“Somebody just asked me to help out their son,” says motocross trainer Don Solley, on how he eventually created the Xcel Trainer Motocross School. “Nothing crazy, just trying to teach him a few things.”
It did get crazy, though — crazy successful. Those few lessons turned into an expanded curiculum, and well attended. Don’s 40-acre school, based in Fort Pierce Florida, has become a prominent motocross practice and training facility, teaching kids everything from body position and breaking to throttle control and maintenance. But it’s not all serious stuff all the time; there’s also training for jumps, whips, and wheelies.
Don is the ideal teacher of this kind of skill. The son of professional drag racer Chip Solly, the Florida native started racing professionally at age 18 (he’s now 30).
His life, through a series of jumps, whips and wheelies, reflected his art.
“It was up and down,” he says of both his life and motocross career. “I had moments that were really, really good, and then there were moments where I struggled. The hardest part was trying too hard too soon instead of letting myself learn through the process.”
The result of putting the pedal to the metal?
“I had a lot of injuries,” he says of what he calls his “injury phase,” “which definitely held me back from where I could have been. I was always trying to push through it, trying to get a result each weekend. I should have just been more patient and learned and applied myself better during the week. I needed to learn how to be patient. Patience is hard to think about.”
The injuries of an ambitious young man on the motocross move were par for the course: damage to the spleen, kidneys and liver, legs and knees. Add to that a dislocated shoulder, which needed a full reconstruction.
“It spiraled me into not being patient and trying to rush back too soon,” he says.
During the injury phase, Don took on a few more clients, who went on to national-level success.
“So I thought, this is kind of fun to watch these kids go on and do well,” he says, “so maybe I’ll do this along with my own racing. I started having more fun helping the kids, seeing how happy they were when they reached their success. It was really fulfilling on my end. I just started putting a lot of focus on that.”
The school offers both private and group training, focusing on technique and fundamentals (but emphasis on the fun). Also offered are training camps and even an online program where non-local kids can learn via video.
Don’s major priority when teaching: preventing the injuries that he experienced himself.
“We do a lot of technique-based stuff,” he says. “Some kids go by ‘let’s go faster!’ I go more by the lines of learning the technique. The speed is going to come as a result of that. It helps the riders to be more well rounded and to keep injuries to a minimum as well. That’s something I know was a mistake on my part when I was racing, so I really try to focus on injury prevention. It’s all about keeping the kids safe and healthy, making sure that they’re not overexerting themselves.”
Still, teaching kids who are gunning to ride always presents a challenge: “understanding their mind and how they learn,” Don says. “That’s probably the hardest thing. For some, you need to be really nice and calm and patient. For some others, you have to push them a little bit harder. And I just have to be able to figure that out.”
Professional potential also often rears its head in the course of a motocross course.
“Some kids have a higher ceiling, I guess you can say, with where their potential could be,” Don says. “I have to be able to see that quickly so that I am not holding certain students to such a high standard. Some of the kids who are winning at a national level, they are obviously going to be held to a standard that is above the local kids, just because they are the best in the country. The other kids are just having fun at a local level. They don’t care how fast they are, they are just doing it for fun. Being able to differentiate that is definitely crucial to having success with the kids.”
A large component of Don’s teaching technique is his lifelong love for the art of motocross.
“It’s taught me so much through my life,” he says. “When you work hard, you can achieve your goals. Because it’s an individual sport, you can directly see those changes. If you work really hard in football or baseball or any other sport, sometimes you can’t see your results, because you have other people on the field who may dictate how you are going to do. With motocross, it’s a direct reflection. If you work hard at it and stay really focused, you’re going to succeed and you will reach your goals at some point or another.”
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