The basketball analogy

I’m constantly trying to come up with analogies between high performance driving and some other sport. Here’s my attempt at using basketball.

I go to the gym 5 days per week before I go to work. Partly this is a personal commitment to general physical fitness, but more and more it’s about taking care of my weak back. For my cardio, I often ride a bike or use the rope climbing machine, but if my back feels okay, I’ll shoot baskets for a half hour. I’ll warm up shooting around the key and then spend the bulk of the time hoisting 3-pointers. I used to be a jump shooter, but in order to protect my back I’ve become a set shooter. I’m too lazy to count up every shot I make and miss, so instead I just remember the longest streak each day.

3, 4, 4, 6, 5, 3

That’s my recollection of my longest streak in the last few sessions. I consider 4 to be a good day, 3 to be an off day, 2 to be a bad day, and if I happen to get more than 4, it’s sort of a lucky day. I’ve hit as many as 8 in a row. Overall, I estimate I hit about 35% of my threes from the college line. At the NBA line it probably falls to 20%.

What does this have to do with driving? Each corner is like a 3 point shot. So if there are 10 corners on the track, what are the odds that I hit each one perfectly? Not that great. Out of every 10 3 point shots, I might hit anywhere from 0 to 9. Let’s say I’m having a shooting contest with Steph Curry and have that rare moment that I hit 9/10 and he has an off day and hits 8/10. That one time I beat him doesn’t matter much when he wins 99.5% of the time. Similarly, getting fast time of the day doesn’t mean much when you’re counting overall laps.

More importantly, I think it’s important to realize that you can’t have your best performance every time. In the same way that I can’t expect to hit 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. 3-pointers in a row the next times I go to the gym, we can’t expect our lap times to improve every time we go to the track. If your lap times are improving every time, it’s an indication that you’re still very early in your driver development. Getting faster is hard work.

To get to the point where I can hit 35% of my 3-pointers, I’ve played well over a thousand hours of basketball. I haven’t driven on track even 100 hours. It stands to reason that I’m a better basketball player than driver. And yet, while I probably could have played on my high school basketball team, there’s no way I would have made it on my college team. Given that most people can’t count their track time in the thousands of hours, much less hundreds, it stands to reason that most drivers are actually really bad at driving. It’s not their fault. There simply isn’t enough time and money to drive an hour a day for several years.

How do I get better at basketball? To improve my shooting, not only do I need to go to the gym more often, I also have to fix some bad habits. I don’t actually know how many bad habits I have because I’m a self-taught player. That said, I think my form is better than a lot of the other self-taught players I see at the gym who are still shooting with 2 hands. Most self-taught players have much unlearning to do. I think this is true of drivers. More and more, I think self-taught = bad habits.

Speaking of driving hours, the actual number of hours I’ve driven on track is 89.5. This doesn’t count coaching hours. Here’s the break-down year-by-year.

  • 2012 – 5.5 hours
  • 2013 – 6.5 hours
  • 2014 – 18 hours
  • 2015 – 18.5 hours
  • 2016 – 16 hours
  • 2017 – 12 hours
  • 2018 – 8 hours
  • 2019 – 5 hours (8 expected)

If you’re reading this blog thinking I’m some kind of driving expert, note that I have less than 100 hours of track driving. I’ve driven several hundred hours in iRacing, Assetto Corsa, DiRT Rally, etc. but how much do those cross over to the real world? I’m probably a little unusual in how serious I take my sim racing time. I don’t goof around on the thing. I train. I also spend a lot of time researching and writing about driving. I’ve spent more time in the library than on virtual tracks, and that counts for something in my driver development. Taken all together, it still doesn’t make me an authority. The fact that I can dominate a wet race in an econobox with 4 year-old tires speaks more to the overall low level of the sport than to my own ability.

Let me wrap up this rambling with a couple thoughts.

  • It’s okay to suck at racing because there isn’t enough time/money not to
  • Being faster than someone who sucks at racing doesn’t mean you’re actually good at it
  • You can improve your real driving in the virtual world or by opening a book


2 thoughts on “The basketball analogy

  1. Hi Ian, thanks for another thought-provoking article. On a related note, as I’m trying to get beyond that “intermediate”stage of driver, I often harken back to my experiences in ball sports at the interscholastic and collegiate levels – we spent the majority proportion of practice time working drills to hone specific skills in relative isolation. I’ve been trying to think of ways/drills to isolate and practice driving skills either on track or in the sim, and would love to hear other ideas for doing so. As an example, Adam B has an interesting youtube video demonstrating use of iracing’s Charlotte legends oval to work on line and cornering technique. Perhaps an idea for a subsequent YSAR article?


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