We all lose. And when we rope competitively, we lose more than we win, I don’t care who you are. Some people handle failure with grace. Others, not so much. But dealing with disappointment is one of the things we all have to try and master. It’s one of the hardest pills to swallow, but it’s also part of it every time you throw your name in the hat. Losing has never been easy on me. I think that’s what’s always been behind my work ethic.

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

You can’t lose all the time and make a living. And even if you’re a recreational roper who ropes for fun, it isn’t fun if you fail all the time. When roping was my job, it’s how I fed my family. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that when you’re losing, the faucet’s running and money’s running out. I had to turn a profit. I was also motivated by the lifestyle—the freedom of traveling the country, doing my own thing, being my own boss and doing what I loved. It was me and that rope, and outworking everybody made me tick.

When things went south in the arena, I always tried to keep my composure. We’ve all had our moments when it was pretty hard to contain ourselves. But I did my best to not let my heartbreak and frustration show. When you become a world champion, you’re in the spotlight and under the microscope. I took that responsibility seriously.

About every roper I know has had meltdowns and cussed, but as I got older and had my own kids, I thought about other people’s kids watching me. Becoming a parent really opened my eyes on this subject, and told me that I needed to be the kind of person I’d want my own kids to look up to. We’re professionals, and people of all ages are watching. I knew I didn’t want to be throwing my rope or hitting my horse. That’s just a lack of discipline.

The Power of Thinking You Can with Clay O'Brien Cooper

Clay (Cooper) has been one of my idols in the discipline department. He’s the wooden Indian, and the king of composure. I didn’t know until recently that he got that from watching Leo Camarillo. Clay doesn’t crack, and is the master of showing no emotion. He trained himself to be solid as a rock. Bobby Hurley was another master at letting things roll off of his back. He might miss, and be giggling when he rode out the back end of the arena. Like Clay, Bobby never let defeat drag him down.

There’s a lot to be gained by not falling apart. Being a model sportsman—riding out of the arena with your head held high, win, lose or draw—has its perks. We all try hard when we compete, and there are just so many moving parts that can go wrong in team roping. Every single one of us loses more than we win, so if you don’t learn to deal with and accept defeat, you’re going to be a miserable person. If your mood is attached only to winning, you’re signing up for an unhappy life.

Drawing Mental Strength from Success with Jake Barnes

Don’t get me wrong—you can’t like losing and be successful. But you do have to deal with it. My answer to losing was always to work harder. That’s why I felt like I deserved to win when I showed up. And if I gave it my all, I could go to sleep when I laid my head down on that pillow, even when I didn’t win. I also couldn’t wait for the sun to come up, so I could get back to work again.

Some people talk about trying too hard being a detriment. I’ve always disagreed with that, because I don’t believe there’s such a thing as trying too hard. I’ve never woken up thinking if I’d tried a little less I’d have won more. I still dream about trying to be the best.

I’ve seen so many guys who couldn’t handle failure turn to drugs and alcohol to try and deal with loss. That’s a road to nowhere. I’d say if you’re rodeoing and you win 30-40% of the time, that’s really good. That’s also a lot of losing, so you’re forced to deal with it. And that goes for ropers at every level of the game.

You can’t win ’em all. But riding out of the arena looking forward to the next run gives you your best shot. 

Don't Let Drugs and Alcohol Derail You

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