Gearing Up Mentally for Go Time with Clay O’Brien Cooper

With the USTRC’s 30 Cinch National Finals of Team Roping kicking off later this month, and both the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale XIV and 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo coming right around the corner in December, excited team ropers everywhere are busy preparing to do battle for big money.

For me, roping has always been about preparation in one form or another, and it comes in stages. It’s a learning process of continually developing the skills you need to climb to a higher level and succeed. As you make progress, you work to maintain it. Then you work even harder to try and incrementally improve at the physical aspects of roping. Also intertwined in that is developing and preparing yourself mentally for big events.

In addition to proper physical preparation, it’s important to get yourself mentally prepared also, so when you get to the big event you can handle it and execute. Sometimes when we make too much of a finals-type competition, we get in our own way and derail ourselves on the mental side. You can win or lose it by the thoughts you allow into your head.

When you’re preparing, you need to prepare mentally, as well, for the challenges you’re about to face. Some of that is going back to the big picture of looking at it in a way that allows you to turn yourself loose to compete, so you realize that ultimately you’re okay no matter what happens in the arena. You’re either going to go there and do good or not. You’re going to leave there with an experience—lessons learned that you can take away and build on, or realizing your goals.

When you look at it that way, it helps you look out the other side. Sometimes we don’t look at the big picture—which is that you’re going to go compete, and win or lose you’re going to take something away from that experience. In reality, it’s just an opportunity to do something you like to do. It’s not everything you stand for, it’s a roping contest. Looking at it like that gives you the perspective of a bigger picture, and makes the competition not quite as big a deal.

We compound pressure with our own thoughts, and that can make it harder to compete. Just reacting, having a good time and doing our best gives us our best chance at winning. Focusing on what it takes to rope each steer is your best shot. Ride good position, and set up and take the first best shot you see. Have a simple game plan, then let yourself compete that way. It turns your brain loose from thoughts that can get you twisted up to where you overthink things and tighten yourself up.

We can change our perspective just by looking at things from a different angle. By doing that, we can find a place mentally that diffuses that pressure and allows us to go compete, do our best and have fun. We all know by now that a few things need to line up to win on the big stages. You have to draw good, your horses need to work good, and you and your partner have to rope good.

Doing what you’ve practiced at home always gives you the best shot at winning. Don’t get caught up in the moment mentally, where you get so freaked out that you can’t allow yourself to just calm down and go do your best. And remember that preparation encompasses both the physical and the mental. Sometimes we just work on the physical mechanics, then when we get there we’re unprepared mentally. When you go to the practice pen and you’re preparing for a significant event, combine the two.

When you get there, keep it simple. Ride your horse right and the shot will set itself up. Go ahead and take the shot. Run trial runs through your head when you’re practicing. Visualize being there, and making as many runs in a row as you’ll be making when the money’s up. Those mock scenarios let you concentrate on the core elements that propel you into that place you want to be in order to execute and win. When you get to the big event, enjoy that relaxed state that allows you to turn yourself loose, react and fire. It’s not that big a deal, and you really can do it.

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