A world champion’s advice to help all rider coaches.
By Nick Ienatsch April 9, 2019
When the second motorcycle was made, rider coaching began. Almost every single one of us has been coached, helped, and advised when we first threw a leg over a bike. I was, by my dad, in the gulley near the elementary school. That was in 1976 and now kids and grownups can go to a variety of sources for coaching, from state-approved rider schools in a parking lot to independent companies at a racetrack.
In 1995, Don Spina asked me to lead a new-racer’s school at Willow Springs on the Friday before race weekends. Two years later I was racing at the Las Vegas AMA National when Freddie Spencer announced his riding school. I re-introduced myself, as we had collaborated on several stories over the years, and told him I wanted to be a part of what he was doing. Twelve years after that, Ken Hill and I launched the Yamaha Champions Riding School.
In other words: I’ve done a lot of rider coaching. I believe in it because I see the results in our students and
Kenny Roberts Versus Other Coaches
Part of rider coaching is helping riders through tough spots, either after a crash or when they struggle to grasp a technique or approach. When riders discuss their doubts with me, I remind them that Kenny Roberts Sr. wrote that the only thing a rider needs to succeed is desire, and that Kenny could teach them the rest.
Isn’t that interesting? One of the best motorcycle riders in history—a person who could have an extremely cynical attitude toward anyone less gifted—wrote that desire is the main ingredient for success. If a rider has desire, Kenny knows they will succeed.
Senior’s quote flies in the face of first-person accounts I have heard about a certain rider-training group that tells people to leave the class and not ride a motorcycle because “they aren’t getting it.” Heartbreaking, as I believe in doubling or tripling your coaching efforts to reach anyone with a desire to ride, no matter how much they struggle initially. If a person is driven enough to sign up and pay for a riding school, that is the desire Kenny describes.
You can imagine the amount of times I’ve seen extremely hesitant riders achieve astounding success on two wheels, leading to my absolute agreement with three-time world champion KRSR. How many times in 24 years of coaching have I told a person they shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle? Zero. If they have the desire, good coaches must configure a way to communicate the necessary approaches and skills.
Spare me the “I’m saving them from themselves, they shouldn’t be riding” god-complex comment. In my opinion, telling a person what they should and shouldn’t dream and strive for is not a coach’s duty. We ask, “Do you want to ride a motorcycle?” If the answer is yes, then off we go at full effort with the belief in our students.
The path to making certain people good riders might be long and twisting, but we are the guides. Give them a failing grade if you need to, but give them clear solutions to the problems they face and insist that they return because you and Kenny Roberts believe in them.
3C: Some Fails Before Success
At YCRS, we have a Champions Coach Certification (3C) process that requires multiple steps with tests and video laps along the way. We fail applicants quite frequently, but none have ever quit the process because the failing grade is explained thoroughly and the necessary steps for success are outlined and made clear to the candidate. They return home and work on their materials. They come back and kick ass.
These candidates know going in that a 3C certification won’t be easy and that high standards will need to be met. In my opinion, this is a microcosm of rider training at all stages: The stakes are high, mistakes hurt or kill. We, as rider coaches, should never feel pressured into passing riders who are struggling, but we must outline the issues and solutions with encouragement for the riders who have the desire Kenny described. If you see their desire, meet it with upbeat, positive instruction to get them to their goal of becoming a rider.
Trackday rider coaches, this is for us too. Remember back to when you started, remember who gave you not just tips, but encouragement. We tell our Champ School students, “We have more faith in your success than you do,” because we have seen such astounding success achieved from extremely unimpressive beginnings. Someday I’ll do a column on zero-to-hero student stories but it will shut down the internet because it will be so long.
If you tell a rider something three times and they aren’t getting it, tell them again in a slightly different way. Show them. Relate a technique in another sport similar to what you’re doing. Lead them through the problem, literally on the pavement or figuratively around a piece of paper or chalkboard. Talk to them again. Show them again. Step up to the challenge of making their riding dreams come true.
Great coaches take responsibility for their students’ lack of understanding; “They aren’t getting it because I’m not teaching it well.”