Apr 21, 2023
It All Starts With Confidence
Ty Murray’s thoughts on rodeo’s mental game.
I’ve been blessed to have witnessed some of the greatest moments in rodeo. I was around when Ty Murray won his first all-around world championship in 1989 and his seventh in 1998. And then I got to witness Trevor Brazile’s run of 14. It was awesome to have these two men along with Charmayne James be the first Vegas NFR Icons to be recognized during last year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Multiple world titles is not all that these three have in common. It’s confidence. And for Ty, that’s where it all started. As a youngster competing in rodeos in Arizona, he knew what he wanted to do – beat Larry Mahan’s record of six all-around world championships earned by riding bulls, bareback and saddle bronc horses.
Ty set out to be the best and figured out how to do that on his own. It started as a youngster growing up in and competing in Arizona. He went to Odessa, Texas, to college and was competing in the PRCA at the same time. In 1989, he became the first and only cowboy to win the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s all-around and the PRCA’s as well.
He had been preparing all of his life for that first gold buckle. It was a step to accomplish his goal. The hours of practicing, being in the gym and being prepared set up his mental game.
“I started learning about my mental game at the junior and high school levels,” Ty said. “When I got to college, I was getting a pretty good grasp. Through training and practice, being in shape and flexible, it gave me the confidence to let my body do what I’d been working for a lifetime to do.”
That worked for Ty, but it’s not a one-size fits all approach. Everybody is different and what it takes for them to be their best is something they need to figure out.
“A great coach is a person that knows how to get the best out of each individual. That could be polar opposite from one guy to the next,” he said. “One time my mom told me I was trying too hard. It made me mad because I thought that was the name of the game.
“But she was right. I was working against myself. It’s almost like a marathon runner who sticks to a training plan and regimen so they can finish their race.”
Comparing eight seconds to a marathon might not make any sense. But rodeo’s marathon is a series of eight second rides that includes entering, scheduling your travel, and taking care of your business.
“Effort is paramount, but just gritting your teeth and trying as hard as you can isn’t going to work for the long run,” he added. “For me it was important for it to be fun. When I was having fun, I was more relaxed. That doesn’t work for everybody. But that frame of mind worked for me.”
Ty also fed off of the people he surrounded himself with. His traveling partners included Cody Lambert, Tuff Hedeman, Jim Sharp and Lane Frost. There were a bunch of greats that each had a different approach to being mentally prepared leading up to a competition.
“When I came along as a rookie and got in with the crew that I did, that improved my mental game,” he said. “There were no excuses, no whining, and no bitching. We are going to enter and we are going to win. As a younger guy being exposed to that was important and being around guys that are tough, gritty and don’t make excuses is going to rub off on you.”
Ty broke mental toughness down into being confident and having the will to try to win every time. Never making excuses or letting fear rule the outcome of the competition are the no-nos.
“Making excuses won’t work. That’s a rabbit hole that is going to get worse and worse,” he added. “In most of rodeo, you are the underdog every time. You have to have the confidence to make it work. All sports have the pressure of winning and losing. But here there is also living and dying. Fear is a big obstacle, especially in bull riding.
“You have to have an immense amount of respect for an animal that can accidentally kill you. You have to stay focused and fluid in every moment. Even in car racing, the guy has his own foot on the gas and the brake. Here the animal is in charge of accelerating and stopping.”
Ty has become a huge fan of Stetson Wright who is on pace to set a new ProRodeo record for all-around titles earned riding bucking horses and bulls. And he loves to see records broken because that means more opportunities for rodeo contestants.
“Stetson looks incredible to me. He has a lot of confidence and his confidence is growing and getting better. There’s not one thing about Stetson, his game, or his approach that I’m not a fan of. He’s got toughness, grit, and confidence. Those are three prerequisites to being great.”
Rodeo as a sport is as unique as the individuals that participate in it. With multiple events, animals involved and different venues, the variables are exponentially greater than in any other competition. The rugged individuals that participate successfully have made huge investments towards success. There are no one-size-fits-most approaches to those investments. But from my point of view, I have to agree with Ty. The thing that every winner has in common is confidence.
“I don’t care how they get it, if it’s from training and practicing, having a coach or doing yoga, building confidence is key. And then they have to have the will. If I didn’t want to win a rodeo, I wouldn’t have entered it. I wanted to win every rodeo I entered, believed that I could and kept trying and there were no excuses when it didn’t happen.”
There have been changes in rodeo since Ty made his debut 34 years ago. But even with larger purses, tournament-style formats and more sponsor opportunities, everything he said about the mental aspect of winning is as true today as it was in 1989.