[Originally published in Spin to Win Rodeo in 2004.]
No matter who you are, how well you rope or how good your team is, you’re going to experience times when it seems like something happens to mess up the run and you’re not winning. Your confidence gets down, and the cliché is that you’re in a slump. You see it in all sporting events. It’s news in the sporting world when a great athlete isn’t getting the job done that he normally does. But slumps are just part of competing, and I think there are positive steps you can use to pull yourself out of that mode.
There have been certain things happen throughout my career, even at the very start, that were critical-helpful things that happened. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I’d go to some pretty good ropings with the Abshire family. The dad, Tom Abshire, was always talking to me and building me up and telling me how good I roped. I remember going through a spell where I was roping bad and couldn’t catch. I was really frustrated, and he told me something that has stuck with me to this day: “Don’t be frustrated or upset about being in a slump, because it’s a chance to learn and when you get out of it and on the other side, you’ll be more knowledgeable and better than you were before.” That’s been true all the way through. For 30 years, that wisdom has held true.
Jake (Barnes) says, “You either win something or learn something.” I think he heard that from Ty Murray, and it’s true. I tell that to a lot of students. The best way to get out of a slump is to have the big picture in mind. Keep that perspective, and realize that if you keep working hard and keep your attitude good, keep your head down and plow on-eventually, you’ll come out of it, and better than before.
Probably one of the hardest things to do, but the most necessary in situations like that, is to encourage yourself. There’s a Bible principle in the Old Testament of King David that in the lowest point of his life, when everybody was trying to kill him and even his own army of men was against him, David encouraged himself in the Lord. He asked his armor-bearer to go get Goliath’s sword. David was the one who killed Goliath. He remembered the battle that God had helped him win by looking at that sword and remembering that victory. That’s part of looking at the big picture. You know you can have success. You’ve had it before.
It’s so important to always keep your mind renewed to the right perspective. Don’t be too low or too high. Work hard and earn the confidence you need.
The whole battle is learning how to fight the fight of thought management and realizing that a battle will take place. True, tough competitors who learn how to win learn how to control all the aspects that can come into the mind game. By the time you think you’re in a slump, you’re fighting thoughts like “I can’t win.” Let those thoughts go.
The mental game is how you handle and manage those negative thoughts. If you let the negative thoughts keep coming in and staying in your mind, you’re going to stay in that slump a lot longer than you would if you encourage yourself and put positive thoughts in your mind. The positive side is usually the truth 99 percent of the time. The truth is, you can learn and you can win. If you don’t quit trying, you have an opportunity to win. If you put forth your best effort, you have a chance to win. It’s easy to dwell on the negative, but that gets you nowhere.
It’s easier for some people to stay positive and self-encouraged than others. After rodeoing for so many years and studying the different guys and really looking at the ones who can bounce back from defeat and get that confidence back the quickest, I’ve noticed that those are the ones who get back out of slumps the fastest, too.
Two guys I’ve roped with, Matt Tyler and David Key, stand out as being very encouraging partners. They really helped me when I was on their team. No matter what happened, what went wrong or if we went a few rodeos without winning, they were always building us up and encouraging us when we got back in the rig. When I roped with Matt and wanted to be bummed out and dwelling on the bad, he was lifting us up as a team. That was awesome. He was looking ahead toward future victories. David’s a lot the same way. He’s focused on what’s ahead and what we’re going to win. Jake and I stayed positive together.
Neither of us is outspoken about what we’re going to go win, but together when we’d talk we’d strengthen each other in those down times by visiting about our runs and what we were going to do the next run. We encouraged ourselves by breaking it down.
I’ve read that great athletes and other successful people in life are the ones who’ve encountered a lot of defeat. Babe Ruth was the all-time home-run leader, but the statistics say he had more strikeouts than anyone else, too. When you learn a pattern of not focusing on the negative, then the defeats that come along are water under the bridge. Instead of focusing on the defeats, you keep rolling on.
A big part of learning is to analyze the good guys. Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) started out having problems this year that were caused by different things, like horses and growing families. [Editor’s note: Originally published 2014] Not that children are a problem, but it is an added part of life that’s going to affect your time for practice and preparation. I admire them, because they rallied this summer. They encouraged themselves, kept their heads down and kept rolling until it turned around. Speed and Rich are tried-and-true competitors. They didn’t get to the top by not learning the principles that we’re discussing here. That’s how they could turn it around and get back on the winning track. They know they’re going to have some slumps along the way, but they also know it’s going to turn around. I try to keep my chin up like that, too.
I remember when I was first rodeoing, those times of being in a slump were so frustrating because I had no long-term knowledge. Now that I’ve been around over 20 years, and have seen some guys go through times of prosperity and hot streaks, and times when it seemed like nothing could go right, I realize these things pass. The competitors keep working, keep going and encouraging themselves, and it always turns around. That’s just part of the game. When I was younger and got in a slump, I thought I’d never win again; that it was over. Now I have the perspective to know that’s not the case.
That’s one of the advantages of maturity-knowing that side of the game a little more. Because team roping isn’t so physical and you don’t have to be such an athlete to be good at it, you see guys in their 40s, 50s and even older who are still awesome ropers. It’s like golf in that respect. The older guys can still be very competitive and tough, because they’ve learned the mental game and about the ups and downs. The young guys who figure out this side of the game quicker are going to be more productive over time.