Coach’s Profile: Clay O’Brien Cooper

Coach’s Profile: Clay O’brien Cooper
Coach’s Profile: Clay O’brien Cooper

Recently, I got to talk with a longtime family friend who just happens to be the newest addition to the coaching team. Known around the world as everything from Clay O, Clay O’Brien, and Clay Cooper to the full length Clay O’Brien Cooper, it’s no secret that Clay is a pretty big deal. But to me, he was always just “Clay”—my Dad’s friend, a great roper, and a good man.

Clay started roping when he was around eight years old and says he had an early love for the sport. As an actor in Westerns like the Cowboys and Cahill U.S. Marshall, he had a close up look at the Western lifestyle. He found similar traits in the rodeo world, which he says drew him to it.

“I just kind of got hooked into it. My heroes were the really good ropers. I wanted to be like them and have a lifestyle of doing what I wanted and travelling,” he said. “There’s an element of brotherhood to it. It’s a real ‘gunslinger’ sport.”

For Cooper, rodeo was the American Dream: freedom, adventure and travel. He always knew he was getting a unique and rewarding experience while making a living doing what he loved.

While the freedom of the sport drew Cooper to team roping, he takes a very serious and strategic approach to it. Over the decades, it’s been clear that his strategy has paid off resulting in seven world championships, a membership in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and over $2 million in career earnings.

Clay explained, “I’m always competing and learning. I’ve always been kind of an analytical type. I analyse, break down, and study team roping—the entire run, heading and heeling.”

Cooper has always been competitive. He was in it to win from the very beginning and treated the sport of team roping like a full time job, calling it a 24/7 process.

“I didn’t like to lose,” he said. “I realized early in the game that you have to prepare yourself to win. Competing is all about preparation and executing what you’ve been practicing when you get the opportunity to compete and try to win.”

Clay joined the PRCA in 1981 and began his climb. It wasn’t easy to work your way up the standings or to win consistently.

“I thought I was trying hard, but each year I realized I had to go to another level and sacrifice more. That’s the component that makes it happen,” he explained.

He won the world for the first time in 1985 with Jake Barnes—the first of seven that they would win together. He admitted that while winning the world title was always their goal, there was doubt and wonder if they could do it or not.

He said, “There’s the desire, but you always wonder if you can do it if you’ve never won one before. Winning the first one was the most special because we passed that threshold of achievement.”

Clay also talked about his favorite rodeos. While he wanted to lean toward the exciting, high-reward ropings, he also had to admit his favorite venues were the classics.

“I’m old school, and I like the big outdoor venues in the spring and summertime,” he said. “Red Bluff, Clovis, Salinas, Cheyenne—great rodeos with a lot of traditions.”

There’s a lot more to rodeo than just competition. Clay talked about the camaraderie, brotherhood, and respect he felt with his travel partners, friends, and fellow competitors.

As he said, “you’re competing against everyone, but in the midst you become lifelong friends.”

While building those lifelong friendships, there were a lot of laughs. A lot can happen on the road. Great people with a sense of humor made the most of every situation. Clay reflected that my dad—Rickey Green—would take any opportunity to make him laugh.

“His aim everyday was to make you laugh. I remember laughing so hard that my stomach would spasm! I was literally in pain from laughing so hard, I would have to tell him to quit!” he told me, still laughing.

Like my dad, Cooper has also always worked to spread his knowledge and experience in team roping to others through clinics and now as a coach. Over the past four decades, he has created his own coaching style through his learning journey.

“I talk to all the top ropers in the world. I like breaking down the different parts of the run with headers and heelers,” he said. “I’m trying to learn every day. I don’t know everything.”

For Clay, focusing on the core principles is the key to team roping success. He tries to help his students get to that “light bulb moment” where everything starts to come together.

“I try to explain it in a way that someone can understand it,” he said. “Then I try to get feedback on where they’re at and how they look at the run. Then I can come at it from every angle.”

Of those core principles, Cooper believes that timing is the most important. Timing takes place in every segment of the run.

“There’s timing to how you react and move into position from what the header is setting up,” he began. “There’s the timing of being in the right position and being able to deliver the loop when the steer is most vulnerable, when his legs leave the ground.”

Timing doesn’t come about by chance, however. While Clay admits that team roping isn’t rocket science, he pointed out that the difficulty is doing it correctly repeatedly and being purposeful in practice.

“The ropers have to strategize and execute their plan to make a successful run. That’s what makes it fun and challenging,” he said. “It makes it where you have to do it and work every day to be good at it.”

Welcome to!

I know that we’re all excited for Clay to join the team. He’s an amazing team roper and coach, and I can’t wait for the members to get to interact with him. Clay is excited about the opportunity as well.

“Number one, it’s good to be affiliated with what Jake is doing. We have been successful together, built our names together, done schools and competed together. To join back up with him in just seems like a logical and right thing to do,” he said.

Cooper is not only happy to be working with his roping partner again. He’s looking forward to being in contact with Power Team Ropers and Fans of Roping as well.

“That’s the amazing thing about the times we live in today is the technical world available at our fingertips. We can travel around to schools and meet and teach people personally but the access everyone has to information that we have through is such a vast, available opportunity for them and us. As our world changes we have to change with it and capitalize on the opportunities.”

When my family first moved to Texas, we stayed on the Cooper’s place while my parents were looking for a place. I’ve spent plenty of time playing in the dirt in arena while Dad and Clay roped. A while after we found our place, Clay and his family moved in next door. Our families have stayed close through the ups and downs of roping, rodeo, and life.

It was great to get to catch up with Clay as he joined the team! I know that you will all benefit from getting to interact with him. Please help me welcome him to the team!

-Whitney Green

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

P.S. – Dad wrote articles for years and always concluded with a Bible verse reference. I’ve decided to start doing the same. If you’re interested, check out the end of my blog posts from here on out for new verses!

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