Speed Secrets: Mentally Training For Motorsport
By Ross Bentley
December 03, 2015
Joe Kopp won the AMA Flat Track Grand National Championship in 2000, and then between 2001 and 2007 he went from 2nd to 7th in the championship. By the time I started coaching Joe at the end of 2007, he was seriously considering retiring.
He was at a point, at the age of 37, where he felt that he couldn't keep up with the young kids who were "willing to die to win," as I recall him saying. He "knew" he couldn't keep up anymore. I challenged him to look at the following season, 2008, as an opportunity to learn - and that was it. It wasn't to prove whether he could compete with the young kids, it wasn't to see how many wins he could get, it wasn't even to win the championship. What could he lose? It was either take on my challenge of focusing on learning, or retire.
Almost ironically, 2008 turned out to be his best year ever for wins (4) and podiums (10), and he finished 2nd in the Championship. Of course, by this time, there wasn't a hint of retirement talk from Joe. In fact, he was having more fun than ever.
It was much the same in 2009, with an additional distinction: by missing out on winning the Championship by just one point, he was part of the closest 3-rider points chase in series history. In fact, he went into the final race of the season with a solid lead in the championship, only to have a mechanical failure, which resulted in his finishing second.
But there was no doubt in his mind - or anyone else's that knew what was going on - that the mental game training program Joe was using was working. At 40 years of age, he was still the man to beat, and the young kids were doing everything they could to do just that.
Joe did retire from full-time competition at the end of 2010, having again finished second in the Grand National Championship that year. It was time for Joe to focus more of his attention on his son's racing, and helping the younger riders on the team he had raced for. But, like so many racers, he couldn't leave racing completely, and since 2011, has raced in a few one-off events. And as his text to me mentions, he's still damn competitive!
Why? How can a racer in his forties compete with young riders who are "willing to die to win?" Let me share some of what he did to stay so competitive, for so long.
To start, I should mention one thing. Joe applied and worked at the mental game program that I laid out and coached him in better than almost anyone else (one other race driver comes to mind when I think of the commitment to doing what it takes...). But, as you know, working hard at the wrong thing will not give you the results you want, nor will having the commitment without the program to be committed to.
- Mental Programming: Joe had specific programs that he built and reinforced on a regular basis. Doing mental imagery become a daily routine, and he and I laid out a deliberate plan of what to program. One day it might be imagery of an upcoming track, then his mindset towards how assertive he'd be, then how he'd interact with competitors and fans off-track, then his ability to read track conditions, then his focus on his performance (the process) rather than the results, then his belief system, and so on. It wasn't random - it was a plan.
- State of Mind: Joe built a trigger that when he pulled it, he'd automatically go into his performance state of mind - the ideal emotional state that led to his best performance.
- Focus: This was based around two different areas. First, focus on his own performance and on learning, and leaving the results (since he couldn't control them) to just happen. And second, he developed a Pre-Planned Thought (PPT) that he used to regain his focus in a fraction of a second.
- Brain Integration: Joe made Cross Crawls and other brain integration exercises a way of life. He started his day with them, and did them just before getting on his bike. This switched his brain on, so he processed information faster.
- Sensory Input Sessions: These exercises (as I've written about in the past here in Speed Secrets Weekly) became a "go-to tool" when he went to new tracks, and whenever he felt he needed to distract his mind from trying too hard.
- Ongoing Coaching: Before and after each event, Joe and I talked, got focused on the objectives, and tweaked and fine-tuned his program on an ongoing basis. In three years, I went to three of his races (wow, are those awesome events to watch!), and the rest of my coaching was done by email, text, and phone.