Giving Feedback To Students
Published: August 1, 2014; updated: March 22, 2017
For best results, feedback given by instructors to the students should be:
I try to work on at most one thing in any given corner. That might be braking, shifting, turn in point, hitting the apex, tracking out, or power application. This way when I give the student feedback on what they did, the feedback is as concise as possible.
If there are multiple things to be worked on in a single corner, I work on them one at a time.
Another benefit of working on one thing at a time is that the student knows when they got each thing right. It is more likely when the student is working on one thing at a time that they would be able to get some of the things right, whereas if working on multiple things concurrently there is a higher likelihood of not mastering any of them.
Novice drivers generally should be given instructions (what to do) rather than feedback (what they have done). When working with novice drivers I would typically make note of what the driver did, convert it to a corrective action (e.g., "brake earlier" or "turn later") and wait until the driver approaches the same corner on the next lap to give the corrective action.
Typically I give the correction on the straight preceding the corner. If the corner is not immediately following a straight, I would give instructions in the preceding corner; in order for this to work the driver must be executing the preceding corner flawlessly. In other words, when dealing with a sequence of corners I work on one corner at a time starting with the first one, and until each corner is mastered we do not move on to the next one.
Intermediate and advanced drivers are typically able to process feedback, and especially higher intermediate and advanced drivers may prefer feedback to commands without explanations. When working with these drivers I try to offer feedback immediately after the corner it applies to, or otherwise as soon as possible after the maneuver the feedback applies to. If I am in doubt as to my feedback I would often not say anything and wait for the driver to run another lap, rather than giving feedback way after the maneuver.
Sometimes I would give feedback while still in the corner. For example, if we are working on the turn in point, once the driver turned in I can say whether the turn in point was good. Especially with more advanced drivers who start to turn in earlier, giving the driver a thumbs up while they are still in the corner lets them know that they are safe to continue, when they otherwise might get doubts and lift or brake.
Feedback is pointless if the driver cannot act on it. In order for feedback to be actionable, it generally should be specific, appropriate to the driver, and have an explicit or implied action.
Feedback should clearly identify either what the driver did that was wrong or what the driver should do next time. The less experienced the driver is, the more specific the feedback needs to be. An example of specific feedback is "turn at the cone". An example of less specific feedback is "turn later". Even less specific is "go to throttle earlier" or "apply more throttle", because a turn in point is easier to see than the exact point of throtle application, or how much throttle is applied. For an advanced driver, "turn later" is generally specific enough to be actionable; for a novice, "turn later" is often not sufficiently detailed.
Driver improvement is gradual, and some techniques are too advanced for a given driver. For example, many novice and lower intermediate drivers are not comfortable with left foot braking, and while some novices do subconsciously trailbrake they probably would be overwhelmed by an in-depth technical discussion of trailbraking.
What an instructor suggests to a particular driver should reflect that driver's experience level and abilities.
Explicit Or Implied Action
"Turn at the cone" has an explicit action - to turn. "Turn later" also has an explicit action. Feedback given to novice drivers should ordinarily have such explicit actions.
Intermediate and advanced drivers can often deal with implicit actions. For example, "turn earlier" not only implies turning earlier, but also braking earlier - assuming we intend to turn at the same speed. In this case, braking is an implicit action.
Here is an example of feedback that has no action: "you were off line". Clearly, the solution is to be on line, but how is a driver going to achieve this?
Putting It Together
After hearing the feedback, the driver should understand what to do and when to do it. The what is a driver input - pressing or releasing throttle or brakes, turning or unwinding the steering wheel, shifting. The when is either a location reference - e.g., "when you get to the first cone, hit the brakes" - or a time reference like "wait half a second, then turn". I tend to reserve the time references for intermediate and advanced drivers who already have a sense of rhythm and timing.
For novice drivers, reference points are typically best and are often required. And not just any reference points - if the student does not see instructor's reference points, the instructor may as well not have any. Instructor's job is to find reference points that the student will be able to use.
Feedback should generally be expressed in a positive manner, which means without the use of the word "not" and concentrating on what you want the student to do rather than on what they did.
Negative: "You turned in too early."
Positive: "Turn in at the second cone."
The bonus of positive feedback is that it can often be more specific than negative feedback.
Positive feedback keeps the drivers goal-driven and concentrated on success rather than failure.
Related to positive feedback is encouragement - when my student gets right whatever it is they are working on, I give them a thumbs up, and I keep doing this for a couple of laps until they are consistently driving in the desired manner.
Exceptions And Advanced Drivers
Intermediate and advanced drivers can often be conversed with in a less "sugar coated" manner, where you just say what you think and leave it up to the driver to mentally translate your feedback into actionable items.
A good example of this is "do not lift" - not something I would say to a novice driver, but an advanced driver can be expected to understand that this means there is way more grip than they are using, so they should keep their right foot planted and trust that the car will stay on track.
I might say "early" to an upper intermediate driver, expecting them to mentally translate that to "I need a later apex", then find a reference point for the later apex and next lap turn in at that reference point.
Usually if a driver does not adjust their driving in the expected direction within a lap or two I would go back to giving positive and specific feedback.
Advanced drivers should also not freak out when given "maybe" or "I don't know" as the feedback, and translate those to "I'm going to keep doing what seems to be working for me" or "I'm going to try both ways and see what happens".