A Finalist’s Mental Approach with Kollin VonAhn

Kollin VonAhn won the College National Finals Rodeo heeling for Ryan Carter in 2005, and since then he’s won three Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average titles and two gold buckles. He knows a thing or two about making the best of things at the end.
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Kollin VonAhn won the College National Finals Rodeo heeling for Ryan Carter in 2005, and since then he’s won three Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average titles and two gold buckles. He knows a thing or two about making the best of things at the end.

Get Specific
When I’m practicing, instead of just having a good day and thinking everything feels good, I want to know exactly what I am looking at, what I am seeing, what steps I’m executing to make everything feel good. When you get to a high-pressure situation, all of the emotion comes in and then you have to catch to win this or that—that’s what starts clouding our judgment. So when all of the emotion comes, I try to turn it off and go through those steps I practiced and executed. I fall back to those steps in my roping to push the emotion and the anxiety out of my head. I go through my checklist. I can enjoy winning as soon as that’s over.

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Focus
I want to know where my eyes are looking. That sounds stupid, but that’s right there at the top of my mental checklist. If I’m looking in the right spots, it helps my riding and it helps my position. Sometimes, especially in pressure situations, we’ll catch ourselves looking at a whole bunch of different things or we won’t remember what we’re seeing at all. I actually tell myself that this is what I’m looking at, this is what I’m seeing. For everybody, what they focus on is different, but that’s one thing on my checklist. I want to know how my mind is working when I’m looking at my spot.

Kick Excitement Out
If I’m focused, and I can control what my mind is thinking, the roping part of it is fairly easy. I don’t like to ever allow any anxiety to kick in. I never want to let anxiety take over any part of my run. You can look at Clay Cooper—he even looks more intense practicing than he does at the roping. Don’t let that “I caught!” feeling kick in until the run is over and you’re riding out. You’ve got to maintain focus until it’s all over with. Shoot, we all lose enough that it’s great to enjoy winning when it does finally happen, but let it happen after the run is over.


Forget Luck
The more prepared you are, if you’re practicing well and you’re going through all your personal checklist as you’re practicing, it makes it easy. If you don’t put in the work—it’s a luck deal. But you can’t count on that when it’s time to perform. If you do your work ahead of time, the one thing you can rely on is yourself to make good decisions. If I have done all my work and executed, the outcome isn’t as important to me. If I executed and I won second, I’ll still be happy with myself. There’s always going to be room to get better and to grow. You have to know what you can do well and execute what you know you can.

When It’s All Said and Done
There’s always a reevaluation of what happened and how it went and how you performed. One thing that’s important is being honest with yourself and sitting down to evaluate when you were lucky and caught and when you actually did the work and executed. It’s easy to pass the buck on your partner for a miss, but to grow and get yourself better, you’ve got to take an honest evaluation of how you did. Look at what you need to work on. I like to evaluate and see if I need new horses, whatever it is. I make a new set of goals every year of what I’m going to try to accomplish. I like to write it down on a piece of paper to remind myself what I’m trying to accomplish. I like to make sure I’m working on the goals I’ve set for myself, year round.


Kollin VonAhn lives with wife Angie Meadors in Blanchard, Okla., where they’re expecting their first child, a daughter, this month. VonAhn is roping in the Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour in 2016 with Charly Crawford.

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