Conquering the mental game with 2017 WPRA World Champion Nellie Miller.
By Nellie Miller
The only pressure you have is the pressure you put on yourself. This was the advice I was given before I went to the National Finals Rodeo. Since then, I have had a lot of people ask how I handled all of the pressure during that week to stay mentally strong. It is hard to pin that question down to one simple answer. It’s important for people to remember that it’s not just the big moment alone, but all the little moments leading up to it that prepare you to win. I tried to highlight some big factors that keep me on top of my game throughout the season.
Every success or failure is a learning opportunity for the next run. I try to take advantage of every one of those opportunities so I don’t end up making the same mistakes over and over. This leads me into one of the most valuable factors, which is experience. Experience is hard to come by, because it involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way. The best thing about experience is that you can never have too much. I have been put in pressure situations ever since I can remember, and with every one you get more and more comfortable in that situation. My advice is to keep putting yourself in situations that scare you, because each one is a challenge to get stronger.
Planning is the next thing I usually focus on. I try to plan everything about my run or the whole rodeo before I go into the arena. Even though things don’t always go according to plan, there is a better chance of things going right if you have a plan put in place. If you have an idea of how you want things to work before the run itself, it will give you a foundation to go back to when your nerves get the best of you.
With that being said, I see a lot of people worry about things that might go wrong. Even though at times things happen that are out of our control, that doesn’t mean you should plan on something going wrong. Instead of putting focus on things that might go wrong, plan for things to go right.
A person can only control so many things. I try to focus on what I am in control of, and that usually boils down to one thing—how I choose to ride my horse. When people get flustered or nervous, they put that nervous energy into things they can’t control, which is a waste. In order to win at the right moment, you cannot waste energy on negative thoughts. Outside distractions can only get in the way if you let them. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the way you ride your horse around three barrels.
Preparation beforehand makes handling pressure easier, but it doesn’t always get rid of nerves. If I am in a position to win big and start to get nervous, I go take some time by myself and think about the steps I took to get in that situation. If I need extra reassurance, I go back and watch videos of my really good runs, which gives me confidence going into the next big run. If you have confidence in your program and your horse, stick to it and let the winning take care of itself.
Pressure is what you make it. We all want to be in that situation to win something big, so I try not to let pressure get in the way of that. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I have in the arena, because the rodeo business is very unpredictable. You can go from winning to losing in a short amount of time. You never know when the opportunity to win will come around again, so you might as well take advantage of it while you can.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BHN.