Speed Secrets: How to Choose a Coach

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I October 28, 2014
This week, I’ll tackle a couple of questions that I’ve received more than once. When I get the same question multiple times, I know it’s important to readers. – Ross
As someone who’s made a living from coaching drivers over the past 25 years, as well as being a strong promoter and advocate for it in a sport that traditionally has not accepted coaches, it’ll come as no surprise that I have an opinion on this topic!
I’ll start by saying that there is a big difference between an instructor and a coach. Not that one is necessarily any better than the other, but just that they’re different. By my definition, an instructor is a teacher who presents information to you; a coach, while able to instruct, also draws out what you already know. If you’re relatively new to performance or race driving, it’s likely best to have an instructor. But if you’re more experienced, then a coach is probably more appropriate. As a simple example, if you know that you should take Turn 1 at full throttle, but can’t get yourself to do it, having an instructor tell you "don’t lift" is not going to help! A coach who can identify the real issue, and help you mentally prepare and actually take the turn at full throttle, is what you need.
Many people who are really instructors call themselves coaches, making the selection a little more challenging. It’s important to determine what you’re getting, and decide if that’s right for you.
The most important selection criteria is "the fit." If you and the coach don’t get along, it’s not a good fit. Not every coach fits every driver. Be selective – make sure your coach suits you, the type of driving or racing you do, and your style.
Many people think that the coach must be a better driver than they are to help them, and that’s not true. Was Phil Jackson a better basketball player than the players he coached? No. Is Tiger Wood’s coach a better golfer than he is? No. It helps if the coach has enough experience to be able to empathize and relate to what you’re experiencing, but they don’t need to be a faster driver than you are. Some of my most successful coaching has been when working with an AMA Flat Track motorcycle racer, and I can tell you that he was a LOT faster than me on a bike!
Next to ensuring there’s a good fit, I believe the most important criteria you want to look at is why the coach is doing what he’s doing. I’ve observed three types of coaches:
  1. Those that do it to stay near the track, near their next drive, near to someone who might fund their own driving career, or so they can drive other people’s car.
  2. Those who do it as a job, because it’s interesting, allows them to travel, and/or puts a little more cash in their bank account.
  3. Those who coach because it’s their passion.
You will be much better off with the third type. It’s not easy to determine a coach’s motivation, but it’s very much worth digging into. Ask prospective coaches questions that will get them to reveal why they do what they do. Look at what they do when they’re not coaching. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the person is coaching for their own benefit, or for the benefit of the drivers they work with.
Related to this is how much experience the coach has. If he is doing it as a part time gig, just how often is he gaining "on the job" experience and knowledge? Obviously, the more coaching the person does, the better he should be. Of course, that’s not always the case, but if someone does a lot of coaching, and in between coaching assignments, he is learning more about driving and his profession, that coach is likely to be better than one that coaches a half dozen days per month, and does something else when not coaching.
Some coaches rely on riding in your car to tell you what to do; some rely on driving your car to set baseline times and data; some rely on data and video to observe what you’re doing; some talk on the radio and others don’t. Some stick specifically to driving technique while others look at driver development more globally (engineering, fitness, etc.); some play a mentor role in a driver’s career; some are better with the mental game than others…  You’ll have to decide how important any or all of these things are to you.
Finally, the coach’s fees are a factor. It has to fit your budget. Having said that, I will always argue that coaching is usually the best investment you can make (I’ve seen this so many times). It lasts longer than practically any improvement you can make to your car! And from what I’ve seen from my own clients, it’s more fun to make the personal gains.
– Ross Bentley
Twitter: @SpeedSecrets
Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing, click here to subscribe 
Also be sure to check out Ross Bentley’s book, Ultimate Speed Secrets: The Complete Guide to High-Performance and Race Driving. 

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