If You Can See It, You Can Do It
"Visualization" might sound a bit out there, but it's a powerful tool for improving your roping game.
Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins walk across the stage after winning the 2022 The American Rodeo.
Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins won The American in 2022. Image by Impulse Photography.

The role of visualization in team roping.

One size does not fit all when it comes to how people learn. Some of us are visual learners, and others are better able to grasp things by hearing how they should be done. We’re all different when it comes to how we learn, and what makes things click for us. 

I’ve always been a visual person. So when I was a kid growing up with the fantasy of being a roper, living the rodeo life and roping for a living, like the Camarillos and Rodriguezes were doing, I paid careful attention visually to what the best ropers did. I could see myself roping like that or riding like that, and it put that vision in my mind. 

I was blessed to be raised in Southern California. Back then, all the greats of dally team roping were in California. When I practiced roping the dummy, goats or steers, I would try to mimic the different styles I saw. I studied styles, and tried to make parts of them work for me. 

[READ: The True Cowboy Capitals of the World]

I also tried to understand why people did what they did. Why did Leo (Camarillo) sit straight up in the middle of his horse, and swing his rope behind his head riding down the arena? Why did he get the tip of his rope over the withers of the steer? Analyzing what I saw visually was where it was at for me as I was trying to hone my skills and get to that level. 

This still works the same way in my mind today. I’ve now watched four eras of great ropers. About every 10 years there’s a new wave. Guys like Junior (Nogueira), Jade (Corkill), TG (Travis Graves), Patrick (Smith) and Paul Eaves are the fourth decade of great heelers I’ve gotten to watch and study. 

Team roping is such a fascinating sport. There are so many great ropers, and they all have differences in everything from how they ride their corner to how they time the steer. Every part of it is interesting to study, and it’s easier than ever. We can video all of it with our iPhones, and watch it as many times as we want.  

[WATCH: Mental Game Playlist by Clay O’Brien Cooper on Roping.com]

When I first started out, my mom would take eight-millimeter projector movies. We watched them on the wall with a movie projector. That’s what home movies were back then. Today’s technology is so advanced that with our iPhones we can break every detail down in slow motion. It’s easy to see for ourselves why things work—or don’t. 

Today’s great teams, like Kaleb Driggers and Junior, Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins, and Tanner Tomlinson and Patrick Smith have worked hard for several years, stayed hooked and built their runs. Now they’re reaping the rewards. If you can see it, analyze it and break it apart, you can get good at the things it takes to do the job and be successful. 

In football and virtually every other sport, they analyze game films. Every detail is broken down by watching. There’s no reason ropers can’t benefit in the exact same way. It starts with our ability to visualize, and from there we mimic what we see or come up with ideas that are out of the box. This process is where innovation comes from.

[LISTEN: The Score: Season 3, Episode 8 with Clay O’Brien Cooper]

Visualization also works in the future. I can see what I want my future to be, and what I want my career to be. From there, it’s a building process—coming up with a plan for how to get there, then walking it out with hard work. 

Our memories capture images, good and bad. Using past positive images in our mind can be very beneficial. There have been times I was searching for an answer with my roping. I went back and retraced mental pictures of successful runs—mine, and some made by other ropers. I run those mental videos through my mind, and BAM—a confirmation comes to my mind that puts the puzzle together. 

This also works with confidence. Looking back and replaying big wins and successes can build confidence and self-assurance, which we all need sometimes. It’s easy to crater in the summertime when you just had three straight all-night drives and roped three legs. Pull out past positive memories, and pull yourself out of the ditch. TRJ

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