What the livestock industry can learn from Virginia coach Tony Bennett

rhdRHD Blog

By Rachel Cutrer

At some point in life, everyone loses.

Maybe you lose a game of checkers, lose an election, or like Virginia’s #1 seeded basketball team, you lose a major game to the lowest ranked team in the tournament.

In livestock showing terms, the one that usually wins Grand Champion just got beat by one that usually gets the gate. Oh yeah, and the show is Houston, Denver, OYE, Louisville, Jr. Nationals, or your State Fair.

It happens. Animals that consistently win shows can still get beat. I could make a list 3 pages long of cattle me, my sister, or our ranch has shown that had titles from International Champion to Denver Champion to Junior National Champions (GRAND champions btw) who got 3rd in class at some jackpot down the road with 10 head.

When that happens – because it WILL happen if you show long enough – how we respond to that is what defines us as a true champion. And that’s where I think we can learn from Coach Tony Bennett.

  1. Accept the loss and congratulate the rightful winner.

If you haven’t watched this video, watch it now.

If you don’t watch the video, read what Coach Bennett says:

“We got our butts whipped. That was not even close. That’s first a credit to the job Ryan did, coach Odom. Their offense was very hard to guard. They shot it well. We kept getting broken down and did a poor job.”

Lots of times, when people don’t win in a livestock show, their typical response includes things like that it was a bad judge or it was political. Very rarely do you hear someone say “Wow, Suzy just had a better animal than mine, and I understand that.”

But like Coach Bennett said, one loss doesn’t define an entire season. It doesn’t diminish the things you’ve worked hard to earn along the way.

“I told our guys, we had a historic season. A historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC. A week ago we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti is falling. And then we make history by being the first one-seed to lose. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy about that. And it stings. I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times.”

People watch very closely how the usual winners react when they don’t win. These critics WANT you to make a scene. They WANT you to start a fight. They WANT you to throw a tantrum. It fuels their drama about you. There are “favorite haters” out there everyone who love nothing more than to see successful people get knocked down. But, the way Virginia handled this loss leaves nothing to be criticized in terms of sportsmanship. While they didn’t win the championship, they gave their critics a lesson in professionalism, not fuel for future gossip. And I’ll take a good reputation over a championship anyday.

As a ranch that’s been fortunate enough to show a lot of winners, there’s always the option of “retiring” a certain champion once they achieve a high title. We’ve never done this. We’ve had national champions win a show one year and come back the next year and get 3rd in class. And we were okay with that. It was a different day and a different judge. And once you win a title, no one can take it away from you.

2. Win with Honor, Lose with Honor.

Notice some things Virginia DID NOT do……

The Virginia coach didn’t run off the basketball court crying.

He didn’t throw his Gatorade bottle on the court.

He didn’t say rude things to the winning team’s coach or try to confront him on the court.

He didn’t start the press release with a conspiracy theory of why they lost… “The buzzer is rigged!” “The referee was friends with the other coach!”

He didn’t go on Twitter or Facebook and bash on the other team, the referee, or the fans.

He accepted their defeat graciously and gave the deserved credit to the rightful winner.

3. Acknowledge your failures or shortcomings and think about how you can improve.

Coach Bennett: “We got thoroughly out-played. Did not play well. We had a hard time with their mobile fours and their four guards. I don’t know what to say but that. That was a thorough butt whipping.”

In cattle terms:
“We got thoroughly out-showed. Did not show well. We had a hard time getting our calf setup and he wasn’t fit well. I don’t know what to say but that. That was a thorough butt whipping.”

Anytime you don’t get the desired results you want, it’s a good time for reflection of why and how you failed. And lots of times if we look deep down, we know the answer already, we just may not want to say it.

Did we put in all the time we should have?
Did we practice enough?
Did we skimp on anything that maybe we shouldn’t have?
Did we cut any corners we shouldn’t have?
Were our cattle fed right?
Were they full when they went in the ring?
…Plus a list of any other questions you can run through in your head.

And since livestock showing is really based on an individual’s subjective opinion, if you felt like you DID do everything right but the results still weren’t what you wanted, what can you do to possibly improve future judges evaluation of your stock?

Did you have good showmanship?
Did you arrive on time to the class?
Were you courteous to other showman?
Did you let your animal walk freely enough?
Were you watching for the judges call?
What could you have done differently that might have resulted in a more favorable decision from the judge?

4. Good basketball – like good stockmen – know no divisions or limits. 

Coach Bennett mentioned how that even though one school (his) had definitely had a more glorified season, the other school – UMBC – also deserved to be in the tournament and that ‘Good basketball knows no divisions, no limits’

I find this especially true in showing livestock.

“Good livestock knows no divisions, no limits”

If you’re someone who shows a lot and goes to a lot of jackpots, you can fall into a rut of competing against the same people over and over again. You can somewhat predict who may or may not win. But when you get to certain shows – like the majors for example – exhibitors and new livestock come out that you’ve never seen before – you’ve never competed against before. And that means a whole new ball game. You can’t base your expectations on your past performances because there’s a whole new set of competitors.

How many times have you seen a little-known exhibitor from a small town in west Texas come in and win the entire Fort Worth steer show? I’ve seen it done.

Or, seen that small mom-and-pop farmer from the midwest roll into Louisville with a heifer no one has seen ever before and boom – she wins the class. I’ve seen it done.

Every single day across America, people are working hard with their livestock. They are putting in the sweat, the elbow grease, and the long hours. Just because you don’t see them every month in the pages of magazines, or because they’ve never made it on The Pulse, or ever shown at the local jackpot doesn’t mean they aren’t rightful competitors and deserving of a win.

5. Realize that Winning – and Losing is Part of the Job.

Finally, coach Bennett said

“When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job….”

This is in line with Vince Lombardi’s quote

“It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.”

And it’s the same principle as Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “ Man in the Arena” quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Once you’ve actually been in the ring and showed – or maybe even served as a judge – you realize it’s different inside the ring and outside.

There’s a certain feeling you get when you’re out there showing and it’s down to the top 3….and that feeling is very different depending on whether you get picked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.

There’s a certain feeling you get when you are trying your best to get your calf setup, but it won’t cooperate, and you’re doing all you can do but nothing will work, and you keep looking to the judge like “pick me pick me” but the judge is looking at you like “Not until you get your calf stuck…not until you get your calf stuck….”

There’s a certain feeling when the judge says “Let’s walk the top 5….” and you’re in 1st but you know your calf doesn’t want to walk today and you realize you’re probably only 2 minutes away from getting moved down to 3rd…

But these are feelings you only experience IF you’ve been the one in the ring. You don’t know this feeling if you’ve only sat in the stands.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to enjoy showing livestock – being in the arena – you have to understand the job.

When you walk in the show ring, it’s your 15 minutes to glory. You can walk out with the purple banner; you can walk out with the blue ribbon and get left standing in the drive; you can walk out with a pink ribbon; or you can walk out with nothing but a lap around the ring and a “round of applause for these exhibitors as they exit the ring.”

But regardless of what you walk out with – it’s HOW you walk out – whether in victory or defeat – that people will remember you by. Livestock friends, let’s do it with class. Let’s do it like Coach Tony Bennett.