Work Ethic: A Fundamental at the Foundation of Every Great Roper with Clay O’Brien Cooper
How building a strong work ethic pays off in team roping with Clay O'Brien Cooper.

I think the thing that really hooked me early on, when I was just a little kid, was the competition—the feeling and the thrill of winning, and the accomplishment that went with that. My stepdad, Gene O’Brien, ran a weekly jackpot roping in Southern California and there were always a bunch of kids around. We all competed roping the dummy, roping steers on foot in the steer pen and whatever else we could think of. We were always putting up money. We called them penny pots, because it was typically for one or two cents. It wasn’t a lot of money, but there was always something to win. In that environment, as just a little kid, I started trying to formulate plans and strategies to win. Without realizing it at the time, that’s when I started working on my roping abilities and developing the work ethic I have today.

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It’s not easy to win at any level, from the top all the way down through the number system in levels of ability. But it seems like the winners who win most often are the guys who are pretty fanatical about the process and the work ethic. They’re always thinking about their roping, working on their roping, roping dummies and lead steers, and practicing on live cattle as much as possible.

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There’s an old saying that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I enjoy the process of working on my roping and my horses almost as much as I do the competition, because it’s all in the preparation. When I’m prepared and I’ve been working hard, I know I’ve given myself the best possible chance to succeed when I get there.

Sometimes it’s tough when you work at it hard and go compete, then things still don’t go your way and you’re not as successful as you want to be. It’s easy to get frustrated and get down when that happens, and maybe have a little bit of a bad attitude. But what I’ve come to realize is that if I’m working on the things I need to work on, I’ve got to have patience and let the process take its course.

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It’s always going to turn around, and sooner or later it’s going to be your turn to capitalize on your hard work if you keep showing up prepared. Sometimes it takes patience, hanging in there and waiting until it turns. But if you’ve worked hard you will win.

I watch and compete against the best ropers in the world, and when you do that you see a lot of principles in play. Your 2010 world champions, Trevor (Brazile) and Patrick (Smith), are a good example because they work very hard on their roping. They’re great ropers, and they’ve been roping together for a few years now. I’ve seen them go through hard times and not win, and I’ve seen them get on fire and win a whole lot. But their work ethic stays the same. They’ve been very patient and willing to hang in there and stick it out. They put on one of the most dominant displays ever at the 2010 NFR and shot up to win the world championship. It was the result of a great work ethic, and patience to stick it out and wait their turn. Those guys are like me. They enjoy working hard at what they do, and it brings results. 

The champions of tomorrow will be the guys who get ahold of certain principles and apply them to the dreams they aspire to accomplish. Talent alone doesn’t do it, and you can’t rely on luck. It’s the guy who’s willing to work harder than the next guy who will come out on top in the long run. You see it in all sports. Those are the ones who really excel and succeed.

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