Clay O'Brien Cooper On What It Takes to Make it in Rodeo

"It Takes Talent ?AND Work Ethic"
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"It Takes Talent ?AND Work Ethic"

If you’ve been around very long, you’ve seen some exceptionally talented individuals come along, like I have. Whether they’re gifted physically or mentally, things come easy to them. They catch on quick, stand out and seem to excel early. On the other end of the spectrum you see guys who maybe aren’t that flashy to begin with and aren’t really the ones who stand out that much at the start, but just have an ability to keep grinding it out and working at it. They have a desire to excel, and through that work-ethic process they eventually figure it out. Those are the people who really develop such a solid foundation of the fundamental process of what they’re trying to do. They’re talented, but they really try and work at it, too, so they have it all.

I’ve had the luxury of being able to see four decades of ropers come and go, so I’ve seen kids who were so gifted when they showed up. In each one of those decades you see a handful of just super gifted people with raw talent. You watch them rope and you think, “Wow, this could be the next great one.”

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Often those young guys who rely on that gift and talent struggle. Even if you’re gifted and talented you still have to go through the work and put in the time to really round out your skills. Talent won’t take you all the way by itself, especially in the long run over a decades-long career.

On the flip side, the guys with less talent to start with can—through sheer determination, the mastering of the principles and being students of the game who break it down and try extra hard—create within themselves the talent to do the fundamentals good enough to compete with the guys with the gifted talent. I think in the end, when you look at the longevity of careers, hard work is the toughest trait of all to beat.

When I was a kid, I looked up to the likes of the Camarillos, Walt Woodard and Allen Bach. It took a lot of work in every area just to make a living back then, as it does now. I had the privilege of watching those guys and learning from them to see what it took to be successful. Watching them helped me realize that I had to outwork everyone and had to go after it with everything I had or I wasn’t going to be able to really excel the way I wanted to.

Just wanting to do something doesn’t get it at the world-class level like the actual work does. Wishing and wanting to be successful alone doesn’t get the job done. What gets the job done is doing the things that everybody else isn’t willing to do, which is work harder than everybody else at every part of the game.

Today’s top guys—guys like Jade Corkill, Rich Skelton, Travis Graves, Patrick Smith, Kory Koontz, Martin Lucero, Kollin VonAhn and Cory Petska—have proven to be successful in today’s roping world. I know them personally, and I know that they’re fanatical about the game. It takes that being borderline fanatical that keeps you out there working on your horses, swing and delivery. It takes trying to get a little bit better each and every day. I’m kind of a blue-collar guy, and in my book I would rather have the work ethic than the super-gifted talent. When you have that super-gifted talent and you match it with the work ethic, then you have the great ones.