Clay Cooper's Tips for Maximizing the Benefits of Minimal Practice

Practice is what got you started, and how you hone your basic skills. Practice is also what helps you climb the ladder in your ability level, and it’s a constant that helps keep your fundamentals intact and also continues to be the catalyst for improvement.
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Guys who rope for a living and recreational ropers have a lot more in common than you might think, in addition to a love of the game. Limited practice time is just one example. The importance of practice is a multi-level and multi-faceted subject. Practice is what got you started, and how you hone your basic skills. Practice is also what helps you climb the ladder in your ability level, and it’s a constant that helps keep your fundamentals intact and also continues to be the catalyst for improvement. And that’s just at the physical level.

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The other component to practice is the psychological effect it has—the part that it plays in connecting your technical skills with your ability to concentrate and focus. The icing on the cake is that practice builds your confidence. A lot of factors affect the amount of practice you’re able to get. To practice a lot, you have to have the cattle, the horses, the facilities and the time. Working around sore horses, not having a partner nearby or some of those other resources, including the time, all play into this. I deal with these things myself. A lot of recreational ropers are trying to fit in practice around busy schedules that include jobs and families. When we get rolling in the summertime and we’re going to a rodeo or two a day for several months, there’s not much time in between to practice for us, either. There are times all ropers need to learn to practice mentally. I’m always thinking about roping and replaying our runs in my head. Derrick (Begay) gets every run we make videoed and sent to me, whether we win, lose, catch or miss. I always study our runs—on the all-night drives and on the way to the next one. I go through the mental imaging of what I’m trying to do. That’s the mental part of practice. 

Ultimately, we’re all trying to execute a game plan at every level of this game. I do the same thing playing golf. I don’t get a lot of time to practice that, either. I can sympathize with a roper who works an 8-5 job and only gets to practice once a week, because that’s me playing golf. But I swing my club all the time, and am always practicing mentally to learn the game as I go, using the mental imagery process that roping has taught me. As for making the best use of the time we do have, use that smart phone to watch the pros making good runs on YouTube. Use that mental imagery on the different components of your roping—proper swing angles, timing, delivery and how you ride your horse. Spend your limited time in the practice pen working on everything from your posture to your swing position and angle. Rope the dummy to get repetition of a fundamentally correct delivery. Even when I rope the dummy on the ground I’m running a make-believe scenario through my mind where I’m on my horse with the reins in my hand, making that corner and executing my game plan. It’s a systematic regimen, whether I’m doing it mentally, on the ground, on a Heel-O-Matic or with actual practice runs. In all those scenarios I’m doing the same thing—formulating a game plan in my mind, then trying to go get it done. TRJ

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