All sports are the same: 4 tips for any sportsman

By J.G. Pasterjak
Jul 19, 2022 | Dodge | Posted in Columns | From the May 2014 issue | Never miss an article

Story by JG Pasterjak

My buddy Cliff recently discovered autocross. He decided it was time to spend a few bucks on a performance car, went out, and bought a brand-new Challenger R/T (with a six-speed, so he got that part right). Shortly thereafter, he found himself at the Central Florida Region SCCA’s season-opening Solo event at Sebring.

I know Cliff from one of my non-automotive pastimes: a discipline known as action shooting or speed shooting. I’m an active, enthusiastic competitor with an organization called the United States Practical Shooting Association. Some of you may be familiar, but for those of you who aren’t, a USPSA event is basically a gun autocross. You negotiate a set course containing several targets, and your speed through the course and accuracy are paramount.

I’m moderately skilled, but Cliff is pretty accomplished. His ranking is in the top 10 percent in his division nationwide. In autocross terms, he’s like one of those guys you constantly see in the top four to five trophy spots at the Solo Nationals.

Cliff asked me to help him in his autocross endeavors by accelerating his learning process, which is something I’m glad to do. But as I’ve been giving him little hints and tips for his next time behind the wheel, I’ve noticed that they pretty much apply to any sport–which is why I’ve come to the conclusion that all sports are basically the same. Here are my observations:

1. Smoothness is always good, not just when it comes to Scotch and soul singers.

Whether you’re clipping an apex or swinging a golf club, smoothness will pay dividends. Every motion you make with a steering wheel creates friction at the contact patch, and friction slows you down. That means every adjustment you make once you’ve set a cornering arc is wasted effort, lost speed, and another chance to make a mistake. 

Imagine deciding mid-golf swing that you want to open or close the clubface, or move your point of contact forward or back. Too late. You’d be lucky if you didn’t embarrass yourself at that point. One club arc, one turn-in, one apex, one track-out: These are your goals.

2. Efficiency is the first cousin of smoothness.

I used to fence. No, not install pine panels in people’s yards to keep their dogs from running away, but fight other people with swords. In fencing, you learn really quickly that efficiency of movement is essential to success. Every twitch of your wrist is magnified at the tip of your foil, and every one of your movements is designed to provoke a certain reaction from your opponent. Wiggle your sword around like Errol Flynn (who was an accomplished fencer, but hammed it up on screen), and you’re just wearing yourself out and giving your opponent opportunities.

Sawing at the wheel mid-corner? Jumping back and forth from throttle to brake several times during cornering? That’s hardly efficient, is it?

3. Your sports equipment is almost invariably better than you.

Practical shooting offers a perfect example. My primary competition gun is what’s called an Open-class pistol. It’s the pistol equivalent of an A Mod car: heads-up optical sight, recoil compensation through ducted gas ports, multi-spring doodads to reduce recoil. It’s designed with few compromises to shoot fast and accurately. Cliff shoots primarily in the Limited division: iron sights, no blast compensation, more restrictions. Yet he routinely beats me, because he’s simply a more skilled shooter.

Likewise, on the weeks when I shoot my Limited gun, I sometimes find myself going faster and performing better than I do with my Open gun. It’s likely because I’m focusing more on my technique than my equipment.

A car never makes any mistakes. It’s only when a driver gets behind the wheel that stupid things start to happen. Think that way about your approach to speed.

4. Victory is as much about recovering from your mistakes as it is about excelling.

In the very first play of this year’s NFC Championship, the San Francisco 49ers stripped the ball from Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and recovered deep in Seahawk territory. But instead of that being the first domino in a Seattle collapse, the Seahawks held the 49ers to a field goal and went on to win the game–and the Superbowl.

We’re all going to make mistakes at one point or another. In the entire history of recorded motorsport, probably no one has ever laid down a theoretically perfect lap or autocross run. There are simply too many variables. But success will come to the competitor who can best leave those mistakes behind and continues with the business at hand.

I’d love to hear other parallels you’ve found between your motorsport activities and other sports–or even more mundane activities. Anyone who’s ever found the most efficient lines around their yard on a riding mower knows what I’m talking about.

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te72 Reader
11/23/18 11:55 a.m.

I find it funny that in my car, my fastest laps almost always seem to be the most dramatic and fun to watch. Big (ish) turbo, small engine, really gotta drive like your hair is on fire in order to keep the thing moving forward. I keep hearing smooth, smooth, smooth, yet every time I've ever done it, I'm usually a full second off my own FTD.


I find that kinda strange, would love to see someone best my times in my own car, and I know a couple folks who are talented enough they might be able to do so. Full disclosure, I built the car for road racing, which it would excel at by design, but I happened to find autocross along the way, so I realize it's not an ideal tool for the job, but it sure is fun anyway! =)

bobzilla MegaDork
11/23/18 1:09 p.m.

We In reply to te72 :

Some cars don’t operate well smoothly And require some (or a lot) of forceful inputs. The first car I had that required smoothness was the C4. It did NOT like abrupt changes. At. All. The forte could go either way. But the more angry you drove it the more you had to catch it. 

Also 4 year old zombie thread. 

Duke MegaDork
11/23/18 1:20 p.m.

In reply to te72 :

My SSM Miata is underbuilt for class, and undertired as well.  I try for smoothness, don't always succeed, and have reached a real plateau in my driving ability.

I rode along with a well-built, well-driven SSM Miata competitor, and there was nothing smooth about that at all.  Violent, radical input was totally the answer in a Miata making 250 hp on 275 Hohos, with everything not mission critical cut off the car and a big wing sticking it down.

Patrohn New Reader
11/23/18 4:11 p.m.

I actually think the 4 tips are applicable beyond sports.  As a college professor I wish my students understood the concept of "calm hands" and efficiency. Also, if you make a mistake-learn to recover and win. Thanks for repeating this article.

Also--drive a true momentum car in a race and you will appreciate this article.


NOHOME UltimaDork
11/23/18 4:26 p.m.

I think the term "Muscle Memory" is what ties most physical activity together. This is the point where you do not need to consciously think about every move, your body just does it.  This is why to a pro athlete, ordinary people seem and events to move in slow motion.



Matt New Reader
11/24/18 7:12 a.m.

"I’d love to hear other parallels you’ve found between your motorsport activities and other sports–or even more mundane activities. Anyone who’s ever found the most efficient lines around their yard on a riding mower knows what I’m talking about."

interesting, for many years i have been quietly working with the idea that the mental preparation for competition is blind to the game, and i have my son to thank for this revelation. I have a son on a D1 football scholarship as a RB. I have never  watched 1 second of a football game, never played a single down of football in my life, but when it was apparent he loved football (and i have no idea how or why this came to be because he's only ever gone the race track with me as a kid) i started to research the game, 12 years later, here i am... As a racing driver, the parallels between the key mental attributes of the Running Back position and high performance driving are strikingly similar. i found i was able to coach my son quite effectively just focusing on the 'non-football' keys of his training, and those were based on my experience as a driver.

1) Patience - racing: don't force the car, set up the pass  RB: wait for the hole, trust your team mates

2) Vision - racing: locate your braking/turn in/track out points before before you get there, trust your peripheral vision. RB: key off the formation/safety - keep your eyes down field and trust your peripheral vision

3) Decision making/recognition - racing: if the car doesn't feel right, its not right. trust yourself. RB: if the play is broken and you cant see the way out, don't kill yourself trying to make something out of nothing - get up to play another down

4) Mental toughness - racing/RB: things go wrong, then they go wrong and go wrong again. How you react determines where you finish in the long term, and this is a long season. being mentally tough is big. A football player or a racing drivers best friend is a short memory.

5) Attitude - racing/RB: you either have a good one or you don't, see #4. You must, first and foremost respect your opponent.

6) Game plan - racing: after qualifying you had better be checking your data and making race strategy. RB: you had better be watching film and studying your opponent and planning for them.

anyway, that's the big hitters from my perspective.  Good Post JG - even if it is a "4 year old zombie thread" laughlaugh


Oh, and I am proud to say my son is a great mechanic and i wouldn't know what to do without him at the track!

randyracer New Reader
11/24/18 12:52 p.m.

In reply to AnthonyGS :

Back when we signed autographs, I used to write that.  The car must move smoothly, sometimes this means strong inputs, especially in transitions, slaloms and offsets.  Road racing?  Not so much.  In a good handling car, smooth rules.  Slow hands.

randyracer New Reader
11/24/18 12:58 p.m.

In reply to Duke :

True, especially in autocross.  In a slalom or offset, the transition from left to right or back must be as quick as possible, but in the curves, slow and smooth works.  If the car oversteers, then quick hand movements are required to catch it and hold at the cornering limit.  Aero accepts more aggressive inputs, too.  Smooth still wins.  Aggressive smoothness.  In my return to Solo Nationals, that was a great remembrance:  slow and smooth hands through the corners, fast and aggressive in the offsets and slaloms.  The sooner one trnasfers the weight, the sooner the car can begin generating the lateral g's in the other direction, and the faster that maneuver will be.  Some cars are twitchy, with snap oversteer at turn in or in middle if they bottom out, etc.  These cars will reward super aggressive inputs.  Require them, no less.  And huge Hoosiers allow it w stick.

300zxfreak Reader
2/28/21 9:59 a.m.

Pause, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around J.G. in a fencing outfit.............still working on it....................does not compute.

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) PowerDork
2/28/21 10:21 a.m.

I took my VW GTI ITB race car to a club open track day, just for the track time. My sons wanted rides so I took each of them out for a few laps. The older one did a handful and asked to stop because he was getting car sick. The younger one asked when I was going to start going fast. I was driving smoothly, trying not to toss an eight year old all over the inside of the car. My older son observed and timed the laps . I turned my fastest lap ever up to that point with the kid in the car.surprise

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