To get good at coming through under pressure, you have to be realistic with yourself, and know what your capabilities are—your strong points and your weak points. A good self-analysis is the place to start. Drawing confidence when you need it plays into the mental game that's part of any professional sport. Confidence comes from knowing or thinking you can do it, no matter what the situation is. From roping and competing since I was a little kid, and watching and analyzing ropers at all different levels, I've noticed different characteristics that either help or hinder people. This all becomes most critical in pressure situations.
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Preparation and work ethic play a big part in your success or failure. In any sport, the great athletes not only possess a high level of ability, but also have a high regard for work ethic. They work very hard at refining those special abilities. Working hard and knowing you're prepared to do the job is a major part of drawing confidence in pressure situations.
There are two ends of the spectrum, even among the group of ropers that has the ability and has also put in the time and effort. There are people who have to work on their confidence, and there are people who are naturally upbeat and extremely confident. The ropers who are confident don't have to work on that part. The people who aren't naturally confident have to find a way to ride in the box with confidence just the same. One way or another, you have to be confident when you ride in there.
In the book "The Inner Game of Tennis," there was an interesting point made that our reactions and natural abilities are best able to fire and function on basically a clear, confident state of mind. For me, I have to work on being calm and making my mind and muscles loose and at ease, in order to allow my reactionary functions to fire like they've been trained to fire.
In the practice pen, it's easy to make good runs. It's harder to duplicate those runs in pressure situations, because you're apt to be more tight. Your mind has more to think about in competitive situations, and it can take you over into the area where it starts to affect your ability to react. Some ropers tend to over-analzye when they compete, which can hinder your performance.
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There has to be a foundation. You need to build yourself up. Most people do it by coming up through the ranks, so to speak. They start out junior rodeoing and jackpotting, then amateur rodeoing, then the pros. You keep progressing in stages, getting better partners, climbing up the ladder and building toward having more opportunities to win. The pressure keeps getting greater, but the ability to handle that pressure needs to be part of the progression. Learning to deal with your emotions, stay calm and maximize your potential by allowing yourself to react so you don't get in your own way is important.
Once you get to a certain level of ability, it becomes a mental game. To be able to win, you have to learn how to control that part of the game. You have to realize how the brain and the body function. They function best on a clear mind and confidence, when you're prepared and ready to compete, but relaxed enough for your reaction to fire correctly. Otherwise, your mind gets in your way.