Track Report: How Many Hands Do You Have?

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Track Report: How Many Hands Do You Have?

First off – a reminder:  Buttonwillow DE and Club Race coming up May 19-20!  Register for the DE here, and if you’re a racer, register for the Club Race here:

Now, grab a cup of coffee or tea.  This is going to be a long one…

I don’t know about you, but your track chair occasionally catches himself being smug about NASCAR races that only turn left.  He is even more smug about drag races that don’t turn at all.

We’re road course drivers!  We turn left andright!  (…and road racing is nothing but being on the ragged edge through corners with drag races in between, right?)

Well, good for us, but the rebuttal question arises: “How many different lefts and how many different rights do we know how to do and do well?”

For the Thunderhill aficionados, how many would that be?  9 lefts and 6 rights?  For the Buttonwillow fans (of whom your track chair is its biggest), 8 lefts and 9 rights (not counting the esses)?  For the Laguna faithful, 6 lefts (discounting the kink past start/finish) and 4 rights?

If your track chair drives every event at all 3 tracks GGR visits every year, and he becomes adept at 23 lefts and 19 rights, has he “arrived” as a driver?  Or is GGR’s DE series, with its present schedule, inadvertently forcing him to lift early in the development of his driving skills?  Indeed, these are rhetorical questions, but your track chair is not at all satisfied with the answers – neither as a driver, nor as a person entrusted with the management of the series.

At this early point in the questioning, your track chair will confess to you, dear drivers, that his default mindset is to seek out new experiences – not so much for the mere purpose to do something new (as “discovery” is usually exciting), but to place himself in situations where he is notproficient, so he can engage in a process toward some level of proficiency, let the new experiences leverage advancement of preceding experiences, and hopefully be able to partner with others to increase their proficiency together.  (It’s more fun with friends, yes?)

He also confess to you, dear drivers, is that his other default mindset is that of a Coach, and being in that particular role of a coach to create and maintain an environment where the players are afforded the opportunities and encouragement to leverage past experience onto new situations, to prepare them to “go for it” without fear of repercussion, for each player to expand his or her repertoire, and enjoy the confidence and competency which results from their respective individual efforts.  In short, to “push.”

As such, your track chair’s third confession is of an ongoing questioning of the status quo, even of an already well-run DE program.  Does GGR’s DE series provide the best (a dangerous, wide open term) breadth and depth of a driver education experience that it can?    Does GGR’s DE series provide the most appropriate driver education experience that it should?  Reality says that we can serve some of our drivers all the time, all of our drivers some of the time, but not all of our drivers all the time, but we can increase “some” as the term applies to both drivers and time.  It is your track chair’s opinion that:

     …the world, along with its many HPDE programs, drivers, and cars, is continually evolving;

     …the tip-of-the-iceberg subject of the technology and resultant capacities of the new cars has completely changed the HPDE hobby (and the instruction thereof);

     …those choosing to not stay abreast of the evolution will soon find themselves irrelevant.

A coaching phenomena your track chair finds intriguing, after several decades coaching water polo, is that after the first few days of working with a player new to a team, a coach can observe essentially what that player’s role will be on the team over the next 3 or 4 years, and the particular attributes which need to be leveraged.  A coach can, at the very beginning of his or her relationship with each individual player, lay out a development timeline for each player’s respective career (and success) with the team.

The operative word here is “development.”

 (Feel free at this point, dear drivers, to let the following story about a particular player provide the tiniest bit of relevance to the development of our track driving.)

In 2007, we had an incoming freshman who was fairly conspicuous compared to the other incoming players.  Let us call him “Russ.”  Russ was physically larger and stronger, and used these advantageous attributes to dominate the other players his age.  Russ also had a couple of years of club water polo experience, another advantage over the other players who did not.  Coaches lick their chops when they see a new player with “potential”!

Was Russ an experienced water polo player?  Using a loose definition of the term, yes.  Was he a good water polo player?  Heavens, no.  He was a mess.

Russ was an unwitting victim of his own attributes. That he was bigger and stronger than virtually every other player in his age group, Russ could effortlessly mow everyone else over to establish position, and whip the ball into the back of the net.

Russ was (and still is) a wonderful young man.  Thank goodness for his love for the sport of water polo, as it was the first thread of the connection with his coach – a shared passion for the sport – which allowed a trusting player-coach relationship to develop.

The first milestone achieved in the player-coach relationship was Russ’ realization that he was not a very good water polo player, that his physical power seduced him into believing that he could forego the learning and proficiency of water polo fundamentals.  Without a mental focus on the fundamentals, Russ found himself making unforced errors and committing rules infractions – solely from sloppy technique.  It took Russ most of his freshman season to let go of his belief that he was a better player than he actually was.  It took that season for Russ to realize that he was on a trajectory of being a liability to the team.  (“Liability” in this case was spelled “b-e-n-c-h-e-d.”)  It took that season for Russ to shift his priority from the stat line of “goals scored” to a focus toward proficiency of the fundamentals. This accomplishment allowed Russ to be moved up to the varsity squad the following season.

The second milestone achieved in the growing trust between player and coach was for Russ to understand the importance of position(in relation to the ball and the other field players) over power.  Russ, because of his physical size and muscular power, was assigned to learn the center forward (“hole set”) position.  Russ could consistently establish and hold his position (posting up).  When a pass was made to Russ, he would invariably spin in the very “washing machine” spot he had established and try to shoot.  Making goals was difficult, since Russ’ defender was still between Russ and the goal (not to mention the goalie doing all those good goalie things).  Russ struggled with the reality that his physical power, alone, was insufficient in being an offensive threat.

Instruction was provided to Russ that he was not to attempt a shot until he had “turned” his defender and had established inside position. For Russ, this requirement now placed him front line to “real” water polo.  It is one thing to establish position and hold it with two free arms and two free legs, but it is entirely different to move a 160 or 180 pound defender out of the way, try and see with gallons and gallons of water blowing up into his face, and maintain control of the ball while 2 or 3 additional defenders are crashing in (bringing their own waves of hurtling water) so they can bury him before he can get a shot off.  “Bury” is truly the operative word.  This is the norm in water polo.

It took Russ his sophomore season to fully understand the value of position.  It took that entire season for Russ to become proficient at turning his defenders (who were fighting to keep him from doing so).  Still, goals did not come easy, but not for the lack of position.  Russ still needed to learn to exercise patience in the process of setting up each shot.

It takes a tremendous amount of physical effort to establish and maintain the inside position.  Russ, however proficient in doing so, wasted those efforts by hurrying every shot.  (“Russ rushed.”  Say that five times as fast as you can.)  Still weaning himself off his prior success against smaller players, it was very understandable (with a defender hanging on his back with one arm around his neck and the other arm locking up his shooting arm, leveraging body weight and leg power to sink him) that Russ would conclude that he had zero time to get a shot off. Unfortunately, his conclusions did not encompass 1) his position in relation to the cage, 2) his position in relation to the goalie, 3) the readiness (or lack thereof) of the goalie, and 4) how tied up was he by his defender, really?  His shots, then, were reduced to “get rid of the ball” rather than thinking about the steps of preparation required to make a quality shot. His 87 hurried shot attempts that season resulted in 36 goals.

It took Russ his third season of high school polo to experiment with patience, with intentionally observing and assessing each shooting situation, and with waiting to think through and decide what his best option was. His observing and assessing did not begin once he had inside position – rather, it began before he ever received the pass.  Russ realized that with established position and accurate assessments, he had (shot clocks notwithstanding) all the time in the world to create a high percentage shot. This milestone, this realization that his brain was his most important attribute, unleashed a scoring prowess that was far beyond everyone’s expectations.  Russ created 221 shooting opportunities and scored 122 goals that season.

The coach, in prioritizing players’ mindsets over players’ technical abilities and accomplishments, must always present one or more challenges for the each player to overcome.  It could be said that Russ, in theory, had the hole set position figured out, and that his senior year would be even easier than his junior year.

Au contraire, mon ami.

Wins, we all know, teach us nothing.  It steals our motivation, and in exchange feeds us completely inaccurate information about our true abilities and potential.  “Victories” over weaker competition breed overconfidence, arrogance, and hubris.  It is good, in your track chair’s opinion, to constantly look past the victories, past the accomplishments, past the horizon – to change our position in relation to it in order to discover new things, which require a concerted effort to become proficient.

The challenge presented to Russ for his senior season was based on a simple question:  “How many hands do you have?”  Russ responded to what he felt was a questionable question with an eye roll accompanied “two.”  The coach’s eye-to-eye gauntlet drop was “then use them.”  The specific challenge laid before Russ was to score as many goals in his senior season left handed as he did right handed.

Why was this important?  The answer was (and still is) “to change our position in relation to the horizon.”

The change in Russ’ position to his respective horizon allowed him to discover new opportunities with the ball in his left hand, new processes needed as a result of those new opportunities, new skills developed from those new processes, and yes, as many goals scored with his left hand as with his right.  For the numbers, Russ scored 120 goals as a senior, and those that came off his left hand were much sweeter to him than those that came from “the same old same old.”

Russ’ greatest achievement in his high school water polo career wasn’t his scoring, or that he was part of multiple league champion teams, or that he was an all-league MVP, or that he went on to play polo at an NCAA Division 1 school, but that he gained the everlasting confidence to intentionally challenge himself to change his position in relation to his horizon, and grow.  He could mow people over with his confidence.

Now, it would certainly be reaching for low hanging fruit for your track chair to sermonize a correlation between Russ’ development as a water polo player and the multiple and various circumstances associated with perfecting a lap at a track (and the opportunities provided through GGR’s DE program), but he won’t.  However, your track chair sees GGR’s established and successful DE program as not providing enough opportunities for our drivers to challenge themselves to “change position in relation to the horizon.”

GGR’s Autocross series runs a different course at every event. Nary a repeat.  GGR’s Fun Run program uses six different routes to approximately twelve different destinations.  The number of routes and destinations continues to grow as the program grows.

GGR’s track program is in a very comfortable state.  We know 8 miles of track and 39 (numbered) turns pretty well.  We teach those 8 miles and 39 turns pretty well.  We could, however (staying within our current geographic bookends of Willows and Bakersfield), expand our own repertoire to 18 miles of track and 95 turns. We can, if we’re thoughtful and deliberate about it, score as many goals with our left hand as we already do with our right.  How cool would that be?

We are already working on our schedule for 2019, which will include nominal amendments.  Your Track Team would enjoy your thoughts as they would apply to increasing the number and kinds of opportunities for our drivers to challenge themselves, as it is always your ideas coming from the front line that are of most value.  Many of your ideas will, in all likelihood, overlap with ours, but chances are high your ideas will also change our position in relation to the horizon, and the value of that can’t be overlooked.  Fire away to:

Both hands, drivers!

See you at the track!


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