Practice Make Competence

Turning points are a call to action. However they happen it is our actions that can be traced back to the source of doing something that eventually and inevitably leads to discomfort, whether physically, emotionally or mentally.

Many turning points happen after having an accident. And that is a point in itself because accidents don’t just happen by themselves, they are caused by a momentary lack of concentration – either by ourselves or others – which can vary from being stupid and inexperienced to down right unaware, either through being unaware or negligent.

Accidents do happen, but it is important that they can be prevented from forethought, though there is of course little control over the foresight of another’s actions.

Similar to most people that first get on a bike, I soon fell off. Except I was not learning to ride a pushbike. My first time on a motorbike was when I was invited to try out my friends 1956 Royal Enfield 700cc and it gets worse: it was on a bending gravel drive.

As any kid of 17 I was fearless of course but had no idea of the throttle power. I touched it and within 2 seconds had driven into my friend’s parked car, fallen off and bashed my middle finger against the stone edge of the drive border.
Now, we trust our friends and I thought he knew what he was doing and clearly he thought I knew what I was doing. Basically both of us were stupid: and like all stupid kids we went out that evening in my 1963 mini (with the floor starter) for a drink, and laughed about it, with me spending the evening with my middle finger in a pint of cold beer – (yup, in those days we were so stupid that we did drink and drive even though the law had come in a few years earlier.)

Over the next couple of months I did what makes sense: trained on a smaller bike and passed my Motorcycle Driving Test (again in those days there were no long waiting lists for taking your tests – which was also not a good thing as you didn’t get a lot of practice.)

At the same time I bought 2 old 650cc 1953 BSA Golden Flash and one sidecar – all of which had been painted black – for the princely sum of £20 and proceeded to rebuild one, using the other for parts, restoring it to its former glory. With the sidecar it was a monster to drive and handled like a truck, so I soon removed it and enjoyed the open road.

Shortly afterwards I had another accident. I had just a collected a new tyre for the front wheel which I was wearing around my neck and one arm like a duffel bag as I drove home, when a text book accident happened. Approaching a crossroads well within the speed limit, a car pulled out in front of me. I flew through the air and two things saved me as I smashed down on the road.

The first was that the Law that made it compulsory to wear Helmets had come in a few weeks earlier – so I was wearing one – which I had not done before the law had come in. The other thing was the tyre around my arm that took much of the impact – though I still broke a few bones – one of which never healed properly and still gives me problems – but at least I was not seriously injured.

There were a number of issues leading to that accident. Riding a bike makes you more observant and I did see the car at the junction that was stationary as I approached and I assumed that the driver had seen me. A moment later he suddenly pulled out – citing later that he had not seen me at all, stating I must have been going too fast. I took action and braked and the skids proved that I was within the limit. The driver, a full major and commander of the local army camp, then accepted he was at fault.

Why did the accident happen? The junction was notorious because several accidents had already happened at the crossroad with its poor visibility in joining the main road. Following my accident it was enlarged and made safe.
The driver was unaware, admitted he had not seen me, though he had initially tried to put the blame on me – because he believed it was his job as a soldier to be aware. In which case was I blameless, as the accident was ‘his fault’?

Lying in hospital I reflected on why the accident had happened. I was unaware too – I had assumed too much and I was an inexperienced motorcyclist driving a big bike. I had not practiced enough – even though I knew, as we all do, that practice is essential to becoming good at something. It was my fault for not being a good enough driver.

I also decided that whoever was to blame a bike against a car was an unfair contest as the bike always came off worse, so if I was to ever have a ‘big bike’ again it would be when I lived somewhere that the conditions were conducive to touring – like the south of France – and I made that a goal. Two good things came from the accident.

The first was a Turning Point for me: that to be good at something you have to practice until you become good at it.
Years later, when I moved to the South of France I fulfilled that goal with a 1450cc Harley Davidson. But I had not ridden a bike for years, so following my adherence to the principle of practice, I contacted a Motor Cycling Academy.
The service and attention was excellent and my teacher, a veteran motorcycle police trainer of 20 years, instilled me with confidence. The one-to-one intensive course commenced with me being taken through all the principles. Then, having understood what was involved, the practice of the principles followed.

Starting on a small bike in a training park I was able to master the principles and rose to the ranks of the Heritage Classic Springer. At the end of the course my instructor reminded me to never stop practicing.

The day I collected my Harley, which was the same model I had practiced on, I was nervous. As you get older you become more aware of your vulnerability and it didn’t help that near the Italian border where I collected the bike, everyone considers themselves as a practicing Michael Schumacher but without his knowledge of driving principles.

Taking the bike out everyday, to practice, my confidence began to build. At hazardous points in the road my concentration allowed me to even hear the instructor’s voice in my ear advising, confirming or praising my actions.

Often, we will drive to work or home and because we have either been absorbed in our thoughts, the radio, or more commonly today, a phone call, we arrive at our destination almost unaware of our journey. It is almost as though we have driven on autopilot.

I have made the point that the majority of accidents can be traced back to a lack of concentration, or awareness, and often we learn greater awareness because of an accident. I am absolutely certain that if I had practiced sufficiently the principles that I had learned later, my accident all those years ago would have been avoided.

Whenever something is important to us we should be more aware, but it’s seldom that we are.

Too often we are so involved in the hustle and bustle of business to practice the principles that we know make good sense and lead to success. Promising that someday we will take the time out is not good enough.

The world of entrepreneurship may be likened to driving something that we are not quite used to, in surroundings that suddenly appear more hazardous than we initially thought.

The habit is to retreat to the comfort of being cocooned in something that we believe to be more secure, where we can relax our concentration, and get somewhere without too much concern as to how we did it.

Such a habit must be replaced with acknowledging those principles that will ensure we can achieve our goals and practicing resolutely until we do.

The clear Turning Point for me was that whatever I want to do I make certain I practice, practice and practice and never stop practicing.

And what was the second good thing that came from the accident? Well, the Major was the commanding officer of my future father-in-law – but that’s another story.

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