Riding the Roping Roller Coaster with Clay O’Brien Cooper
Clay O'Brien Cooper talks about learning how to manage team ropings ups and downs.
Clay O'Brien Cooper

Our personalities play a part in whether or not we’re naturally hard on ourselves. I tend to be hard on myself, and to be my own worst critic. So when I’m struggling, I lose confidence fast. But I’m also quick to get busy and work things out, which has been helpful in riding out the rough spots and handling the roping roller coaster that comes with the territory.

Jake (Barnes) and I obviously have good chemistry and make a good team. We’re also a good example of how the two personalities on every team work together to be as productive as possible. I’m pretty intense, but Jake is over-the-top intense. He is completely focused on winning, and has always been totally engaged in the process of working toward the goal. When we were struggling, I wanted to work harder. Jake was 10 times more like that.

READ: Lessons Learned at 29 NFRs with Clay O’Brien Cooper

One of the things I always appreciated most about roping with Jake was that he never showed that he was down on me or that he thought I was causing us to fall into a slump. We all know how critical confidence is to winning, so knowing your partner believes in you when things aren’t going great is very helpful.

Looking back on my career, Matt Tyler was another great partner. That guy was nothing but positive, and always made me believe we were going to kick butt. Matt was like the cheerleader for our team. Another guy I roped with who was like that was David Key. I loved roping with guys who had the ability to immediately forget about a run that didn’t go well and look forward to how great we were going to do on the next one. They disengaged me from the letdown and disappointment, and got me looking forward. I tended to let myself get down without that kind of help, and that helped me bypass the roller coaster.

READ: Work Ethic: A Fundamental at the Foundation of Every Great Roper with Clay O’Brien Cooper

I’m not someone who shows my emotions on the outside, so when I was down I tended to hold it in. I really appreciate and respect the guys who are naturally gifted with the ability to turn loose of the past and look forward to the next run. That attitude helps you not be so hard on yourself, which helps you out of the rut.

Having the tenacity and the driving force to go to work and grind your way back to winning is a good thing. Taking emotional dives is part of the game—nobody wins or performs to perfection all the time—but it’s not the fun part. How you handle your mistakes and your team’s mistakes is a challenge. You either need to train yourself to stay up, maintain a good attitude and go on with it, or losing needs to flip the switch that makes you work harder.

You have to fight to turn things around. We all face disappointments. They are inevitable. If you rope, there will be down times where it’s a struggle. Jake and I had years where everything seemed to go right, and other years that were a struggle start to finish. It never goes according to plan all the time, and we all have to fight through some days, weeks and even months to get things turned around. But you can learn from those mistakes and be like a bulldog where you won’t let go until things turn around.

READ: Mastering Fundamentals with Clay O’Brien Cooper

There’s a lot to be learned from disappointments. A guy named Tom Abshire used to haul me around to jackpots before I had my driver’s license. I would have those times when I would miss and mess up. He told me not to be afraid of that, and that you learn from going through the tough times. I really held onto that, and as I got older wasn’t afraid to go through those dips. It’s not fun to lose, but I always knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and when I got there I’d be better for it. 

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