CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER: Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key to all suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships

Spin to Win Rodeo - - News -

A lot of what we learn about how to com­mu­ni­cate is from our en­vi­ron­ment, how we were raised and the in­flu­ences in our life. When it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it’s a learn­ing curve that you’re en­gaged in ev­ery day of your life. The en­vi­ron­ment we grow up in shapes and molds who we are, and how we in­ter­act and com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other. To make a liv­ing team rop­ing, it takes a part­ner and a strong part­ner­ship. So ob­vi­ously, how you in­ter­act with your part­ner has an ef­fect on your part­ner­ship. I re­mem­ber when I was try­ing to climb the ranks in part­ners. When I turned pro I felt like I was on equal ground with my part­ner, be­cause Bret (Beach) and I came in to­gether. Even though he was older than me, we were ba­si­cally on equal foot­ing talent-wise. In that re­gard, he never made me feel in­tim­i­dated. It’s a fac­tor when you’re part­nered with some­body where you feel like you’re un­der pres­sure to per­form, be­cause he maybe has the up­per­hand skill-wise. The first time I felt that way was when I roped with Tee Wool­man. He had won two cham­pi­onships and I felt un­der the gun at first, like I needed to live up to the op­por­tu­nity of rop­ing with such a high­cal­iber header. But I quickly was able to see that putting my­self un­der that type of pres­sure wasn’t go­ing to help me rope bet­ter. I was just go­ing to have to work hard, com­pete hard, rise to his level and cap­i­tal­ize on the op­por­tu­nity.

The next year, in 1985, is when I started rop­ing with Jake (Barnes). When we got to­gether, we were on equal foot­ing. We were so sim­i­lar in our rais­ing, our think­ing, our at­ti­tude and our goals. Everything co­in­cided. We both got mounted good, we went on a run and we did dom­i­nate. Jake and I had plenty of down times that were hard. I’m the first to say that my com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills un­der those con­di­tions were not the best. Jake was bet­ter at it than me, be­cause he just went to work with an “I’m go­ing to con­quer this, no mat­ter what” at­ti­tude and he pulled me up with him. There were times I was burning out when I closed up and didn’t say much. I know that was hard on Jake and hard on our part­ner­ship. When you’re win­ning, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and get­ting along good with your part­ner is easy. But there are times when it’s a grind for ev­ery team. There were some years for Jake and I—even when we won cham­pi­onships—when we had to grind it out and earn them. Our good horses only lasted so long, then we bat­tled some of those cham­pi­onships out at the Fi­nals down to the last steer.

Since the first 10 years of my rodeo ca­reer, I’ve learned from my mis­takes. I did a self-eval­u­a­tion and took in­ven­tory of how I acted and what my at­ti­tude was like, and started try­ing to work on it. From that point for­ward, my com­mu­ni­ca­tion with my part­ners got bet­ter. I roped with Jake off and on over the years, and we grew to en­joy everything we did—even when we weren’t win­ning cham­pi­onships—be­cause I got bet­ter at com­mu­ni­cat­ing. I’ve had the bless­ing of hav­ing some re­ally awe­some part­ners, and in the lat­ter part of my ca­reer I’ve been able to see things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and be a part­ner who can en­cour­age. With some guys I’ve roped with, like Chad Mas­ters, we would re­ally break it down. David Key was the same way. Der­rick (Be­gay) and I don’t re­ally com­mu­ni­cate about our rop­ing. We com­mu­ni­cate about other things. I just let him go rope, be­cause I think he’s so tal­ented in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. I just try to keep up, and if I do my job we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful. He’s very locked into the things he does so well. Ev­ery­body’s dif­fer­ent and how you com­mu­ni­cate with them is dif­fer­ent. That’s just part of know­ing how to best in­ter­act with your part­ner—know­ing what needs to be said and what doesn’t. Maybe that’s what they call wis­dom. And maybe that comes with the gray hair.

When I roped with Tee I wasn’t mounted as good as I needed to be, and he wasn’t mounted as good as he wanted to be, ei­ther. But we were very suc­cess­ful. We went into the 1984 (Na­tional) Fi­nals (Rodeo) with a chance to win the cham­pi­onship, but we didn’t dom­i­nate. It boiled down to horse­power more than any­thing.

LONE WOLF PHO­TOS

LONE WOLF PHOTO

SEAN HALVERSON PHOTO

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