Anyone who’s ever swung a rope has experienced times of self-doubt, when we aren’t winning and the ball’s just not bouncing our way. All ropers feel it, and when things don’t go right in the heat of battle, it’s really easy to kick your dog and throw your sucker in the dirt. Fact is, I don’t care if you’re Speed and Rich or Jake and Clay, we all lose a lot more than we win.

Clay (Cooper) and I have been fortunate to have a lot of success. We won most of the rodeos, including Salinas and Cheyenne, the average at the (Wrangler National) Finals (Rodeo) and seven world championships. But when you spread it all out over a 30-year career—and look at every rodeo and roping we entered—we won less than a third of the time. We won more than most, but it still never felt like enough. If your batting average is less than that, don’t feel bad. And do know you’re not alone. That’s just the way it goes. And that’s why we need to learn to deal with the self-doubt that comes with failure.

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A lot of rodeo and roping fans assume the best guys win all the time, because they see their names in the standings. Not true. Back in the day, we went to about 125 rodeos a year (today’s team ropers can count 65 rodeos a year). So you start dividing those earnings up, and the winning is actually sort of sporadic. Winning something half the time would be over the top. It doesn’t happen.

I’m not saying you should accept losing. I’m a sore loser. No successful people like losing. But losing is something you have to learn to live with.

There have been so many times in my roping career when I got so frustrated that I thought, “I’ve had it. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” One of the things that always helped me out of that mindset was to sleep on it. I tossed and turned, and questioned if I was good enough. But I always woke up the next morning refreshed, back to my old self, and ready to go conquer the world again. It also really helps if you can be the opposite of an elephant, develop amnesia and forget about your failures.

Getting back in the practice pen is another go-to for me when things aren’t going my way. Practicing builds confidence, and confidence removes self-doubt. Surrounding yourself with positive people is also a big plus. I never wanted my friends telling me everything was fine when I was struggling, but an encouraging reminder that it will turn around is always a good thing.

Jake Barnes: Progress Can’t Be Stopped

When I’ve experienced self-doubt in my career, I always looked at myself first. Then I looked at my horse, because sometimes my struggles were related to how he and I were getting along. When I had a good horse and he was really firing, I felt like my game should be spot on. They’re hard to find and keep going, but riding a good horse is game changing for every roper and a real confidence booster.

A good win is always another confidence booster. That’s the shot in the arm that erases self-doubt instantly. Practicing hard and positive thinking go hand-in-hand with winning, so stay on that successful track. Sometimes switching partners is actually a good idea, but I’ve always strongly preferred looking at what I can do to make myself better instead of playing the blame game.

Roping comes easier to some than others. Some seem to have a lot of natural talent, and others need to really work at it. Sometimes the naturals don’t know how to fix things when the wheels fall off, so that just tells me that we all need to work hard to keep self-doubt at bay. We can all work through the mechanics of roping to work our way out of a rut.

Learning to Lose with Jake Barnes

No matter what you’re going through, train your mind to expect things to go well the next run. I’ve always hated the cliché, “You’re trying too hard.” Really? As if things are going to get better if you try less. I’ll take my chances at turning the struggle bus around with hard work every time. 

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