Mental Game (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Frequently I’m asked about the mental game of roping. So this month I’m going to share a few things that have helped me and if you’re someone who really struggles with the mental aspect of roping, maybe we can change your perspective.

One of the key words that I often say out loud to myself is “persevere.” It’s real easy to be upbeat and positive when you’re roping good and winning. It’s when things go wrong that you find out what you’re made of.

Last month the cover of this magazine featured Doug Pharr being in the #1 position. It was only a couple of years ago that Doug and I had been visiting at a rodeo and discussing how he was coming together with his horse. Doug and his brother, Tim, left that rodeo and had a wreck that ended up killing their horses. Now here he is at the top, which is a pretty vivid example of perseverance. Doug and Tim have come full circle and are both in the top fifteen and I congratulate them and wish them the best this year in their quest for the NFR.

I think everything in life can be classified in one of two categories: positive or negative. The answer to the old saying, “Is your cup half full, or is it half empty?” all depends on your perspective. We all have negative experiences, in and out of the arena. In my roping I try to take a negative experience, learn from it and improve in that area. Then I’ve taken a negative and turned it into a positive.

Draw on past experiences to help you prepare. Even if you are just a beginner, you’ve made a good run that stands out in your mind. Take that positive experience and dwell on it. Relive it. Don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up for mistakes. Figure out why you made the mistake and go to work on improving in that area.

After having chosen the topic for this article, ironically I picked up the Spin to Win this month and the champ, Clay Cooper, was talking about preparing to catch the high money steer. Clay Cooper has forgotten more about roping than most of us will ever know and when he has something to say, I quit talking and listen. Clay doesn’t make a lot of small talk and when he has something to say it’s worthy of taking notes.

In that article Clay pointed out that in the big picture of life, is it really going to matter five years from now? That’s keeping things simple and in perspective. For me, it’s easy because it’s not in my hands anyway. I do the best I can, but it’s ultimately in God’s hands.

Ninety-nine percent of people, who rope, get caught up in the mental game. You start thinking about things and before long your mind is messing with you and before long – your mind is your worst enemy. If you’re one of the few who can rope their calves without being affected by being high call or thinking about the money – then you’ve cheated the system. You’re unconscious and like a rattlesnake without any rattles. The other 99.9% deal with the pressure of thinking about things. That’s when it’s important to draw from your past successes.

As for myself, I try not to put any unnecessary pressure on myself. It doesn’t matter whether I’m roping for a gold buckle or in my own practice pen. I’m still roping a calf that costs $400.

If you can learn to rope with the attitude of building on past successes and making use of things you’ve learned from failures, then you won’t have to cheat the system. You’ll be more deadly than the unconscious rattlesnake.

I don’t gamble, but there’s a saying in gambling that you don’t play with “scared money.” That’s true in calf roping too. Don’t back in the box being afraid of losing. Being afraid of missing or losing opens the doors for negative thoughts to flood your mind. Drawing from your success, being confident and aggressive is positive and much more powerful.

MORE >>

Slaying our Giants (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

There’s no doubt in my mind that my father would have been a world champion calf roper if he had chosen to make a career in rodeo. I have a picture of him from the National Finals Rodeo in Dallas where he was getting off on the right side and holding his slack. Obviously he was way ahead of his time. The most rodeos he made in any one year was thirty-eight, and that’s back when most people went to all they could get to.

There were two things that kept him from being all that he could be as a roper or from winning world titles.

First, he never spent any amount of money for a horse and always made his own. There’s nothing wrong with that and I respect him for that.

Secondly, he had a family with five kids and did not want to leave us. He always had one or two jobs at home and just went to a few rodeos. He stayed home for his family. My dad has no regrets what-so-ever and knows he made the right choice. As one of his five kids, I know I’m grateful. Having my dad there while I was growing up and learning had a huge impact on the man and roper I am today.

Knowing this, I’ve taken those two things on in my own life as giants to slay. I focus on those two things and will do whatever it takes. I’ll never let money keep me from buying the right horse, even if I have to borrow it.

As for the other, I don’t want to be away from my family anymore than my father did. To be the husband and father I want to be, I need to have my family with me. As much as I love what I do, it will never be as important or deprive me of my family. Therefore, we travel in a ‘Toter Home’ which is basically like a NASCAR tour bus with living quarters.

To excel at anything requires sacrifice of some kind. In the last year, by working with a trainer, I’ve radically improved my strength and agility. None of which came without sacrifice. Whether it’s giving up some of my favorite food or the hundred plus sit-ups I do every day, it’s worth it for the improvement it’s made in me and my roping.

In the end, I won’t define my career by world titles, NFR qualifications, or money won. I will judge myself by asking if I did everything possible to be the very best I could be. To really evaluate my career, everything has to be taken in perspective including the adversities, wins, and losses. That’s what I use to evaluate myself and not by comparing myself to others. I will have to know, without a doubt that I left nothing to chance and no stone unturned.

If you have giants you need to slay, go after them with whatever you have. Even if it’s only a slingshot.

See you down the line and God bless.

MORE >>

How do you Win? (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

The million-dollar question that I hear most is, “How do you win?” The answer is in how well you deal with pressure. Pressure will either make you or break you and how you handle it will determine how successful you’ll be.

To me pressure is a privilege. Say you’re in the short go – how did you get there? I’m sure it wasn’t with a lottery ticket or being pulled out of a crowd. At the National Finals they don’t randomly draw fifteen contestants from each event. Those are the top fifteen who have won over and over. The next time you’re in that situation with sweaty palms and a cottonmouth, remember you earned the right to be there. Being in that situation also means you’re prepared for those times. You’ve trained and prepared yourself for this moment in time, or you wouldn’t be there.

Pressure can be a huge distraction, but I choose to feed from it and let it make me even more focused and determined.

The way to deal with pressure is to focus. To stay focused I use the KISS method – “Keep it simple Stran.” I take that nervous energy and channel it into focus, which heightens my senses. I can recall being in situations where I was so focused that things slowed down and it was like being in slow motion. I couldn’t hear the announcer, I could almost smell my rope – I was so focused my senses were ultra sensitive.

There are a few things I concentrate on when I rope. I will focus on what I’m doing with my eyes and where I’m looking. When I’m sitting in the box I will find a spot on my calf’s neck – not the entire calf or just the neck area – I’m talking about an inch square. I watch that part of his neck to see my start and focus on that. It’s easy to get caught up in the announcer or the crowd when you’re in a strange place. You need to learn to tune those distractions out and make it your own.

You can’t wait until you get to the WNFR in Las Vegas to get control of your mind. We talk a lot about practicing, well, practice focusing – faithfully because it takes a lot of practice to master. It’s well worth it because controlling emotions and handling pressure is the difference between those who win and those who don’t.

Another key in focusing and winning is knowing your limitations and staying within them. How many times have you seen someone at the rodeo try something they wouldn’t have attempted at home? No matter how long you’ve roped or how much you’ve won, you will always need to focus because that rope only knows one thing. It goes where you throw it.

Stay focused and I’ll see you down the line. God Bless.

MORE >>

You’re Always Making Memories (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

I’m up in Austin tonight and it made me think of a funny story. About seven years ago I was traveling with a rookie named Josh Crow, who’s now one of my best friends. Naturally being a rookie, he endured a lot of ribbing from me but overall he took it pretty well.

We had just finished roping in Austin and stopped to eat a bite before getting on the interstate. Leaving the restaurant our driver, Johnny, headed for the truck and as Josh and I started to get in the trailer we noticed the generator had come unplugged. Josh told me to go ahead, he’d climb up top and take care of it.

I got settled in the trailer, put in a movie and we took off. Josh never got in the trailer so I figured he decided to ride in the truck. We’d barely gotten on the interstate when my phone rang. All I could hear was wind blowing and someone screaming. Finally I realize that it’s Josh and I think he’s trying to play a trick on me by leaning out of the truck window.

The call gets dropped and my phone rings again. This time I hear Josh screaming, “I’m on the trailer!!!”

We’re on interstate I-35 going about 75 miles an hour and Josh is scared to death. I try to call Johnny up in the truck and he’s not answering. I figure I’ll stick a corner of the comforter out of the trailer window to get his attention. He doesn’t notice that so I keep feeding the comforter out of the window until almost the entire king size comforter is flapping beside the trailer and about to pull my arm out of the socket.

Finally a truck driver pulls up beside us and I point to the pick up. The truck driver gets Johnny’s attention and seeing the comforter, he immediately whips it over. Poor Josh climbs down and looks like a tornado survivor. He’d been up there about fifteen miles and said, “You can’t believe how close those overpasses are to the top of the trailer!”

Recalling that story it dawned on me how blessed I’ve been through the years to spend time with great people doing what I do. The friendships I’ve formed are priceless. These memories make me realize that none of these experiences are by accident. God works in ALL things – through good, bad and even funny times. All means all.

I don’t believe in living in the past, but I do think it’s important to reflect back and learn from our past. Too many of us live for the future without taking the time to enjoy what we have right now. As my mother often tells me about the time I spend with my sons, “You’re always making memories.”

God Bless and I’ll see you down the line.

MORE >>

Knowledge is Power (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

We often hear the phrase “knowledge is power.” While very true, there’s a big difference between revealed knowledge and communicated knowledge. Communicated knowledge is something you know from reading, being told or observing. Revealed knowledge comes from the first hand experience of doing which eventually becomes a “knowing.”

While teaching, I can put a student in the correct position, put my string in his hand and tell him exactly what to do. That’s communicated knowledge and though it’s true, it won’t help him much until he spends some time turning it into revealed knowledge.

Revealed knowledge comes from experience. By doing something enough that you just know it. No successful roper you watch on television got there by luck, fortune or fame. They all put in the time it took to get there and made necessary sacrifices.

At a school I was teaching one of the kids asked me what it took to be a winner. I gave him the politically correct answer about hard work, dedication, etc. Later on he asked again, and I went in depth a little more. After two days, at the end of the school, the students looked like they’d been in a boxing match. Their hands were taped, they were sore and bruised and all looking for somewhere to lie down and lick their wounds. The same kid asked me again what it took to win.

This time I answered, “Go do what you’ve done for the last two days for 600 days out of the next two years. Each year take off 65 days whenever you want. Come back after two years and then we’ll talk, because by then you will have started to understand what it takes.” When I was in college I practiced like that for five years.

No matter what you want in life, you will be as successful as the amount of time you are willing to put in it. There are people who read books and listen to tapes to learn to win and then there are those who simply win. Winning takes care of itself and the more prepared you are – the more you win. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

I’ll see you down the line. God Bless.

MORE >>

Who am I? (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

At start of each year I like to evaluate my goals and priorities. I’ve heard that you have a seventy percent better chance of reaching goals when you write them down. This self- evaluation is an on-going process; but each new year I do some genuine soul searching, not just as a roper, but as a man. Keeping life balanced requires asking myself some pretty deep and tough questions:

Will the world be a better place because I was here? What will I be remembered for and what will be my legacy? Will it be for my roping, because I was in GQ magazine or for the posters and ads I’ve been in? What’s important to me is to be remembered as a good Christian man who set a good example for those I had influence over.

What’s your passion? We all need to be passionate in whatever we’re doing in life. Are you going after your passion – or is it a daydream? It would be a tragedy for me to have my passion for roping and not get a chance to pursue it. I think there are many people without happiness because they’re caught up in the daily grind of life, trying to get by and are not true to their passion. I’m incredibly blessed to be successful at my passion.

Has anything changed me or knocked me off course in pursuit of my goals. The most important thing to me is having a balance. For instance, what if I were the fastest man alive in the arena from the time my feet hit the ground until I threw my hands in the air. It wouldn’t be very beneficial if I couldn’t score and catch. I’d rather be well balanced in all areas. There would be little reward in being the best roper in the world and not have a family who loved you to share it with.

How do you overcome adversity? Does it make you better or set you back. If you’re in a hole and someone throws dirt on you – do you use that dirt to take a step up – or do you let that dirt cover you up? Enjoy every stage of life and when you’re struggling embrace it and know you’ll be better from the challenge. You’ll not only survive but you’ll improve from the experience. Find your weak spots and work on it. Acknowledge and attack it and turn it into a positive.

Who are you allowing to speak into your life? Who and what are you listening to? Are they speaking good and positive things or are they speaking deadly negatives? God will put everyone in your life that needs to be there, but it’s our responsibility to put them in the right place. I have no room for negatives because what you take in will come out. I ask myself if the people I’m allowing to speak in my life are telling me the things I need to hear to get where I need to go. Have I told the people who influence my life how much I love and appreciate them?

If these questions seem thought provoking and deep, it’s because they’re supposed to be. Most importantly, just be real.

God bless, and I’ll see you down the line.

MORE >>

NFR Report (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

It’s nice to be home after two weeks in Las Vegas. The finals are history for another year. Overall, I’m satisfied with the outcome. I won second in the average and about $86,000 between average and round money. My biggest excitement is how well my mare did. She won the Calf Horse award at the NFR. Going in to the finals I had pretty big expectations for her and she surpassed them all. During the entire ten rounds she didn’t make one mistake.

Unfortunately, a few mishaps along the way keep me from being able to say the same thing about my performance. In all events, some had a great finals, some had a good finals and then some didn’t enjoy much success. When you’re having a bad finals, it’s tough to remind yourself that you belong there – you earned it by being one of the top fifteen competitors in the world. The national finals rodeo is not an invitational event.

Most people will never realize what it takes to make the national finals. The hours of practice, the ups and downs of competition and sacrifices are all part of the journey. And everyone who makes it secretly hopes they don’t go through a “slump” during that ten days – but sometimes it happens.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support during the finals. Thanks to everyone who voted for my horse. She’s phenomenal and I’m truly grateful that I get to take care of her and ride her.

Till next time, see you down the line and God Bless.

MORE >>