Motorsport Psychology

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sports psychology

It has long been known that learning is enhanced and made more enjoyable when the student is focussed, calm, confident and happy, in short when he is stress free. In schools, happy children learn quickly whereas unhappy children do not and, the latter tend to be disruptive.

There are five levels in the process of learning which we ought to be aware of, that knowledge does help in the learning process insofar as it helps us to maintain a perspective on our progress, manage our expectations and stress levels and, are as follows.

• Unconscious Incompetence (we do not know what we do not know)
• Conscious Incompetence (we are aware of what we do not know)
• Conscious Competence (we consciously think about the skills we are applying)
• Unconscious Competence (we apply the skills and perform without conscious thought)
• Mastery (when performing at an unconscious level and it all feels so easy and natural)

I am going to take you through a process with proven results which will provide you with the means to learn a race track prior to ever driving it and to be on the pace when you arrive at a race track for the first time. This process is one developed by myself and my son Philip a former kart racer and A.R.K.S. instructor and, has been tried, tested and proven by GT3 racer and RDA student Chris Dymond as component part of his race preparation. All you require is your own determination to succeed and the power of your mind. This technique has been used to great effect with a number of car and kart racers.

You arrive at a race track you have never seen, you hope that you will get somewhere close to the pace at some point, the question is, how are you planning to do it? Or are you hoping it will happen.

To begin with you need to be more positive than merely hoping, tell yourself it can be done and, you are going to do it, that question however remains, how is it done?

To begin with you will need to have a basic understanding of how we human beings learn, which involves metaphorical templates or patterns in your unconscious mind, by which I mean, your unconscious mind is constantly evaluating the information fed into it by your eyes and ears and other sensory organs of which more at a future date. Now as this information is being sifted, your unconscious mind is searching for and identifying similar patterns which it has already stored from past experience and is searching to match what it is seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling with those stored patterns.

You have probably seen one of those popular emails where you are asked to read a passage of text in which many words have the first and last letters changed despite the apparent jumble you are able to read the text. What is going on is that your mind (the unconscious one) is scanning the words quicker than you are consciously reading them and finding the existing patterns it has of those correctly spelled words, and hey it makes sense.

We also have of what is known as “white matter” in the brain, this “white matter” is million upon million of “Neural Pathways” which are the means by which we establish the learning of new skills, new techniques, new habits and behaviour and, also the means by which we modify and change those skills and habits. So each time we begin to learn something, a new neural pathway is activated and lights up and, as we practice that skill more and more the neural pathway become wider, deeper and stronger.

To put it another way, imagine an unbroken field of waist high grass. Now imagine you are walking through it to the far side, when there stop and turn around, notice the appearance of the pathway you have created. Done that? Now imagine 100 other people have followed you, look at the pathway now, how does it look, is it more defined? Is it wider and smoother?

The technique of creating that new learning as applied to your new track is as follows. To begin with, your mind has the track template in place already, that template is every other track you have raced at. So take a moment now and look for the similarities in those tracks, there are many of them.

When learning a new track, you ought to begin by finding and printing a copy of a map of that track, hang it on your wall at home and in the office, so that you see it often each day and, get that implanted in your mind.

Next, find some good in car video on you tube or perhaps a DVD, where you have a good camera shot from the driver’s perspective and watch that often and preferably in the late evening before bed.

That then is the easy bit. Now comes the really clever bit, the mental imaging and rehearsal. I want you to remember this, the images you create in your unconscious mind are, to that unconscious mind the real happening thing. This is because your unconscious mind cannot differentiate between imagined images and reality. That is why your average nightmare can be so scary, your mind and body react to the images in that nightmare just as you would should you find yourself in reality in the same situation as was dreamt. This occurs because the images in your mind fire neurological messages throughout your body which then reacts accordingly.

To begin with you need to relax by sitting comfortably taking a deep breath from the abdomen, filling your lungs from the bottom to the top, then exhale in a long controlled sigh and, as you do so feel your body relaxing and sinking into the seat as your lungs empty. Then breath deeply and slowly, feel your lungs expand and relax with each breath, feel the rhythm of your breathing. We are now going to create images with lots of colour, sound and movement of you on track from three positions or perspectives.

• From the trackside as a spectator (3 times) watching yourself
• From a helicopter looking down on yourself (3 times) watching yourself
• From the car (or kart) driving the track. (3 times)

And, we do this for each corner in turn around the track from each position and, then having done all corners we rehearse complete laps from each of the positions.

It is essential that you practice (image) good technique. Should you practice rubbish technique, then you will become very good at being rubbish if you see what I mean, (if not refer back to the neural pathways above – or give me a call)

See yourself now standing at the inside of the apex at corner one, and float yourself into that position and look back along the track to where you are in your car/kart, when ready have the car drive the corner with absolute pinpoint perfection, braking, turning in and and apexing the corner exactly as you want it to, then accelerating off the corner and using the exit kerb as you power it down the straight.

Having done that 3 times, I wonder now if you would float yourself up from the track side into the helicopter hovering above your head and when there look done on your car at its start position somewhere before the corner. Start the car and send it through the corner again, watch it, listen to it note its “body language” looking for under/oversteer, again we want perfect positioning and pin point accuracy. Again do it three times. And now, we drive it, or atleast you do. So from the helicopter I want you to float yourself down into the driving seat. I wonder, can you feel the pressure of the seat gripping your supporting your body, the steering wheel in your hands and those smells you associate with your machine. Start the engine and feel its vibration through the seat, pedals and wheel. Listen to it. Look down the track through your 100 meter stare to and through the corner and then, drive it 3 times.

I wonder if as you are creating these images you can feel the car/kart working under you, such memories and information are stored in your unconscious mind (where else!) to be accessed and used for this purpose.

Then as we said earlier image each corner and then complete laps thereafter, always getting it dead right , perfect performance every time. Although I have set out three practices in the process above the practice of a skill creates stronger neural pathways, therefore to make the best of this process you ought to be practising this mental skill regularly, I advocate 15 minutes each evening before retiring to bed for the night.

This process is in fact a sort of semi hypnotic one, some people find easier than others to perform, however be assured it does work remarkably well when the imaging techniques have been mastered. I have taken drivers through this process on numerous occasions, each of whom reported that they felt they had, as soon as they began physically driving it, driven the track in the past.

One driver having watched the video footage then went through the imaging process with me, he subsequently reported feeling a change in the track surface as he exited a chicane. He later confirmed that change in surface following his first race weekend at that track, having finished third at his first visit. I concluded that his unconscious mind detected the change in surface whilst watching the video laps and, then replicated that during his mental imaging.

Author: Clerk of the Course

The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!

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