Circle-Track School: Practice With A Purpose
February 25th, 2013 by DavidP
Here in central Pennsylvania, the coming of spring means that every baseball field in the area will soon be full of youth and adult alike playing America’s pastime. Thankfully, when I moved from the greater Baltimore area to Pennsylvania, I found one of highest concentrations of baseball fields in the world, all thanks to Little League Baseball.
I love my Baltimore Orioles (and it makes me very happy to know that Mike Mussina’s home is only a few miles away!). There’s an old quote from the immortalized Orioles skipper, Earl Weaver, that he loved to use from football coach Vince Lombardi (with colorful language omitted, of course): “…practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!” This is, of course, from the Mickey Rooney look-alike who managed a .583 win percentage (sixth all-time), five 100-win seasons, and only one losing season over 17 years in Major League Baseball.
Maybe you’ve heard this same adage another way: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
I once read in Golf Digest that professional golfers spend tenfold as much time at the practice range as they do the golf course. What’s even more staggering is that only about one in ten rounds they play at the course are actual competition. That’s a ratio of nearly 100:1 of practice to competition!
Once the snow melts and the weather warms up, I’ll be at the driving range, and I’ll see many a golf enthusiast get a large bucket of balls, find a stall, and start pounding away. Alongside them will be a fellow sport who has only gotten a small bucket, but rather hits a ball once in a while. The weekend hack with the large bucket of 90 balls will only take 45 minutes to finish their practice, while the consummate amateur with the small bucket of 30 balls will finish in roughly the same time.
Both golfers will practice the same amount of time, but who is going to make the best use of it?
If you’re thinking in terms of efficiency, then sure: 90 balls in under an hour is quite a feat. Of course, as anyone who is a “range rat” would tell you, pounding balls doesn’t make your handicap lower. It’s about learning and honing skills, this practicing with a purpose, that allows for development.
A little while ago I ran a couple surveys on the iRacing forums that asked how often people practice per hour of sim-racing. As always, data is interesting:
From the data that’s available, it seems that once someone reaches a high talent level on iRacing, there is less of a need for practice time. Of course, this leads to several valid arguments:
1. Those that are better may not need to practice as much to maintain their skill level.
2. The fast guys (and gals!) are just making sure their super-secret setups are still fast.
3. They are making the best use of their practice time.
“Saturation training,” as it is known, is used to ingrain new instincts in the human psyche that over-ride natural tendencies that can hinder performance. It’s the old “break you down to build you back up” mode of thinking of professions that demand perfection. Think about it: there’s no such thing as a “pretty good” skydiver!
However, if you’re beyond the point of making laps, or have crested the learning curve, then pounding laps out over a session probably isn’t in your best interests. Perhaps you should be trying other little things that can make or break your lap times or race.
1. Green-flag pit stops. In every race that has had one, someone (including me!) has spun out, locked-up the brakes, missed pit-road, overshot the pit stall, or been caught speeding. Even coming to a stop in your stall in different angles makes a difference to how fast your crew gets you back out. Do what the pros do: put a clock on your pit-road time. Find out where you’re losing it, and how you can fix it.
2. Lap-time falloff. A lot of racers focus so hard on making the fastest lap in a practice, when they often forget that it’s the fastest run that wins races. Time your short and long runs (I do 10-20 lap runs, but most pros do full fuel runs) and find your falloff. Consistency is key.
3. Practice racing! Superspeedway aficionados already know of the value, but many emerging racers simply don’t practice enough in traffic. There’s a fine line between catching someone and passing them, and it’s definitely one that you’ve got to work on if you want to do it safely and quickly.
As for all the other little things that can happen, here’s usually what we forget to do most often:
4. Breathe! It’s the one thing that most people forget to do, simply because we don’t have to think about it. Long, deep breaths keep your heart rate down and your brain focused on the task at hand.
5. Listening to the car. The car will tell you when to work the pedals and the wheel throughout a lap. Obviously, you can’t drive full-out 30 laps into a run, so learn what the car is telling you on Lap 30. You might have to change your marks, reference points, and timing in order to run consistent lap times.
6. When in doubt, write it out. This is a nice little saying I tell my students constantly. It also gets used interchangeably with a scientist’s favorite: