rise up

Can Failure Lead to Success?
"You’re still in the game if you don’t give up."
Chad Masters and Champ celebrating another winning run at the 2012 NFR.
Chad Masters and Champ celebrating another winning run at the 2012 NFR. | Hubbell Rodeo Photo

I started competing so young. While there’s definitely a learning curve to the physical part, it all comes down to the mental side in the end. A lot of people will work hard enough to reach the highest level with their roping skills. But consistent winning and success also require a strong mental game, and sometimes that winning comes from losing. 

I’ve noticed that some people are overconfident. That cockiness tends to not be based on truth, though, and they can’t back it up. You gain genuine confidence through climbing the ladder of success.

I started out at little jackpots in the area where I grew up, in Southern California, then moved to Arizona as a teenager. From there, my circle got bigger, and I amateur rodeoed in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Roping at the big jackpots in California—Oakdale, Chowchilla and Riverside—is where I first went head-to-head with all the best ropers. I kept working my way up the ladder until I reached my destination in pro rodeo.

At each level, there’s a learning curve. When you work your way through that learning curve and stay hooked, you gain confidence. There’s not always instant success. There are a lot of failures along the way. But the desire in you has to be strong enough to pull you through those failures, and keep you hooked and working at it. 

READ: Winning When You’re Down

When you gain confidence through that process, it’s legit. You can tell when a person has paid his dues and worked his way to the top level. It anchors him because he knows he’s put in the work and has what it takes. 

Learning and trying to get better is a never-ending process. I’ve never seen anyone reach the top and even win a championship, then act like that’s all he can learn. The preparation process and learning curve tell you instinctively that you always have the opportunity to get better. 

You can always go after more knowledge, and that’s your chance to keep improving and getting better. You can keep striving for more, even if you reach the top. That desire to keep climbing those steps and stages never has to stop. I’m 62 years old, it’s 31 degrees outside today and here in an hour, I’m going to go saddle up and rope. The desire to get better and work on my craft is still burning bright on the inside of me. 

READ: Going At It with Focus, Fire and Intensity

Another aspect of competing comes down to learning from your mistakes when you lose. During some of those years Jake (Barnes) and I absolutely dominated, our winning percentage was about 50%. Batting .500 is an unheard-of batting average in baseball, but us winning half the time meant dealing with losing half the time.  

It’s your ability to press through failure, learn from it and use it to fuel you to practice harder, analyze it more and work on whatever it takes to win that will serve you best. Because that desire to win is where it’s at.

I think we all have a love-hate relationship with competing because we love to win and hate to lose. That’s a war that goes on in our minds all the time. But it can help fuel your success if you use it to your benefit. 

One of the most profound examples of this in my career was when I roped with Chad Masters in 2012. I was in my early 50s, and my goal was to make another run at roping at the Finals, and possibly win another championship. When we started roping that spring, Chad was spinning me steers over and over again, and I kept messing up. I was practicing hard, and doing everything I could think of to turn things around.

LISTEN ON THE SHORT SCORE: Clay O’Brien Cooper’s “Student of the Game” Mindset

As we were starting our Fourth of July run and heading to Pecos, Texas, I was running practice steers in my head. And I had one thought about my swing and timing that just clicked. I did that one thing starting at Pecos, and with that next run that one thought totally changed the equation. From that run on, I went from nowhere on the radar to us winning more than any other team over the Fourth of July run, and having the best Cowboy Christmas of my career. 

Chad and I kept that ball rolling to the end, and moved within reach of Kaleb (Driggers) and Jade (Corkill). When it was over, Chad and Jade were the champs, and Kaleb and I were a close second. All that success came from failures, and God injecting that one thought into my head that turned it all around. You’re still in the game if you don’t give up.


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