Why I Coach
When we were kids we rode all over the place. Natural enough. It was always fun, and then we didn’t exactly get serious, but it became even more fun to get out of the house for an overnight adventure. We had a few of those, but in between those two patches of years, we rode as far as we could and used the local bike shops we found as our rest stops.
Some of them were cool, and some of them weren’t worth taking the time to stop at. There were enough of them that we could connect a 25-mile ride or so with at least three shops. Being kids we didn’t have any money beyond a few bucks so we couldn’t buy anything. This was pre-power bar days so the shops didn’t even have any fake food that we could purchase with what little we had. Our empty pockets made us more of a nuisance than anything else in most shops, and downright unwelcome in the one or two high end shops that had bikes from other planets like Italy and France. We weren’t poor by any means, but just kids who could grow up to be customers.
Those experiences stuck with us and when we opened our own shop, we agreed that whatever else, we wouldn’t be jerks. That doesn’t mean we gave stuff away or didn’t guard against having a kid or a bike rat taking advantage of us. This intention to be better shop owners made us grateful for our customers. We didn’t really care what you bought, just that you came back to the store. We weren’t always the best fit for a given customer, and as painful as it was, we did occasionally suggest that perhaps another store could serve a client better. We led a lot of rides. These were advertising and extra work, but we liked coaching. I have been interested in coaching since I started playing other sports. I don’t know why really, but it was always fascinating to think about how a coach fit into the success or failure of a team, and then there was the joy of teaching a skill that someone could appreciate and use.
It’s around 40 years later now. We don’t have the store, but we ride. The bikes are a bit nicer. We both have a couple from one of those other planets and they still make us feel the same when we ride them. We generally don’t stop at bike shops to rest up now. For one thing there are less of them, and for another, a coffee shop is going to serve up what we haven’t stuffed in our pockets for the ride.
As I changed over to racing my car instead of my bike, my coaching interest came with me. I started coaching drivers for my car club because I got free track time so I could practice my racing skills. I also sort of learned some things from the right seat of the car. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s a little scary, but if I don’t feel like I’m in control of the situation then I don’t get in the car or we don’t go out onto the track. Even on a track day when I am instructing and I can drive as much as I want I still probably only get two hours of driving seat time so even though I make it to seven or eight weekends a season and I’ve coached for my club for about eight seasons, it’s still not a lot of actual seat time. As I’ve learned more about how to prepare myself for the racetrack, I’ve tried to incorporate what I do into my driver coaching. Maybe that’s trying to do too much. A driver at their first track day has so much to take in. The learning curve is super steep, and generally they are worried about getting their car and themselves home in one piece. I have tried, in vain, to teach my students how to debrief themselves after a track session. The tools are a track map and a pen. Seems simple enough. I’ve sent pdfs of the track we’d be going to and asked them to print a few copies. No one did. I brought a few extra copies and asked them to bring a pen. No one brought a pen and the only notes made were the ones that I suggested.
My intent has been to give my students a foundation to build on. I want them to feel secure about what we are doing so they can learn more with less stress. It hasn’t really worked. I was just layering my stuff on top of what they were getting in the classroom leaving them overwhelmed instead of more relaxed and able to learn.
But, I’m stubborn and competitive (just ask my friends and family) and really like to coach so I decided not to give up, but to address the learning problem at a higher level. To do that, I volunteered to lead a classroom session on debriefing this year. I showed up with a stack of track maps and instead of one session, I was asked to lead our lower level intermediate group for the day. Not a problem – the day kind of flows from one session to the next and besides, the students had no idea I hadn’t done this before. I gave my maps out. No one made any notes or brought their maps back for later sessions. This is not a problem. I am stubborn but am only willing to hit my thumb with the hammer so many times and the maps became a suggestion. Things went very well that first day, so I volunteered to do more. I put a curriculum together so I could refer to it if I felt a little stuck. That didn’t really happen and even though I didn’t figure out a way to get the students to debrief with a map, its okay. I have a blast in the classroom and the students are giving great feedback to the club.
More important than the damned debrief in the larger scheme of things, because the track map debrief is an essential deal, I have rediscovered my passion for coaching. The club has liked my work so much that it asked me to take over our novice and intermediate driver education programming. I will race, but I will also get into the classroom as much as possible and use the experience to help me with my next big thing which is coaching leadership skills through what we do as racers to prepare and execute at and on the race track.
Why? Well, before we had our bike shop, I worked lots of places while trying to figure things out and save the money I would put toward its opening. Oftentimes the experience reminded me when I was that kid who didn't get any respect in those nice bike shops. Since the shop closed, and working, while keeping Reparto up and active I've seen more environments that are negative in nature, peopled by good folks who are so afraid of failing that they can't let themselves risk succeeding. Along the way I went to a fancy business school where I learned that the kid who wanted to have a bike shop to create a fun community environment for the people who worked there and the customers who found us, was on the right track. All of this has come back to me through a series of fortunate events made possible by some of my very best friends.
With a rekindled sense of purpose I plan to change the world of those I coach. There is a positive way forward for all of us. The track map is only the beginning!