Don't Choke

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One of the most common things people will comment on at roping schools is feeling like they rope pretty good all day long until they get to the high teams. Then they mess up and miss. This is an important area for everyone, when you get into a position where there's just one more steer, that's the last one and that's the one you need to catch to win the money. That can seem like the scariest one. But for the top guys, the first steer is usually the one we might be the most nervous on. By now, we know if we can get into a rhythm, get into a flow and have confidence, we'll be off to a good start. So the last one for the pro-level guys is almost the opposite. At a lot of our short rounds at the rodeos and ropings, the high team ropes last. So you kind of know what you have to do when you go in there. When you're accustomed to executing certain types of runs under different scenarios-you're either forced to make a fast run or all you have to do is just go catch, depending how things play out and how you want to play it-then it's easier to focus on what you need to get done and not be distracted. When you rope for a living, getting a good check in the top two or three holes at a place that pays a lot of money is what you set out to do. So you put a plan in place, and try to stick to it.

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If all you basically have to do is catch to secure yourself a pretty good check, then you just go get the steer roped, and wait and see what the next team does. It's all about executing the run you need. You have to practice the different types of runs-the faster ones and the "just go catch" runs. That kind of takes the pressure off. When you know you can perform a run that you're setting out to do with a pretty high success rate, you know your odds of winning are pretty good and you can just relax and rope.

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You play your percentages and focus on doing what you need to do. That makes it pretty simple, really. I've been roping around the top guys for 30 years, knowing how I approach it and watching the guys who are proven winners for years and years. You don't back in there scared. You back in there giving 100 percent of yourself to executing a run that you've practiced day in and day out. The short round isn't any different. That extra pressure is basically all in your head.

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If you approach that last steer with fear and a negative mindset, then you reduce your chances of executing your run and your mind is distracted. I look forward to the last one. That's the fun part.

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In the short round, the pressure is on everyone. The team that ropes two horns and two feet typically gets a good check. That's what makes short rounds fall apart a lot. People ride in there scared and wondering if they can get the job done vs. sticking to business as usual-riding position, taking a high-percentage shot and roping them like you roped all the other ones.

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People get an adrenaline rush before the last one, because if you accomplish your goal you know you're going to come out winning something good. I've always felt a good adrenaline rush works in my favor and makes me ready to roll, as long as I'm focused on what I need to do. My body and mind are jumping at the chance to go get that steer and close the deal. Don't be afraid of adrenaline and that jittery feeling. That's just being ready to get the job done. Part of why we play is because it's a rush to compete. That can be said for any sport.

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On a final note, I've always enjoyed matching for Cokes and putting a little something on the line to make it to where you're practicing some pressure at home. I can remember roping the dummy and goats with my friends when I was a kid. We were always making believe we were roping at the National Finals or the BFI. We always put ourselves under the gun, even when we were playing. We learned to deal with pressure, not fear it, and to embrace it. When it comes down to the last one, I've always felt like what an awesome opportunity I've roped myself into. Now it's time to complete it, and not fear it and wonder if I can do it. The last one is the best part.