A common question often asked by associates to their observers and mentors is “why aren’t my scores improving?”. Here National Observer Huw Pritchard offers an explanation
Learning to become an advanced motorcyclist isn’t easy. Indeed the advanced test is exactly that, an advanced test not a slightly-better-than average test, so it’s not likely to be easy.
However, I’m not always sure we manage expectations that well in LAM. In the past there has sometimes been a perception that observers are saying you should be ready to pass the test after 8 ORs though the truth is that while some may take half a dozen, others may need perhaps a couple of dozen ORs.
Of course, with associates expecting to be ready after 8 ORs they can be awfully disheartened when after 4 ORs they’re barely scoring any more than when they started.
There are actually some very good reasons why this is so but first we need to talk about expectations. Perfectly naturally, associates will often expect to make steady progress through their training in regular steps. In fact scores are more likely to follow a flattened “S” shape.
Ooh look, a picture:
The straight “linear score” line shows a steady progress through training finally reaching 90% after 12 ORs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this at all. What I’ve nearly always seen is the “actual score” line or something similar. It takes several ORs to start to understand and use the System. When it starts to click the associate makes rapid progress but then it can take a while to get the polish needed to pass the test. There are actually some terribly good reasons why this is all so and most of them are to do with how the brain works.
At this point I need a disclaimer. I am not a brain surgeon, not even an amateur one, and for some of this I have looked at Wikipedia so it’s entirely possible that I’ve fallen victim to some kind of internet troll but never mind.
As I understand it, motor actions are controlled largely by a part of the brain called the cerebellum. The thing is, the cerebellum whilst being very good at motor actions, is not the part of the brain used in learning.
When we learn a new skill, a lot of the work is done by parts of the brain which control logic and reasoning. This is why we can quickly pick up the ideas in Roadcraft, such as Information-Position-Speed-Gear-Acceleration but find putting it into practice much harder. You cannot simply read Roadcraft or the unputdownable “How to be a Better Rider” and go out riding like a Class 1 policeman or Jason Crump (remember him?) Think back to when you first learned to ride a bike or even drive a car. It took ages to get used to all the different actions you needed to do at once in order to move. And then, all of a sudden, it becomes much easier as you no longer need to think about it consciously. The reason being, obviously, that as a learned skill the cerebellum is happy to take over and the cerebellum is awfully good at motor actions.
The impact of this is that when you first start trying to ride according to the System you may find your ride deteriorating. Your scores won’t go down because observers are generally nice people and don’t like marking people down even when perhaps they should. But you may feel that your riding is getting worse. It probably is getting worse as the wrong part of the brain is doing more of the work and not doing the motor action bit very well.
The best way to move these skills from the learning to the learned phase, and hence into the cerebellum, is by practice. I often think that one of the benefits of practice is that you don’t have an observer breathing down your neck so you’re less anxious about the odd mistake. This helps you to relax and helps the brain learn. Relaxing also makes riding more fun; well it certainly does for me. Many years ago, after one Observed Run an associate sighed and groaned and said that it was all such a slog and such a long process. Ah, well. Um. No.
Personally I think riding a motorbike is almost always fun and if it isn't then something is going wrong somewhere.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that, broadly speaking, training moves through the following phases:
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