In this report I want to share how we’ve been working to move our DE1 drivers to solo driving in DE2. Maybe it’s always been like this, but I have been noticing a higher level of impatience among our DE1 students that want to move to DE2. The main thing that we our instructors to evaluate whether their student is able to manage traffic. There are other things like knowing the course layout and what the flags mean as well as being able to drive the proper line most of the time. Being smooth counts. Demonstrating improvement is important and so is being coachable. Taking instructor input and attending class both demonstrate that the driver has a good attitude, this is just as important as getting around the track safely.
One thing that isn’t included in our criteria is being fast, but a common complaint and reason a driver will give when asking to move up is that they are being held up. I’ve denied a move from DE 3 to DE4 when the driver didn’t have any traffic to deal with because I couldn’t evaluate how the driver would handle the added pressure. We don’t want to lose a customer because they had a bad time, but I’d rather feel I am doing my best to keep everyone safe. If a novice is complaining that they’re being held up my initial thought is well, what you need to be able to do is figure out how to deal with the traffic since that’s at the top of our skills check list for graduating to DE2. It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe them, but moving up isn’t always the right answer.
Without the skill to manage traffic moving to a faster group could easily cause an unsafe situation. Instead of working on their car control skills like threshold braking and using the throttle to help balance their car like they should in DE2, now we have a driver in over their head, and we don’t have the spare coach to work with them. Pride has very little place on the track considering the possible consequences. Some of this is related to driving cars that make it easy to go fast thanks to their traction control which some drivers come to depend on. Ideally when a driver feels that their aids are interfering with their development, they should start to turn them off a bit at a time and keep working at the process – but who likes to practice when they could just send it?
“Avoiding injuries is at least 80 percent skill,” said Ted Ligety, the retired skier who won five world championships and is the only American man with two Alpine Olympic gold medals. “People who fall generally do it a lot because they take too many risks and don’t have the technical skills to get out of trouble they get into.”
Ligety was quoted by NYTimes writer, Bill Pennington, in his article examining how Mikaela Shiffrin has become the best alpine ski racer in history by avoiding the things that often derail a ski racer’s career, namely, ego, injury, complacency and outside distractions. As Ligety says, “The one thing Mikaela has in excess is technical skills. She doesn’t put herself in risky positions, and when she makes a rare mistake, she’s so good technically she escapes without a bad fall.”
Shiffrin prefers practice to competing. Per Paul Kristofic, the head coach of the US women’s ski team, “Mikaela never tires of process, of finding solutions to tactical challenges.” Mikaela’s mother, Eileen was quoted as saying, “She rarely skis at 100 percent of what she’s capable of doing, like 80 percent…she’s very calculated that way and always has been.” Mikaela herself has said, “I never want to be surprised on skis.” And Pennington wrote “Shiffrin much prefers practice to competing, which she finds stressful. Her idea of a perfect day is 10 (or15) uninterrupted practice runs through a racecourse.”
There is a lot more to unpack about Mikaela Shiffrin’s attitude and approach discussed in the article, but I’ll save some for another post.
We get the full range from having no idea what they are supposed to do, to those thinking they already know everything. To some extent it doesn’t matter because the focus on sharing what good processes are, and how to execute them. I’m happy to look silly (and have fun) doing it if it helps. As I wrote in the prior post, I like to use cornhole as an example of the importance for learning and relying on process rather than results. Sometimes I go deeper. For example, I love doing a version of the chocolate meditation (“a mindful eating exercise designed to help you slow down, notice automatic thoughts and habits…”) with an eraser because we can talk about friction as in tire grip and it gives the students something to literally hold on to when they need to refocus themselves on the fun they’re having. One of my happiest moments at the track this year was when a student showed me an eraser I had given out last year.