, “he’s a little bummed out today and said that he isn’t jiving with you as his coach.”
Not “jiving” with me I thought? Hmmmmmm, time to step it up a little and pull a few tricks out of my coaching bag to make absolutely sure I sort this guy out and make certain he is thrilled about his riding (and my coaching) by the end of the day! So out I went on track to follow him for his “think of everything” lap and compare it to his “think about nothing” lap.
For the first lap he resembled his usual riding self, tense, making throttle control errors, steering it multiple times in one corner, running a bit wide in another. At the start of the second lap though I noticed an immediate change. His body relaxed and he was much smoother. I waited a few more corners until I saw an outstanding improvement and I charged in front of him to give him an excited fist pump to show that I witnessed the change.
Then instead of leading him like I might do for another student I dropped back to watch him some more, and when I saw another incredible corner I jumped in front of him again to give an emphatic thumbs up and I waved him on.
As he passed me I could see his teeth shining though in the smile that was visible through his visor.
At the end of the session I parked my bike and was just taking off my helmet when Chris came running towards me with an enormous grin on his face and gave me the biggest most exuberant hug I’ve ever had from a student.
“That was amazing!” he cried, “That was incredible!! That’s the best riding I’ve ever done in my whole life!” He was practically choking me he was hugging so tight. “You’ll never guess what I did for the second lap, this will sound so crazy but I did what you said and sang a song. I sang I’m a little teapot and it WORKED!!!”
“No kidding,” I laughed. “You looked like an entirely different rider out there.”
During the remaining 4 sessions of the day he continued to make huge improvements and completely changed his riding and his overall ability.
Sometimes you need to purposely do all the wrong things in order to really figure out how to make it right, or you could sing I’m a little teapot instead.