Train­ing Your Team Rop­ing Tot

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Competitive Edge - —By Kathy Korell-Rach, Ph.'., Coun­try Coun­sel­ing LLC

Par­ents often raise their chil­dren to have sim­i­lar val­ues, pas­sions, and pas­times as them­selves, and team rop­ing par­ents are no dif­fer­ent. If you have a child, chances are that you are in the process of, or plan­ning to, turn him or her into your rop­ing part­ner. Com­pared with many sports, a unique as­pect of team rop­ing chil­dren is they are often taught and coached pri­mar­ily by par­ents rather than for­mal, paid coaches. Coach­ing chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly your own, brings a set of unique chal­lenges. This ar­ti­cle will give you ideas for how to coach in a more ef­fec­tive fash­ion. EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

All ages of ath­letes ben­e­fit from tai­lored types of coach­ing that bal­ance push­ing them past com­fort and cur­rent skill level to im­prove per­for­mance while also pro­vid­ing en­cour­age­ment and sup­port. Chil­dren have these same needs of cor­rec­tion and cheer­lead­ing, but ap­ply­ing adult tac­tics is inap­pro­pri­ate. They are still de­vel­op­ing mo­tor skills, emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing, per­son­al­ity, and val­ues.

While we would all chuckle at some­one who thought a kinder­gart­ner could win the WNFR, our ex­pec­ta­tions about our chil­dren can quickly be­come un­rea­son­able and cause a great deal of ten­sion in fam­i­lies. We may think that we are be­ing help­ful by push­ing our chil­dren to great­ness, but we risk cre­at­ing a per­fect storm for form­ing stressed-out, anx­ious kids who are more prone to de­vel­op­ing low self-worth, ex­treme per­fec­tion­ism, burn-out, and even men­tal ill­ness.

To cre­ate ac­cu­rate ex­pec­ta­tions, con­sider your child’s age, emo­tional ca­pac­ity, phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and cur­rent rop­ing skills to de­cide what level of per­for­mance is rea­son­able. If your kiddo is rop­ing horns 50 per­cent of the time on doggy steers, don’t put a AAA steer in the chute for him or her and ex­pect a catch. Chil­dren need to ex­pe­ri­ence steady im­prove­ment to keep mo­ti­va­tion high, so help them prac­tice in the Zone of Prox­i­mal De­vel­op­ment. This is teach­ing skills that are slightly more dif­fi­cult than what a child has al­ready mas­tered, but not so hard that he or she can­not do it with ex­tra help. For ex­am­ple, if your child has been rop­ing the dummy 80 per­cent of the time four feet away from it, have them step back to five feet away. Help them to change any­thing that in­ter­feres with catch­ing at five feet un­til they are 80 per­cent at that dis­tance and then move back again.


It is ex­tremely im­por­tant for your chil­dren to have horses that will sup­port their de­vel­op­ment. What this looks like is a horse that is sound enough, sane enough, and ex­pe­ri­enced enough for a child to learn and grow un­til the child’s abil­i­ties war­rant up­grad­ing to another, more com­pet­i­tive mount.

Much too often, I see par­ents with the idea that they will get a colt for their child so that they can “grow to­gether.” Or, they pur­chase a world-class ath­lete that leaves the box strong and is a hand­ful to man­age, think­ing that their kid will win be­cause the horse has a good pay-win­dow his­tory. Frankly, both op­tions are hor­ri­ble plans. Green colts need ad­vanced rid­ers to learn, and green chil­dren need solid horses to learn. High-class horses also tend to have idio­syn­cra­sies that need high-class hands to man­age them. Putting a child that can­not ride well on a colt or one that

is too ad­vanced both of­fer prime op­por­tu­ni­ties for phys­i­cal in­juries and psy­cho­log­i­cal scar­ring from the wreck that is bound to hap­pen. Just don’t do it.


More or­ga­ni­za­tions are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about child emo­tional wel­fare. In re­sponse, there is a grow­ing phe­nom­e­non where chil­dren are given par­tic­i­pa­tion rib­bons without track­ing scores or an­nounc­ing win­ners. Sup­port­ers of this move­ment rea­son that al­low­ing kids to par­tic­i­pate without the pres­sure of com­pet­ing cre­ates a more har­mo­nious at­mos­phere. While I am the first per­son to sup­port and en­hance child emo­tional wel­fare, the “par­tic­i­pa­tion rib­bon” sen­sa­tion is frankly a huge dis­ser­vice once chil­dren be­come skill­ful in their sport­ing events.

Our en­tire na­tion is based on com­pe­ti­tion. There is com­pe­ti­tion for good col­leges, well-pay­ing jobs, and re­sources, in gen­eral. While this is cer­tainly not news to you, team rop­ing is also a com­pe­ti­tion. With any com­pet­i­tive event, there will be win­ners, plac­ers, and losers. On any given day, you might fall into any of those cat­e­gories, re­gard­less of how many tro­phy buck­les have adorned your belt. Chil­dren need to learn how to win and lose for them to be good com­peti­tors (and good peo­ple). The only way to do that is to al­low them the op­por­tu­ni­ties to have their hearts set afire from a win or bro­ken from a loss, and then have a good role model to help them learn how to do both grace­fully.


All of us are at risk for al­low­ing emo­tions to over­take us when prac­tice or com­pe­ti­tion is go­ing awry. Chil­dren are es­pe­cially prone to large emo­tional melt-downs when they feel frus­trated or dis­cour­aged. The rea­son for this is that the frontal lobe (the front of the brain, right be­hind the fore­head) is not fully formed un­til adult­hood. One task of the frontal lobe is ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing, which is the abil­ity to plan, or­ga­nize, and con­trol thoughts and ac­tions. The lim­bic sys­tem (found deep within the brain) is a com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral spe­cific brain struc­tures, and it is re­spon­si­ble for most of our emo­tional expe- ri­ences; it is formed early in de­vel­op­ment. When the lim­bic sys­tem is ac­ti­vated, we need the frontal lobe to keep emo­tional expression ap­pro­pri­ate. Chil­dren need spe­cific coach­ing to use strate­gies to help them un­der­stand, ex­pe­ri­ence, and con­vey emo­tions in pro­duc­tive and healthy ways.

The first pri­or­ity is to do a self-as­sess­ment of how you man­age your own emo­tions. If you have a good out­look, know how to han­dle emo­tional overload, and can ex­hibit adap­tive be­hav­iors, you are on the right track. How­ever, if you are likely to lose your tem­per, say hurt­ful things, or fall into a self-de­feat­ing spi­ral, you are ac­ci­den­tally teach­ing your chil­dren to do the same thing. If this is an area that needs growth within your­self, start with you to be a good role model for your chil­dren. Whether you al­ready have these skills or need to prac­tice them your­self, here are some ways to help you and your child man­age those pesky neg­a­tive af­fec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences that come up while team rop­ing:

• Iden­tify early trig­gers. Emo­tions start small and are often ig­nored un­til they are so in­tense that we erupt. By iden­ti­fy­ing the begin­ning of an un­pleas­ant emo­tion, you are more likely to be able to con­trol it. Good ex­am­ples of early trig­gers in­clude: feel­ing “hot” or other phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions, hav­ing cer­tain thoughts (such as, “I’m never go­ing to get this right,” or, “I might as well sell my rope horse”), or start­ing to do things more ag­gres­sively (such as run­ning right back to the box af­ter miss­ing, in­stead of mak­ing a game plan be­fore try­ing again). While coach­ing your chil­dren, look for signs they might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing sim­i­lar by ob­serv­ing their ac­tions. For ex­am­ple, a child with slumped shoul­ders, clenched fists, or who is jerk­ing at the reins is likely feel­ing an un­pleas­ant emo­tion.

• Name that emo­tion. Once you iden­tify a trig­ger, put a name on what you or your child is feel­ing. De­pend­ing on your child’s age and emo­tional ma­tu­rity level, he or she may not have a name to ac­cu­rately de­scribe the emo­tion. Start by ask­ing your child (or your­self, in the case of your own emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence), what he or she is feel­ing. If your kiddo can­not name it, ask if there was a time he or she felt sim­i­larly to try to iden­tify it. If there still isn’t a good de­scrip­tive word, of­fer sug­ges­tions about what emo­tion you

think he or she could be feel­ing. Even if your child is un­able to de­ter­mine a good la­bel for the feel­ing, you are help­ing your child in­crease his or her emo­tional IQ.

• Give your child some op­tions. Now that you have helped your child iden­tify what he or she is feel­ing (even if there is not a la­bel for it), give your child some sug­ges­tions for cop­ing strate­gies. There are a mul­ti­tude of self-sooth­ing and emo­tion reg­u­la­tion skills that you and your child can uti­lize. Some sug­ges­tions in­clude:

• Re­turn to work only when emo­tions have sub­sided. While you or your child is in an emo­tion­ally charged state, prac­tice does no good. In fact, it can do dam­age be­cause our fo­cus is de­creased, mis­takes are more likely, and we might even do things we re­gret (such as school­ing a horse that does not de­serve the “ed­u­ca­tion”). Of­ten­times, tak­ing a few min­utes to help your child em­ploy emo­tion reg­u­la­tion strate­gies al­lows you both to re­turn to the rop­ing box and make the most out of the rest of your prac­tice ses­sion. How­ever, if emo­tions re­main high, it may be time to call it a day and go back to the arena to­mor­row. It is im­por­tant to teach your chil­dren that they are not be­ing pun­ished for feel­ing un­pleas­ant things, but that ef­fec­tively deal­ing with those emo­tions is im­per­a­tive if you are go­ing to keep work­ing with them.


All crea­tures, in­clud­ing hu­mans, learn bet­ter from re­in­force­ment than pun­ish­ment. This does not mean that you can­not use pun­ish­ment; rather, pun­ish­ment should be used spar­ingly and should be con­sis­tent and im­me­di­ate when em­ployed. Re­in­force­ment is de­fined as any­thing that in­creases the like­li­hood of a be­hav­ior re­cur­ring. All chil­dren have dif­fer­ent things that are re­in­forc­ing based on per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics. For ex­am­ple, if your child is a so­cial but­ter­fly, it is re­in­forc­ing to al­low him or her time to play with other kids at the rodeo. How­ever, play­ing with new chil­dren is not as re­in­forc­ing for an in­tro­verted child be­cause he or she feels anxiety in those sit­u­a­tions. It is im­por­tant to use re­in­force­ment that is ac­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing to your par­tic­u­lar child.

Con­struc­tive crit­i­cal feed­back is an im­por­tant part of coach­ing, but how it is de­liv­ered makes all the dif­fer­ence. While many ath­letes learn to adapt to coaches that are con­fronta­tional and say hurt­ful things in the pur­suit of de­vel­op­ing great­ness, many chil­dren in­stead in­ter­nal­ize the mes­sage that they are, “not talented,” or will “never suc­ceed.” In­stead of chan­nel­ing Bobby Knight, con­sider the pro­por­tion of pos­i­tive and crit­i­cal feed­back you are giv­ing. Aim for a 75 per­cent pos­i­tive to 25 per­cent crit­i­cal ra­tio. If you need help track­ing this, have another adult make hash marks on a piece of paper while you are coach­ing your child to have an ac­cu­rate count. You can also de­liver crit­i­cism in the form of a “pos­i­tive sand­wich,” where you point out what your child did well first, then tell him or her what to im­prove, and end with en­cour­age­ment. This helps to re­duce your child’s frus­tra­tion with mak­ing mis­takes and in­creases mo­ti­va­tion while cor­rect­ing prob­lems.

It is also im­per­a­tive to re­ward ef­fort in­stead of just gold buck­les. At ev­ery level of com­pe­ti­tion, you can have your best go and still not bring home a check. Tell your chil­dren how proud you are of what they did in their run when they per­formed well, whether the fi­nal re­sult is glory or the cryin’ hole. Or point out how hard you know they tried, even though Old Gray stum­bled and the rest of the run went south. You will be cre­at­ing chil­dren- who see them­selves more real­is­ti­cally and are more re­silient to the ef­fects of de­feat down the road.


Chil­dren who have par­ents that are also their coaches can feel in­tense bur­den if the coach­ing becomes para­mount. Kids in Lit­tle League and other team sports who are be­ing coached by another adult have op­tions of chang­ing teams, hav­ing a safe place at home where they are not pres­sured, or leav­ing the sport en­tirely if they do not like it. How­ever, when coach is also mom or dad, parental af­fec­tion can eas­ily be­come in­ter­min­gled with per­for­mance un­til a child be­lieves he or she has to win at team rop­ing to be loved. Clearly, this is dam­ag­ing. This con­nec­tion can hap­pen in­ad­ver­tently and de­spite good in­ten­tions on the part of the par­ent/coach be­cause chil­dren ab­sorb mes­sages they in­fer from be­hav­ior, even if it has not been di­rectly stated. The most im­por­tant thing is to be a par­ent first and a coach sec­ond.

Some ways to sep­a­rate your roles in­clude:

• Sched­ule spe­cific coach­ing times. Your role as a coach ends at the con­clu­sion of that time.

• Do not dis­cuss team rop­ing per­for­mance (good or bad) dur­ing fam­ily time, such as over din­ner.

• Be equally in­volved in your chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties out­side of rop­ing.

• Tell your chil­dren you love them often and re­gard­less of how they are rop­ing.

• Sched­ule one-on-one time with your chil­dren that doesn’t in­volve team rop­ing.

If you find that sep­a­rat­ing these roles is dif­fi­cult, an op­tion is to find some­one else to be a coach. There is no shame in play­ing to our strengths and learn­ing to com­pen­sate for our weak­nesses. Some­times that com­pen­sa­tion is out­sourc­ing for the greater good.

Bal­anc­ing be­ing an in­cred­i­ble par­ent and a great coach takes time and train­ing. Be pa­tient with your­self and the process. The best par­ents and coaches are work­ing at it ev­ery day, too.

Dis­claimer: This in­for­ma­tion should not be con­sid­ered a ther­a­peu­tic in­ter­ven­tion and no client-ther­a­pist re­la­tion­ship is es­tab­lished by read­ing this ar­ti­cle.

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