Business, Culture Edition Racing into the future
By: Paul Caslick • 4 years ago •
The motorcycle racing journey started for me in 1975, but my passion for coaching began in 1979 when attending a motorcycle camp. I was 12 years old and my coach was Stephen Gall. The camp was amazing and from that positive experience, I knew that coaching other riders was something I would always enjoy. Little did I realise just how deep and long that passion would burn within. Looking back, my father, also a highly respected motorcycle competitor, was my very first coach in his own way. I have also drawn on experiences from soccer and football coaches over the years and used these as another way of learning to grow my own coaching ethics.
Actively involved, I have travelled our beautiful country, both as a coach and competitor. Over the years, I have been gifted in meeting some incredibly talented athletes and have forged some wonderful lifelong friendships. My experiences haven’t all been great though these are mostly from my own misguided choices that slowed my international career growth. Still, I have collected many Australian and State Championships in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, in a career spanning over 42 years.
A back injury sustained at a Supercross event in 1983, only a week before our final school assembly, changed my career direction substantially. I had wanted to pursue a professional career in racing motorcycles, but the injury gave me the opportunity to realise the importance of not only being healthy, but strong, fit and mentally aware of the sport I was to be consumed with. Health and fitness, in competition and as a necessity for a successful life, has subsequently become a subject I have researched since my teenage years.
From my involvement in my chosen sport, as a competitor and a board member on State Controlling Bodies, National Coaching Commissions and as Chairman on the Dirt Track National Commission, I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have worked hard to achieve along the way. When I could have chosen a path of destruction from my own failures, the negatives taught me to appreciate just how this journey of life will be filled with highs and lows, our decisions, and how we choose to make each day a positive experience. Although I missed the opportunity to fulfil my personal dream of becoming World Champion, my motivation and passion drives me to help others achieve their goals.
Motorcycle competition has many disciplines and each carries its own unique, extremely complex, preparation at the elite level. There is the practical bike component to consider as a priority. Unless you have the luxury of being a highly paid professional with factory-paid mechanics (in Australia there isn’t as many as most would think), this component can be extremely time and financially consuming. This includes testing new parts to engine configurations, ignition settings, tyres, different compounds of rubber, tyre patterns, suspension components and even changing the ergonomics of the machine for better rider feel. While all this is completed for the race motorcycle, there is usually a practice bike used for improving fitness and technique when not testing.
Through my own career path and what I learned, I chose to pursue and research High Performance Coaching and became involved with the National Coaching Commission. Each year, since 2007, I have been involved with conducting Elite Rider Camps at the Australian Institute of Sport. These camps were attended by elite competitors from Road Racing, Speedway and Dirt Track competitions. From these camps, motorcycle competitors are now regarded as athletes by the Australian Sporting Commission.
Motorcycle athletes around the world are also known as the best cross-trainers of any athletes in the world. It’s not uncommon to hear comments such as, “But you only race a motorbike”. In fact, a national competitor’s training program would consist of road cycling, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, a body weight program, boxing, a core stability program, plyometric exercises and different paced running sessions, depending on the current state of the competition season. Some have their own personal trainers or training partners to share the long cycling sessions with, but many of these athletes also maintain full-time or part-time employment whilst studying university. Coaching these athletes can be extremely complex, having a coaching relationship with them and helping them understand trust and commitment. They have to learn to balance family, work, training and travel, which can lead to many frustrations along the way. Each athlete has to be treated individually as there is not one program that can fit any two riders. Each rider differs in so many ways from their family, personality, ethical, religious and work load tolerance. A coach must adapt their program and approach to suit.
I have witnessed many transformations in training principles and programs in my time. Training has evolved from unguided lacing up the joggers and going for a run, a swim or pumping some weights, to now being totally guided by coaches, sports science and computer technology. Australian motorcycle competitors now travel the world as professional athletes. The most successful then apply these principles in their preparation. They understand that to be successful they must have a program and become not only an athlete, but a successful international business person, knowledgeable in other countries’ cultures and systems. The sport has evolved dramatically in recent years, and top performers are now shared across many riders throughout each discipline. Only a few years ago, the smartest and hardest training competitors would be the standout performers. Now, however, we are seeing a shift with so many athletes employing trainers and coaches to assist them with their own programs, of which the science and technical aspects of each program has become hugely individualised and secretive. Research and technology is utilised to adjust the rider, not just the motorcycle. The defining difference is no longer solely the bike.
Professional and International competitors need to consider cultural differences to help them organise travel requirements from one country to another. Australia has professional athletes in England, Poland, Sweden and America, and most of these riders will travel and compete across 3 continents in one week of competition. These riders will then live in this climate for more than 30 weeks in a season. Their nutritional requirements also need to be considered and organised with research well in advance pre-season. A bad choice of food or hydration could be the difference in a World Championship outcome. Along with their competition and nutrition, a competitor’s accommodation and travel needs to be streamlined to enable them to travel unrestricted from venue to motel, motel to airport without any hassle or unnecessary delay.
Although Australia has many professional international athletes, there have been only a few coaches who have experienced travelling abroad. Cultural differences between the coach and athlete, adding in the complication of their family’s involvement, all lead to the situation breaking down. Understanding different cultures and refining our own approach to suitably adapt to that culture change can provide us with a deeper understanding of diverse alternative to improve all situations, whether it be in life, sport or education.
In 2007, a group of Australian Dirt Track enthusiasts and competitors travelled to America to experience racing in the AMA Flat Track Grand Nationals at Daytona Beach. I found a real culture difference in travelling throughout America, experiencing the “controlling” and “can do anything” attitude. I saw how Americans embrace talent and knowledge. How they all want to help any up-and- coming person, from athletes through to business people. It’s easy and understandable to see how people who travel to the USA could quite easily be influenced by their positive attitudes. The attitude that anything is possible is reflected in their high results. At the same time, it’s easy to see how Australians forge a dislike of Americans due to our tall poppy syndrome – maybe our convict heritage doesn’t help here!
For sporting endeavours, and in particular motorcycle competition, Australia is the best country. We are a multi-cultural nation, we have so much freedom and vacant land, forests and trails. We have numerous facilities to enjoy, located in most towns and easily accessible. Yet the biggest disadvantage in our coaching is the over-regulation of our accredited coaches and the coaching system. We have so much knowledge to share but are strangled by politics.
Australia has a perfect climate and some fantastic facilities to embrace and promote, bringing other cultures to our shores during their off season. Coaching across cultures and sharing experiences brings people together. Bringing people together also heightens our sense of satisfaction, achievement, learning potential, so subsequently, everyone benefits.
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