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Choosing A Motocross Coach

by The "Professor" Gary Bailey

A good motocross coach is a student of the sport.

The motocross silly season is upon us and just like riders changing teams and teams changing sponsors, sometimes riders decide it is time to change coaches or even decide to work with a coach for the very first time. This is a big decision and so it's important to know if your motocross coach is qualified. But the first question you might ask is, “What is qualified?”

Before I give you some things to think about or some questions to ask, I want to tell you what prompted me to write this article. The first reason is because I care. The other reason is because I want you to find someone who's qualified that can help give you the best possible information on how to be a better, more successful and most importantly safer rider.

A few weeks ago, I had a long-time student’s father call me and ask me when I would have time to work with his son again. When I told him that I had my hands were full with traveling and training Cooper Webb, he proceeded to tell me that because his son lives so far away and my calendar was full that they had tried a couple of the other motocross coaches much to their dissatisfaction. To understand why he was so unhappy with the other coaches, I asked him to tell me about who they saw and where they went. I wanted to get a clear picture of their overall experience and understand why they were so unhappy. I wanted to know what they did, what they learned, and how it was taught.

The answer for each coach they worked with was the same; there wasn't a lot of detail and his son was just being told the same repetitive “cookie cutter” techniques over and over with no explanation or customization to his kid's particular riding. The father relayed that his kid was never told by anyone at any of these places why he should be doing what the coach was asking. This got the father very frustrated and the conversation got me thinking.

In my 44 years teaching and helping people learn how to ride the number one thing for me has always been to make them a better, safer rider. When I did my first motocross school back in late 1969, I didn't have all the answers so I just told those first students what I was doing on the track. Then as I watched each of them struggle to do what I thought was pretty easy and straightforward, I realized you could not teach someone how to do a particular technique without them understanding why you are asking them to do something a certain way. If they do not understand it then they can only mimic it to a certain degree and they will never be able to apply it. To apply a technique you must fully understand it so that you can process when to apply it and where.

At that first school I realized that if you don't know why you are doing something, then even if you know how to do something it's almost impossible to do it correctly. So, from that first teaching experience I became not only a teacher but a student of the sport of motocross. I understood that the only way I could teach someone how to ride would be if I understood why as a rider I did a particular technique; and, then, in turn why I was teaching a particular technique.

The importance of teaching why as a teacher was reinforced with some lessons in other sports that I took: my first skiing lesson and again while working with a tennis coach. My ski instructor could never answer why. Her response to my questions was always the same. "Because that's how you do it. The problem was, she could never explain the reason why. I wanted her to explain exactly what was going to happen when I skied the way she wanted me to ski. I wanted her explain how it worked. But, she only knew how to tell me what she was doing but not why. She finally got so annoyed with my constant questions that at the end of my lesson, she just skied off in a huff without saying a word. My tennis coach was a little better because he could explain why most of the time, but eventually he got irritated and again I was without a coach.

As a student, the understanding of why is important to understanding what to do. So, I always tell my students to ask why as many times as they need: it's their time and their money and if that makes them understand better that's what's important. If a teacher or a coach cannot explain why and give you comparisons of what will happen if you try one technique verses another then in my opinion you have the wrong coach.

This is how and why I became known as The Professor of American Motocross and why to this day I study every race I watch and take hundreds and even thousands of pictures each race of my rider and every other rider to study what works on the track and what does not. When I understand why, only then do I teach what to do in a particular situation on the track.

Gary has been coaching Cooper Webb since day one

I spend a lot of time looking at the top riders and seeing what they're doing. I'm not only watching, but I video almost every race I attend and if I am not allowed to video, I download all available footage. I have used a video camera since 1980 when I bought my first VHS camera. I was the first one to use video as a training tool in motocross with my son, David. I got the idea because all other sports have used film and video to study their players to see what they're doing, so why not motocross?

Not only do I video every race, but I go back and study all of the top riders and the riders that are struggling to determine the differences. I feel that if you want to be the best you have to pay attention to every detail. After 44 years of teaching, I learn something every time I watch a race or study a video. I spend one or two days a week just looking at photos and video to keep up with the new style and techniques.

Everyone's a Coach

It seems like today everyone is a motocross coach. If your kid made it racing, then you are a motocross coach whether you have raced a motorcycle or not.  If you are an ex pro, then you are a motocross coach. Even if you're an ex pro who never made it, somehow you are now qualified to teach someone else how to ride fast. And if you are the local guy who wins all the local races then certainly you can be a motocross coach. And if you don't have a job in the industry or a ride, not to worry, just become a motocross coach. If you detected a thread of sarcasm you understand my point.

To be a good motocross coach there's more to it than just standing in the corner saying, “Get your leg up higher. Keep that outside arm up. Get forward on the bike. Sit here, stand there, keep your head forward and your arms up.” Sure some of those things may be important but what's more important is why you should do something in that particular spot on the racetrack. To truly implement a technique you need to know a lot more about how the bike works. You need to know how the suspension reacts in a particular situation. If the front wheel is too high or too low. How is that going to affect your forward momentum?

I read a quote from Ryan Hughes earlier this week that I think sums up my thoughts. “Riders and coaches think people will go faster by simply saying, ‘Faster, faster!’ But where, when, how and why do you go faster? That all goes back to technique. You get your riders faster by getting them to ride properly, not by the ignorant idea of ‘Go faster!’ That only makes a rider more dangerous.” Ryno’s Rules, Transworld Motocross.

By the way, I think Ryan is a good and well-qualified coach. I am not just saying this because I worked with him as a rider back in the day. I have watched him at the track with his current riders and I honestly think he does a good job and is a good coach.

Going faster is not about trying to be more aggressive and go faster, it's more about learning how to carry better forward momentum. It's the same in all sports that require getting from point A to point B quicker than everyone else … momentum, momentum, momentum. We can all say that that's what you need to do, but can you explain how to and why?

It's a common misconception that a good rider automatically becomes a good teacher. To become a top rider, whether locally or nationally, a rider must practice consistently and compete regularly to maintain peak riding form. His time must be spent perfecting his own skills. A rider that is serious about his racing doesn't have enough time to spend with students. A true coach is not necessarily out riding the motorcycle every day. He is studying the races and the other riders and competition for his riders. A good coach spends time trying to figure out how he can help his riders be their best.

Characteristics of a Good Coach

A good coach should know his own limitations. If a coach is good with beginners then he should coach beginners until until he has gained enough experience and knowledge to move on to more experienced riders. A coach should possess the ability to explain what the rider and bike are doing in a particular situation and the adjustments needed to go faster. Most importantly the coach must be able to relate that to the student.

A good coach can work with any number of students although he should limit the size of the class so that all students get the required amount of attention. He should be able to take every conceivable race situation and make a drill out of it. All drills should be tough and challenging but within reach and not over the rider’s ability.

A good coach should instill confidence and the desire to improve. He needs to be good enough to make the student realize their own potential and cares that they do. He needs to make learning fun and have a positive approach.

A good coach will not get discouraged if the student is having a bad day. He will not allow the student to get discouraged. If this starts to happen the coach needs to move on to something else.

A good coach should not patronize the student. Most riders will know if they're not doing something right so telling them they're doing good when they're not is not helping the rider. How can a coach be trusted if the coach is not telling the student the truth? Trust is important between a student and coach.

If you're currently taking a lesson from a coach, I want you to ask yourself, “How well does my coach meet those criteria?” If he lacks some of these characteristics you might want to question whether you have made the right choice.

Here is a checklist of things that might make you question the quality of your coach:

  • Your coach never changes drills and does the same thing week after week.
  • Instructs you to do laps and never really stops you to tell you what it is that you need to improve on or how to change it.
  • Stands in a corner with a stopwatch and yells “go faster” or only works on trying to get you to go faster but never explains what you need to do so that you can carry better momentum.
  • Always criticizing but never letting you know that it's okay to make mistakes. That's part of the learning process.
  • Never criticizes.  Always just tells you that you are the next star.
  • Singles out better riders and gives them special attention or ignores the rider who may be slow to learn. Ina group class, everyone pays the same amount of money and deserves the same amount of attention.
  • Spends most of his coaching time bragging about all the top riders that he's worked with.
  • Spends most of his time talking to others at the track while you're paying for his attention. Or spends time on his cell phone or texting on your dollar.
  • Teacher is never there on time or always makes you wait for them.
I want to be perfectly clear that I do believe there are quality coaches in motocross. But at the same time I feel there are a few who should not be getting paid to teach. So don't waste your time and money on an incompetent coach. If you're not satisfied with your present coach or if you're looking to take some lessons look around for someone that is dedicated to the art of teaching.

After 44 years, I have seen motocross schools and teachers come and go. Even with full-on retirement looming and all the time spent studying rider technique, there's still nothing like the satisfaction of heading down to the track to help someone improve their skills. The day I no longer want to study and learn is the day I will stop coaching.

Thanks, hope you learned something here and ride safe.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Alex Jaroshevicb October 31, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Very good write -up !

  2. Gravatar
    jt1 KID October 31, 2013 at 8:18 am

    1974 my rookie year in the 100cc b class district 17 , Attended your school in Manmouth IL with future stars david schumway the vanhouser boys and many others. David was on a 125cc Bultaco and much younger than the 125a class riders. We watched in awe as the took 2 big rollers called camel backs and stated they where going to jump them in one leap !!!!!!! It was an amazing site and changed everything that was once thought impossible. His starting techneques have put me up front since that day . GO PROFFESSOR

  3. Gravatar
    Joe October 31, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Gary hits a bunch of excellent points. I'm a vet and at my age I'm still looking for coaches. In fact the only thing I would also emphasize is that not every coach works for every rider(or person). While one might work well for one, that one might not be suited for another. I would also go so far as to say that some people need different coaches(or mentors) at different stages of their life. (hopefully that's not just my age showing through..) As Gary mentioned, you have to find someone for your needs.

    After watching my kids go through various sports, this is good solid advice for any coach, and possibly even any endeavor. The 'Good Coach' list on it's own is worth passing along to every school sports program.

    Thanks Gary!

  4. Gravatar
    mike October 31, 2013 at 11:12 am

    good one. thanks for sharing

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