Editor's Note: Clay O'Brien Cooper recently finished first and third at the 2005 George Strait Team Roping Classic, and left the San Antonio Rose Palace $52,126 richer and with a new truck and trailer in tow. ProRodeo Hall of Famer Cooper won the roping with eight-time Champ of the World Speed Williams, and placed third with fellow seven-time World Team Roping Titlist Jake Barnes. Way to go, guys!
When it comes to closing the really big deals, it all comes down to being prepared. Your preparation, hard work and the right fundamentals are very important, because those things give you the ability to be able to come through at crunch time. When you know you've worked hard and have practiced well, it gives you the confidence to know you can do it when the pressure's on.
No matter who you are, whenever you're faced with a situation that means a lot-that's prestigious, pays a lot of money or the prizes are huge-it creates a totally different environment, for me as well as anyone else. No one is exempt from being faced with those thoughts and feelings under those situations.
That's probably one of the main questions over the years that people have asked me at roping schools or even just when I run into people who know who I am. They ask about how we handle pressure, and how we're able to deal with the pressure of being able to catch the last steer. The top guys are faced with it more than anybody, because we rope for a living. Day in and day out, we're backing in the box under pressure to win because that's what we do.
It's not about how to make the pressure go away, because it's not going anywhere. It's how you look at it and deal with it that makes the difference.
Last week (March 11-12), at the George Strait, I found myself in that high-intensity situation. As the roping developed and I was slowly throughout the day getting to the point where the opportunity was becoming greater and greater down to the last steer, my thoughts started to build and I started looking at the situation. That can either get enormous and almost too big to handle, or you can put it in the right perspective and look at it from the standpoint of reality and make it to where it's not that big a deal.
I had to remind myself that I'm a student of the game, and I keep up on who wins what where. Still, I can't tell you who won the George Strait five years ago. So even if I won it, two or three years from now no one will remember who won it anyway. You either do good or you don't, and if you don't then somebody else who's worked just as hard as you gets to win it. A guy might as well relax and enjoy it, because how it turns out is how it turns out. Looking at it that way takes so much of the pressure off that it's unbelievable.
We create so much of the pressure ourselves, just by allowing ourselves to look at things in a distorted way. We build that pressure by the way we look at and think about things.
Put things into perspective and release yourself to give yourself a chance and not worry about the outcome. The outcome means nothing if you can't go execute the run. So you might as well make the best run you can, and when the smoke clears you've either won or you haven't. I've never been dissatisfied with winning second or third. It's money. I started making a living for myself at 16 running up and down the road with a rope. A lot of seconds, thirds and fourths paid my bills. I just catch my steers, and if I battle to a position on that last one and catch him, I'm going to get some money. A lot of times it turns your way and you actually win it.
If it becomes so big a deal that it's enormous in the way you look at it, then it does affect how you can perform. Early on, when I was learning how to compete and get through situations like that, I think I was just blessed that it occurred to me that everyone who gets into those situations feels the same way and has the same thoughts running through their heads. I knew from an early age that I shouldn't be afraid of the pressure, but rather learn to deal with it.
I don't have to be the No. 1 guy. At the George Strait, I knew I was the high team back. (Clay and Speed came back the high team, and Clay and Jake were fifth riding into the high-team round.) When I was riding around before the last steer I thought about the other guys, and was hoping for the best for them. I prayed, and asked God that the person who needed to win it the most be able to win it, because it was OK if I didn't win it. I just wanted to go make a good run and win something. It was really kind of a shock to me that we won it. I'd released myself from the feeling of wanting to win it so bad I couldn't stand it.
Allowing myself to just go do what I can do takes the pressure off, too. There are a lot of things I can't control, like the steer or what my partner and his horse do. That lets me just concentrate on the simple things I can control-me and my horse.
I was really beared down on that first run back with Jake, because I really wanted to make a good run and position ourselves to win good money. Then, if the short round really fell apart, we had a chance to win it. I knew Jake would be going at it pretty strong, so I knew if I could catch that steer that I knew he was going to turn we'd be in good shape. I had two runs and they were both significant to me, because I had a chance to win good money on both of them. It wasn't so much about winning first, but about getting a good check with that first run, which in turn eased the pressure of that last run.
Everybody's different in the way they approach things, and I'm not saying my way is the only way or the best way. I just know it works for me. Everybody has to find his or her own way of dealing with the pressure of roping the last steer. I've missed a lot of short-go steers for big money just like everybody else. You aren't going to catch every steer. But if you prepare well and practice hard, you have just as good a chance as anybody at coming out on top-and probably better if you've worked harder than everybody else.