The Complexity of College Rodeoing

Many young rodeo athletes strive to compete in rodeo at the college level and represent their school through a sport that carries so much weight. With many students taking four to five classes per school quarter or semester, college rodeo athletes spend early mornings and late nights in the arena practicing and training around their demanding academic schedules. But they proudly continue striving forward in rodeo through their determination and with the support of their rodeo coaches. We got with Ben Londo, the head rodeo coach at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and learned more about the complexities of college rodeo.

What does your typical training day look like with your team? “We’ve got about 115 kids that utilize our training facility. Different athletes, different practice sessions, open arena time. So time is tight. We’ve got a very tight time schedule for our practices. We usually start at about 5:30 in the morning and that place is busy until about 9:00 pm or 10:00 at night. Every night.”

So are you in the arena the whole time training different athletes? “I usually take the early shift. I get the 5:00 am to probably about 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm shift. It’s a long day but it’s kind of what we need to do.”

What do you look for in the athletes you recruit? “I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to these athletes, just like anything, than just their skill level. Their eagerness and their ability to learn. Basically their drive. And being able to take input from everywhere. We have a lot of clinicians come through, a lot of different people who come in here to help these students because what works for one may not work for another. So often, just being willing to try things and experiment and whatnot is something that’s very valuable in an athlete. Even the good ones can learn something from anybody that comes through here that has a completely different roping style or riding style. So just being open-minded and hardworking and dedicated is what seems to make a good athlete.”

What is your role in building the next generation of rodeo athletes? How do you get them to that next level?

“My coaching philosophy is to be supportive and provide as many opportunities for these students as I can. To do that, I bring in a lot of outside help to give as many different points of view and strategies as possible. Basically, I try to give them as many chances to succeed as I can while they’re here at our program.”

What kind of preparation do you personally put in order to train your team? “There’s a lot of prep that goes in; practice times, prepping, watering, working the arena, prepping practice stock, working on equipment. Our rodeo program operates almost like a little mini ranch, it’s a facility. The students board there, they practice there, so the upkeep on the place is a fulltime job in itself, as a rodeo coach who maintains his own facility can tell you. And then on top of that, all the paperwork to keep this team eligible, to keep them on the road, is also very time consuming. So that’s kind of what eats up most of my day.”

How do the athletes balance school with the rigorous schedules? “Well that’s part of the reason why we start so early; trying to work around their class times. And many of these students, at certain times in their academic career, are loaded up with 20 or 22 units so their days are pretty much shot. So they’re the ones that are leaning toward those early morning practices and the late evening practices just to get their practice time in, get their horses rode, and still keep up with their school work.”

Is that just their mentality or do they feel pressure? “Oh I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on them but you know these students are obviously academically driven otherwise they wouldn’t be at Cal Poly; they had to work hard to get here. So I see that translate over to their efforts in and out of the arena. Usually, if they are willing to work that hard in their academics, they’re usually pretty dedicated and trying athletes as well.”

Can you describe the relationship that you have with your team members?

“I would like to say it’s a very close relationship. We’re around each other all day. Usually go to the gym together. Several practice sessions a day together. And with all that, that proximity and that trust we develop, you become a life coach too to many of these students, and a mentor. I’m involved in their personal lives, and they come to [me] for advice on issues with money or issues in relationships or friendships. Your coaching doesn’t end at the arena gate, I guess.”

What does it take to be a successful college rodeo coach? “I think patience, work ethic, and I’d say an open mind as well. You know, very rarely do I have the right answer when a student comes and asks me what I would do. But I’m willing to put in the work and help them figure out the best solution that works for them. And that has seemed to be my best attribute. And being flexible, being patient and open minded and just willing to keep striving forward despite whatever may come.”

What’s the most fulfilling part about being a college rodeo coach specifically at the college level? “Just seeing success. Whether that’s in the arena, out of the arena, and in their personal lives outside of rodeo entirely. You know the buckles and the trophies and all that, that’s awesome, don’t get me wrong. But when you know that you’ve kind of made a difference in somebody’s life, that’s pretty touching. And that’s probably the most rewarding as a coach.”

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