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.