Young Guns with David Key

Tips for getting your kids started roping right.
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Tips for getting your kids started roping right.


David Key is a nine-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header and lives in Stephenville, Texas, with his wife, Josey, and two sons, Kooper and Kase.

Credit: Dudley Barker

Credit: Dudley Barker


The Big Picture

What I’ve learned and figured out this year—more than anything—was that I had lost focus on my runs and my roping, in general, because I got distracted with my work and my kids and everything. I’ve noticed little things that I’ve just naturally done forever that I had to go back and work on a little because I just had so much going on in my mind. I didn’t even realize I was getting distracted. It didn’t have to do with fundamentals—it was a matter of focusing on what I was doing when I was practicing.

Kids deal with that a lot because their minds drift. They get things on their minds and get distracted by their culture and lose focus on what they’re doing. No matter what it is, distractions get in the way of what you’re trying to do. For roping, the number one thing is to focus when you’re in the practice pen, actually work on your roping and avoid distractions and be able to really focus on what you’re doing.


Hints for Heelers
Heeling is so hard because the header does his job first. So many people get focused on what the header is doing as they’re going down the pen that they forget to focus on their own job. A heeler’s job starts when the gates open, too. Heelers lose focus because their job has started—but it hasn’t.

When heelers lose focus, by the time the head rope goes on and the steer starts turning and they decide they’ve got to heel the steer, it’s already too late. When you’re too late, you tend to look right at the steer’s butt—because that’s the closest thing to you—and you’re not focused on the hock. You’re looking at the steer’s butt and there’s no timing in the butt—you just see a blur. Instead, when the heel rope goes by, the heeler should be focused on the steer’s right hind leg. When you do that, you’re focused on it all the way through the corner, and you have your timing. When the steer squares up, you’re already in time and just waiting on a good shot.

Help for Headers
As a header, the first, most important thing to focus on is scoring. A great run starts with good scoring. So many guys I work with say, “I just go blank when the gate opens, I don’t know what happens.” You can’t rope that way. There’s no way you can score good if you’re not focused on that aspect of the run. One trick I’ve learned is to take myself through some runs in my mind and play like I’m running a steer. I watch him leaving the chute and see what I want to see. I have to practice watching the barrier because I start mainly on feel. I look at the steer’s head to make sure he’s straight. Then, once the gate’s open, I shift and start watching that hip as it comes to the pin—or whatever the start is. But I have to practice it so I get in the habit of doing it. When you get to a situation where the steers are pretty true and are leaving about the same you can see all the steers to a pretty consistent point. When the barrier is long, it’s a good situation to see the steer to a certain point and then get out.

Outside the Arena
It’s all attitude. There’s a kid out here now who has had a lot of success in the high school and college ranks, but he’s not getting to turn in on a lot of steers. You can see he’s got a bad attitude. When he rides in the box, boy, he’s ready. But if his partner messes up or he messes up, you can just see the frustration. I understand, it’s hard not to win. I don’t like losing. Whether you’re older or younger, your attitude dictates how you do. If you’re winning, it’s easy to have a good attitude. But it’s also true that if you have a good attitude, it’s a lot easier to win. You’re allowing yourself to be in the right frame of mind and being ready to rope the next one. You get a bad attitude and it’s almost like bad things start to happen just because of your attitude. You see it a lot of times with kids. They’re used to things going their way. Mom and Dad always make sure everything goes their way. That affects their roping. Nobody wants to be around somebody with a bad attitude. You can’t let circumstances dictate your attitude. You have to make sure that your attitude stays on the level. Some people really have to focus on that. I’ve found that my faith is what keeps my attitude where it should be.