This semester, my college rodeo coaches have put a lot of emphasis on the concept of mental toughness.
I’ve always known it takes mental toughness to succeed in the sport of rodeo. You have to be able to control your nerves and emotions, and have confidence in yourself and your animals.
Since I’ve been in college, I’ve put a lot of effort into improving my mental game. For me, that means blocking out my nerves and trusting that I’m prepared enough to compete. It means being able to do my best in a variety of stressful situations.
But just last week my coaches asked who we think the top 5 mentally tough athletes on the team are. And that got me thinking.
Sure, there are those cowboys and cowgirls that can block everything out exceptionally well and go compete at a high level when they need to. I won’t argue that success takes a lot of mental toughness.
But what about some of those kids who don’t necessarily end up in the spotlight? Don’t they show a lot of mental toughness in their own ways?
I have friends who’ve lost their good rodeo horses and been devastated. But they’ve dried their tears, gotten a new one, and kept putting the work in. They haven’t let it stop them from pursuing their goals. Doesn’t that take a ton of mental toughness?
There are people out there who started rodeoing with no background in agriculture. They thought it looked fun and decided to get involved. They asked questions and put themselves in a position to fail. They’ve chased a dream that their loved ones don’t understand. Doesn’t that require some strength?
The sport is full of athletes who are battling to come back from injuries. Exercising, building back their strength, and working their tails off to get back to where they were before. Just look at bareback rider JR Vezain or bullfighter Dusty Tuckness. With chins held high, they’re putting the work in while being an inspiration to others.
Or look at those who are fighting illnesses of any kind. I had a teammate who beat cancer her junior year of college and came back to win the region her senior year. Every time I spoke to her, she had the biggest ear-to-ear grin on her face and was happy to be doing what she loved. That certainly took mental toughness.
And in a way, doesn’t this all parallel life in general, especially in the western industry?
I think it takes mental toughness to keep planting crops after a year of drought when nothing grew.
It takes mental toughness to build back your fences and buildings, or build back your herd, after everything was stolen from you in a fire.
It takes mental toughness to get your calf check in the fall, see it’s not what you hoped it would be again this year, and go ahead and try again the next year.
It takes mental toughness to get back on that waspy colt that just bucked you off on top of a fence post.
It takes mental toughness to get out of bed and try again each and every day, in an industry full of unpredictable and uncontrollable variables, and in a society where people are trying to knock you down.
At the end of the day, it really just takes mental toughness to do what we do.
At junior and high school rodeos, when things didn’t go my way, I remember feeling disappointed. I can’t count the number of times I cried out of frustration on the way home from roping practice, but went again the next night anyway. My Dad would tell me these experiences build character. I think they had a pretty big part to play in building my mental toughness, too.
So maybe I don’t always perform perfectly. Maybe sometimes I don’t score sharp, or ride my horse the best, or throw a perfect loop.
But I’ve left my family and my home behind and moved to a different country to chase my dreams as a college rodeo athlete. I’ve experienced success and failure over the years. I’ve been knocked down.
And I’ve always gotten back up.
This industry will try to knock you down and make you feel weak. Those who don’t let it - who never give up no matter how tough things get - are the ones who are mentally tough.
So I want you to ask yourself, am I mentally tough?
Shelby Lockie | 2022 Intern