GUEST EDITORIAL: Winning and Losing


By Carla Cowley —

So you want to be a champion. Quarterback Dan Marino led his Miami Dolphins to an undefeated season in 1972, but never had a Super Bowl ring on his finger. Utah Jazz “Mailman” Karl Malone won two MVP awards, but never earned an NBA team championship. Mary Burger, at age 68, won her second NFR barrel racing title, so does that mean she was only a champion twice?

When you choose to be competitive, whether in your career, sports, or any other area of your life, your goal is to be a champion but you should also prepare to lose. In fact, the reality of competing is that you will ALWAYS lose more than you will win. I am no sports psychologist by any means, but I have spent many years in the trenches of competitions of my own, as well as squiring my three kids to competitions in wrestling, soccer, t-ball, gymnastics, rodeo, rodeo queen pageants, reining, 4-H, junior posse, and now pro rodeo. My family are serious, blood-letting, do-or-die competitors - ALL of us. Handling the psychological ramifications of defeat was just as much a discussion topic and training point as throwing a half Nelson, turning that second can, or sticking a sliding stop. And here are a few things we have identified and learned and I hope sharing them with you will put a few things into perspective. 

1. You can only control YOU. You can’t factor in that another competitor has a firecracker new horse, more money, nicer trailer, cuter boyfriend, or whatever. Assume that she has just as much desire to win and works hard, and after realizing you need to work even harder, then don’t think about her again. You have to maximize what YOU have and what YOU can do, and when the time comes, lay it all out on the line and see what happens. Of course, lots of saddle time, blood, sweat, tears, and passion counts for a lot too!

2. You can use other competitors as incentive, but never punishment. Don’t beat yourself up for losing to her by 2/ 100ths of a second! What good does that do? Does that put you in a good, clear frame of mind to analyze, strategize, and utilize experience gained for your next race? It is energy, brain cells, and emotion wasted. You must realize that you are really competing against yourself and your last “personal best”. You have to always look forward - not back. As they say, that is why a rearview mirror is so small and a windshield so big. 

3. REPEAT - you will always lose more than you will win. Everyone does, even world champions. The reason we keep going is because the journey is character building and the wins after numerous defeats are so sweet and rewarding, it doesn’t matter how many barrels you hit last week. Be realistic about this fact. But remember - there are few things in life that there is always more of, but there is ALWAYS another rodeo or barrel race coming up. And what are you going to do to prepare for that? Pout?? Whine?? Complain about the dirt?? Everyone runs on the same dirt and against the same time clock. What would a champion do? You have to be focused, you have to look ahead to the future. 

4. Is it OK to be mad and upset and discouraged when you walk back out to your trailer after another less than stellar run? Of course it is!! You are a human, after all. All champions are. Go ahead and cry, cuss, call your horse a piece of sh**, kick the dirt, lash out at your Mom (no, don’t do that actually. It’s mean). Get it out, get rid of it, then get over it. It’s better than stewing all the way home in the truck, laying awake all night spittin’ mad, and planning painful experiences for your trainer and horse. Get every last bit of it expelled then start focusing on getting back to work. And give your horse a good lovin’ and let him know he is not going to become glue. Try to think about the things that went right, even if there is only one or two. What went better than last time? Be detailed in this thinking. When you plan to win, it is in the details and winning is a composite of all the details. If you stayed in the saddle, you did something right!

5. Stare down your toughest competitors right in the face (and I mean that figuratively, NOT literally. Be kind to everyone - that’s what we do in our horse life). Don’t run from or avoid the biggest stages or biggest challengers. How else will you know where you stand in your competitive ability? In one of our past arenas of competitive sport, we were enjoying a considerable measure of success. At some point, it became apparent that one of our competitive foes (but still a friend), was avoiding whatever competition we were entered in to avoid the competitive confrontation of losing to us. Really?? We always felt we wanted to seek out the best contestants and go up against them. Not only was it psychologically beneficial, but it made us tougher - kinda’ like sharpening your sword on a stone instead of a sponge. Go after ‘em!!!  

6. Be grateful for every opportunity, everyone who loves and supports you, and for living the life you love. Many MANY people, myself included, grow up with the longing to do what you are doing every single day. All of my life, my “horse fix” was collecting horse figurines, reading horse magazines and books, and collecting friends who had horses, even if I didn’t necessarily like them. I was going to grow up and marry Roy Rogers! Well, that didn’t happen, but in high school, my dream began to blossom and our family had horses for a few years in North Idaho. The fire in my heart was burning bright. Then I went to college, got married, had kids, and lived in a sub-division until one day, I couldn’t take it any more. I wanted horses and wanted to raise my kids with horses. I made that dream come true. I love my century old farmhouse, my weathered barn, and irrigating the pasture at 3 in the morning! After 21 years, I still cannot look out my kitchen window and see those beautiful horses without a tear in my eye. I am blessed to be living my dream – win or lose, and you are blessed too. Remember to always thank those who have sacrificed, encouraged, given financial support, attended competitions and cheered you on. You would not be where you are without them.

7. AND MOST IMPORTANT !!!!! Keep everything in perspective. Sure, your goal is to win money, prestige, glory, a trophy saddle, gold buckle, new trailer, whatever. But remember this - and I came up with this concept as a final repose for my kids when we were heading back to the ranch after many a tearful disappointment ...... this is just a barrel race, horse show, rodeo, queen contest - whatever. It is NOT real life!!! Your family, your home, your faith - that is real life. No matter what happens, you are loved and valued by many people; we are still taking you home with us where you will still be a precious member of our family. Maintain perspective.

Now, I have never had a crown on my hat, raised a trophy to the sky, or been to the NFR - oh wait, yes I have, but I was sitting in the nosebleed section. But I am a champion when it comes to the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. And as you chase your dreams, don’t let it be YOU who is your most relentless competitor. Look up and look forward - a motto I made up for myself and others who face challenges. And it is my sincere hope that after considering these suggestions, you will find a measure of pride, satisfaction, and success that you have worked so hard for.

So ride hard and fast - and don’t knock anything over!!!!


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Renae´ Cowley