Junior and high school rodeo careers are a stepping-stone onto college and professional rodeo for many. While buckles and trophy saddles from your junior rodeo careers are great, there are a whole lot more important things to takeaway from these years that will benefit the rest of your lives.
In junior rodeo, you need to prepare for the next level of competition. It’s OK if junior rodeo is as far as you want to go with your career, that’s great. But if you have goals to go to the next level—college rodeo, professional rodeo, world championships—then you need to realize that the most important thing is not being the best 12-year-old roper out there. Don’t set your goals to where you don’t recognize it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Keep the big picture in mind. Find your weaknesses and address those, and find your strengths and address those. Spend these years honing your strengths and focusing on what you can improve on.
Learn how to win and control your mind. That’s one of the main questions I get: how to take your mind out of the picture. When I’m at a rodeo, that calf is no different than the calf I’m roping in the practice pen. Usually, when I’m practicing, there’s no nerves and no pressure. You have to learn to look at a situation just how you do at home. You’re just roping calves, running barrels, riding that steer or bucking horse. It’s the same whether it’s for a million dollars, a gold buckle, or a ribbon in 4H. Run that pattern, rope that calf—it’s the same anywhere you go.
In the timed events, the number-one thing 100-percent of the young people could work on or be better at, is horsemanship. Get your tail out of the arena and learn how to ride. I’ve never gotten past it. You must learn how to ride before you can learn how to rope. Learn how to ride and learn horsemanship other than loping a circle for five minutes before backing into the box. Spend time on your horse.
This is in life, not just rodeo. Don’t make excuses. I have a saying: “If the calf is in the arena, and he’s not running straight at me, I have no excuse to miss him.” Ultimately, I’m a professional and I have no excuse for missing. If I’ve got a rope in my hand, I should be able to rope the calf. I’ve listened to parents in junior rodeo, Little League, Little Dribblers’ Basketball, and they’re worse than the kids. Quit making excuses for your child. It’s not the referees’ or judges’ fault, it’s because your child missed the five free throws in the second quarter or didn’t score sharp or didn’t throw a good loop.
This is the most important point of all of them. Don’t live and die with every calf and every run. You’re not out there solving world hunger. In other words, have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it. I speak more to the parents on this, because that trickles right down to the youth. That trickles right down to the little girl or guy competing. If you put all that pressure on them, and this is life or death and this is the most important thing that’s happened in life, it’s not going to be fun. The further up the food chain it gets, the more pressure that comes and those are the people you wonder how they’re not imploding.
Stran Smith is the 2008 World Champion Tie-Down Roper from Childress, Texas. He has two sons, Stone and Scout, and a daughter, Selah, with wife Jennifer. While he usually does teach schools throughout the country, he plans to focus on his rodeo career in 2015.