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Deliberate practice
2017 Mattia Piron. All rights reserved.

  1. What is deliberate practice?
    1. Characteristics of deliberate practice
    2. Characteristics of training session
    3. Results
  2. Vehicle driving application
    1. Exercise list
  3. Further technique exercises
    1. Exercise n.1: Skidpad
    2. Exercise n.2: Oval
    3. Exercise n.3: Figure-eight
    4. Exercise n.4: Braking
    5. Exercise n.5: Slalom
    6. Conclusion
  4. Bibliography

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JAN 14th, 2021


What is deliberate practice?       top

In 1993 was performed a research study by Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, "The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance".

Is it enough just to practice to become an expert? Some studies done in the late 1800's on morse code operators showed that they had reached a plateau in performance: even though the operators continued to practice, they did not improve. After modifying the training method, performance began to improve again: the mere repetition of a gesture is not enough to guarantee an improvement in performance, but method is needed. This method is called deliberate practice.


Characteristics of deliberate practice       top

The conditions for optimal learning are:

  1. The student's motivation in wanting to perform above the norm;
  2. Training sessions specifically designed according to the student's abilities, so that the exercise can be fully understood after a short period;
  3. The need for immediate feedback, for instant corrections in case of error;
  4. Maximum concentration throughout the training session;
  5. repetition of this exercise until it is fully assimilated.

Without immediate feedback, it is impossible to improve. The student doesn't know if they are doing the exercise well or if they are doing it wrong. This is why repetition alone is not enough, you need repetition and constant feedback.

Laboratory tests showed that subjects often independently tried new methods to improve their performance. Some did not ( probable perceptual or cognitive deficit), leading to a stop in improvement. However, when instructed in the correct method of performing the exercises, these subjects also returned to improving. For this reason, the presence of a teacher, or coach, who supervises and corrects the work of the students is important.


Characteristics of training session       top

Deliberate practice sessions should be designed so that they can be completed without exhaustion, to maintain maximum concentration and fully recover for the next workout.

Some studies have shown that there are no positive effects in extending deliberate practice for more than 4 hours a day, and the benefits are minimal beyond 2 hours a day. Other studies on perceptual-motor skills argue that the effective duration of each session should be about 1 hour; multiple daily sessions can be performed, but with ample rest between each. This is because the student, while practicing, needs to be completely focused in order to find and correct any errors.

At first, sessions should be short and sparse. Over time the intensity and frequency of the workouts will increase. Too high an intensity and frequency from the first few workouts will soon lead to exhaustion and possibly dropping out.

The structure of training programs should be dictated by the abilities of the student. The more the student improves, the more capable they will be of performing more difficult workouts and/or for a longer period of time. The goal of deliberate practice is not "keep repeating the same exercise," but the exercise must be continually adapted and modified based on the student's improvement.


Results       top

Research has focused on studying musicians, particularly violinists and pianists, and it has been shown that 2-3 hours of deliberate practice every day over a 10-year period is required to achieve world-class performance (leading to the famous 10000-hour rule needed to become an expert at something).

It has been shown that talent does not exist, because world-class champions in any field (from sports to science) have only accumulated more hours of practice than others, starting at a very young age. What differentiates these people from the average is the ability to perform many hours of training while remaining focused and without getting tired, and this is mainly due to passion: the more we like doing something, the more time we can devote to it.


Vehicle driving application       top

In 2018 an interesting research was carried out by Otto Lappi, entitled "The Racer's mind: How core perceptual-cognitive expertise is reflected in deliberate practice procedures in professional motorsport". The author has read all the books about sport driving technique published in the last 60 years, written by both car and motorcycle drivers. No forms other than track driving were considered (so no motocross, rally, autocross...). After this screening, a list of 28 books written between 1959 and 2016 was obtained.

From these books were extracted all suggested exercises that followed the principles of deliberate practice, that is, having the following characteristics:

  • DP1: Structured Activity. This is not a spontaneous activity, but must be planned with the aim of improving a specific aspect of performance. They can be simplified exercises, to isolate that specific characteristic you want to improve and/or facilitate the diagnosis of errors made, as well as to monitor progress.
  • DP2: Specific Goal. It must not be just the mechanical repetition of the exercise, but there must be a purpose that when achieved leads to another exercise of higher difficulty.
  • DP3: feedback. Feedback needs to be immediate and unambiguous. Simply put, I need to know right away if I'm doing the exercise wrong so I can correct it immediately.
  • DP4: Repetition. The exercise that meets the first three points should be repeated many times, you need to accumulate a high volume of training.

A total of 12 exercises were found to meet these prerequisites, divided into three levels:

  • (C) Control, 5 exercises: Includes the feedback we receive from the vehicle, such as feeling for grip and traction. It is the basis for the ability to drive at the limits of traction. Development of sense of speed, ability to operate controls smoothly.
  • (G) Driving, 4 exercises: using vision to decide on driving strategies, developing peripheral vision, and visualizing racing line.
  • (N) Navigation, 3 exercises: Choosing the best racing line, improving track knowledge.


Exercise list       top

Control exercises:

  1. Develop grip sensitivity: devote training sessions focusing on tire grip, don't look at lap times or anything else. Focus on the feedback coming from the vehicle when the grip changes. What are the reactions when the tires start to slip too much? Try to rank the sensations on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is maximum grip and 10 is the limit of traction. You will then be able to figure out how much grip you still have available at each point on the track. (Bentley R., 2003, Speed Secrets 2: More Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  2. Developing Speed Sense #1: Get yourself up to a certain speed (say, 70 km/h), then cover the instrumentation with a piece of paper. Now accelerate and brake several times, then try to bring yourself up to the same initial speed again. Remove the cover from the instrumentation to verify your error. (Bentley R., 2003, Speed Secrets 2: More Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  3. Developing Speed Sense #2: Record your track sessions with telemetry, or have someone measure your speed with radar, before entering a particular turn, and always in the same location. Now, complete 10 laps of the track, driving so that you are a few tenths below your best lap (you don't have to drive slow). The goal is to always enter the same corner at the same speed. (Bentley R., 2003, Speed Secrets 2: More Professional Race Driving Techniques).
  4. Developing Speed Sense #3: Run laps of the track without using the brakes and gearbox. You can do this either by trying to close the throttle as late as possible so that you enter the turn at the correct speed, or by closing the throttle early and then accelerating to regain speed before the turn. The important thing is always to enter the corner at the correct speed. (Keith Code, 1986, The soft science of road racing motorcycles: the technical procedures and workbook for road racing motorcycles)
  5. Develop "gentleness" on the controls: use all the controls (brake, steering, accelerator) in a firm but progressive manner. Don't instantly press the accelerator, don't instantly release the brakes, everything must be progressive. You can practice this every day by driving down the street. (Bentley R., 1998, Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques).

Driving exercises:

  1. Look Ahead: keep your eyes always high looking ahead, practice every day on the road. You'll be impressed with how much this helps. (Bentley R., 1998, Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  2. Environment Awareness #1: It's important to be aware of anyone and anything around you. Focus on the road, but also keep an eye on other drivers (or other road users), trying to anticipate their moves. (Bentley R., 1998, Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  3. Environment Awareness #2: An exercise you can do every day, whether driving or in any other situation, is to capture as much information as you can from the environment: the ground, trees, any other object, try to be aware of color, shapes... but without looking directly. Look where you would normally look, but try to capture as much information from your surroundings. (Bentley R., 2003, Speed Secrets 2: More Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  4. Peripheral vision: Find a wall that you can see completely without turning your head. Focus your gaze at a point in the center of this wall, and shift your attention to the side edges of the wall. You don't have to turn your gaze, just your attention, keeping your gaze fixed on the center. Then focus on other details of the wall, but always without moving your gaze. (Keith Code, 1983, A Twist of The Wrist - The motorcycle road racer's handbook)

Navigation exercises:

  1. Find the corner apex:
    1. Since the delayed apex racing line is the safest line, it is a great tool for finding the best line on a new track. During the first few laps, start cornering later than you think is right, and watch what happens coming out of the corner. Then, lap by lap, anticipate the apex of the corner more and more. Check the tachometer as you exit the turn. Continue to anticipate the apex until you see improvement coming out of the turn. (Lopez C., 1997, Going Faster! Mastering the art of Race Driving: The skip barber Racing school)
    2. it is easy to determine if you have chosen a correct apex in the curve. If coming out of the turn you have to steer more to avoid going off the road, and you have to release the throttle slightly, the apex is too early. If, on the other hand, you stay too close to the inside edge of the track, leaving room towards the outside of the curve, then it is too late. When the apex is perfect, you are able to accelerate early and continuously out of the corner, staying exactly at the edge of the track edges. (Bentley R., 1998, Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques)
    3. start with a very delayed apex, this allows you to maintain safe space on corner exit. Then, lap after lap, anticipate it more and more, until the moment you start to get off the track on exit. The last apex that allowed you to stay within the limits of the track is the optimal apex. (Bentley R., 1998, Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques)
  2. Spatial Memory Test #1 (mental stopwatch): take a stopwatch, sit down, close your eyes, and imagine a lap of a track you know. Time your lap mentally. If the time you measure is much longer or much shorter than the actual time, it means you don't have enough landmarks on the track. If the time is too long, your memory will focus more on those sections of the circuit it doesn't know, wasting time. If time is too short, you have too few landmarks and the memory quickly jumps from one to another. (Keith Code, 1983, A Twist of The Wrist - The motorcycle road racer's handbook)
  3. Spatial memory test #2 (circuit map): one method for finding areas of the track where you don't have enough landmarks is as follows: close your eyes, and mentally retrace the track. Open your eyes, and draw each corner of the track on a different piece of paper, marking the landmarks you are sure of. Mark the meaning of each point: braking start, steering start, pothole.... Close your eyes again and drive around the circuit again, trying to memorize the points where you are hesitating, or going too fast. These are the areas of the track where you don't have enough landmarks, signs in the sheets of paper. Next time you go back on the circuit, focus on these areas and find additional landmarks.


Further technique exercises       top

Driving a car, the driver must "only" accelerate, brake and steer in the correct way. In a motorcycle, in addition to this, he must also balance the weights with his body and exert the right forces in the right places, he must move from one side to the other of the bike in a corner, forward or backward and so on.

It is useful to train these movements (and also the feeling with the bike) in an empty parking lot, using a series of exercises described shortly. As a general rule, in any situation and with any two-wheeled vehicle, the body must be supported with the legs and the handlebars serve only to steer, so the arms must always remain relaxed and the legs must work as active suspension. Start slowly and increase speed gradually, but always remaining relaxed, the body must never be tense.


Exercise n.1: Skidpad       top

Technique: When riding on the track, the body in corners should be moved inward and as low as possible, one sits on the saddle with the outer buttock only, the outer arm should be almost fully extended to allow the head to be about above the inner hand.

Exercise: Drive in a circle at a constant speed around a cone (or following a circle drawn on the ground) focusing on executing the driving position correctly. Start slowly, then gradually increase speed and/or tighten the radius of the circle. Perform in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.


Exercise n.2: Oval       top

Technique: Every corner has an entrance and an exit:

At the exit, it is essential to dose the accelerator correctly: the opening must be smooth and gradual, but constant: the moment you start to open the throttle, you continue to open it gradually. Proceeding at constant throttle is a mistake. If the acceleration is too aggressive you will lighten the front wheel causing a widening of the trajectory. Also, due to the chain pull, the rear suspension will stiffen, causing probable loss of grip.

On entry, the motorcycle should be steered as quickly as possible to open the throttle earlier. The steering phase should be done by voluntarily counter-steering the handlebars: to steer to the left, push on the left half of the handlebars in order to turn it to the right. This will make the bike "fall" to the left.

Exercise: Place two cones at a specified distance apart. Start without using the brakes so you don't have to manage too many variables. Braking phase can be added later. Focus on the correct execution of the entry and exit. In this exercise it is useful to time the lap time to evaluate improvements. You increase the difficulty by reducing the radius of curvature around the cones.


Exercise n.3: Figure-eight       top

Technique: Each track is characterized by a sequence of corners, during which the bike continuously changes direction. To change direction, first move the body, and then apply steering torque, to avoid forcing on the handlebars and thus destabilizing the bike. Use your legs to move your body, for example by pushing your outside knee against the tank, thus leaving the handlebars free. Apply steering torque by countersteering voluntarily.

Exercise: Place two cones at a given distance, and perform the figure of eight around them. This is a fairly complete exercise: By placing the cones at a distance equal to the bend diameter, you will perform two complete circles. This trains the change of direction and the constant speed curving phase of exercise 1. As you increase the distance between the cones, you will add an intermediate acceleration and braking phase as in exercise 2. The difficulty of the exercise increases by decreasing the radius of curvature.


Exercise n.4: Braking       top

Technique: Move your bottom on the saddle to the position you will need to have during cornering, then lift your upper body from the "in fairing" position to the upright position and begin braking. During the braking phase it is unavoidable to put weight on the handlebars, but try to limit it as much as possible by forcing your thigh on the tank or squeezing the bike between your knees. The more weight there is on the handlebars, the more weight is loaded on the front wheel, increasing the risk of blocking it or lifting the rear wheel. In addition, the rider will tire sooner. The brake should be applied in a gentle and progressive, but firm manner. It does not have to be a slow movement, but it must be progressive. A too aggressive movement could block the wheel, send the fork to the ground, in general destabilize the bike and lengthen the braking distance.

Exercise: Proceed at a constant speed in a straight section, then brake to a complete stop. Measure the distance traveled and try to improve it.


Exercise n.5: Slalom       top

Technique: On the track, but especially on the street, you may have to dodge an obstacle. The ability to dodge an obstacle could save your life or, if the obstacle is another person, save his. Steering must be very fast, there is no time to move your body from one side of the bike to the other. Steer to the right by quickly turning the handlebars to the left, then to the right, and so on.

Exercise: Arrange a row of cones at a certain distance, and proceeding in a straight line, slalom between them, continuously turning left and right. Increase the difficulty of the exercise by increasing the speed or reducing the distance between the cones.


Conclusion       top

The exercises just described carried out at low speed in a controlled environment allow us to improve our driving skills in the safest way possible. This will result in a better control of the vehicle, and therefore a faster and safer driving.

I'll conclude by summarizing this entire article into 6 essential guide points:

  1. Always look further ahead and in the direction you want to go;
  2. Keep a wide, panoramic view;
  3. Support your body using your legs, leave the handlebar free to rotate;
  4. Use your legs as auxiliary suspensions;
  5. Consciously countersteering to cornering;
  6. Accelerate smoothly, gradually and progressively, don't stay constant on throttle.


Bibliography       top

  1. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance, K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, Clemens Tesh-Romer, American Psychological Association, inc., 1993
  2. The Racer's mind: How core perceptual-cognitive expertise is reflected in deliberate practice procedures in professional motorsport, Otto Lappi, Frontiers in psychology, 2018
  3. A Twist of The Wrist Volume II, Keith Code, Code Break, 1993


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