4 min read: I am currently learning how to ride a motorbike and at 5 ft 2in riding a bike that weighs a quarter of a tonne is not as easy as it looks. Especially for the Module 1 test where you need to do slow manoeuvre exercises around a series of obstacles without touching anything.
One of the exercises is the U-turn, which is where you need to turn around your bike from one yellow line to another, as if you were turning it from one side of the road to the other to travel in the opposite direction.
I had a real issue with this exercise as it requires you to look back over your shoulder, whilst leaning the bike with enough speed and pressure to turn it without touching the opposite yellow line and without putting your foot down. If you put your foot down it’s an instant fail and the test is over, no matter how well you’ve done with the other exercises.
My instructor Tom is an advanced rider who leads tours all over the world and I’ve definitely tested his coaching skills, and patience, as a student! He started this part of the training by demonstrating how it is done on his own bike. I tried to copy his technique, but I was scared the bike would tip so didn’t turn it sharply enough and I ended up riding over the line.
Next he suggested I look over my shoulder and away into the distance without looking at the yellow line, because on a bike, wherever you look is where your machine will go. However, it was such a negative fixation for me that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the yellow line I was trying to avoid, and you guessed it, I crossed over it.
Then one day Tom tried something different. Instead of telling me that we were practicing the U-turn, he said we were going to practice stopping my bike in a box of blue cones (like the ones in the photo). This is also an exercise on the test and one I was good at. He set up two boxes, side by side but 6 metres apart and asked me to stop in one box, ride the bike around and stop in the box on the other side, and so on. Off I set, turning my bike and stopping in the blue box, then turning my bike again and stopping in the opposite blue box.
After completing 20 successful attempts, I noticed Tom chuckling as he watched from the fence and it dawned on me. He had spaced the boxes the same distance apart as the yellow lines of the U-turn, but because I was positively fixating on getting into the box, rather than avoiding the yellow lines, I stopped obsessing about the lines and riding over them.
The U-turns I performed, were in fact 1 metre tighter than what was required in the test exercise and if you had told me that morning I was going to achieve that by the end of the day I would have laughed.
On the day of the test, all I had to do was imagine that Tom’s blue cones were there, about a metre in from the line and aim for them.
The moral of this story is……
When we are trying to shape any behaviour by coaching, no one approach fits all. People are individuals and learn differently, so as coaches we need to use different techniques until we find the one that works for them.
Getting cross or frustrated with someone when they are really trying hard to achieve something is not going to be an environment conducive to success. They are probably already beating themselves up each time they miss their target, without you weighing in.
Just showing somebody how to do a behaviour is a flawed strategy because one way of achieving a result that comes natural to one person, may not be right for another.
And finally, telling them all of the things they are doing wrong is likely to give them a negative fixation, which will make them focus solely on their errors.
In summary, a better coaching approach is to give the person you are coaching a positive fixation on the next small progressive step that feels achievable for them, with the skills they have at that present time, giving them lots of encouragement about what they are doing right. Creating an environment where they experience lots of success in tiny increasing steps, whilst fixating positively on their ultimate goal, is much more likely to raise their game.
Finally, if their progress stalls at any point, you’ve given them a step too far, so drop it down a gear.