PUEBLO, Colo. – All that separated Matt Triplett from his first career victory on the Built Ford Tough Series was .01 second this past weekend in Laughlin, Nevada.
It is a margin that is so small that it is completely understandable as to why all Triplett could do was pick up his bull rope and head off to the locker room in nothing but pure frustration at the Laughlin Events Center.
Yet, Triplett’s 2-for-3 performance, highlighted by an 88-point ride on Tyree’s Pretty Boy, may just be a sign of things to come for the 23-year-old. He finally put together multiple rides in a single event for the first time since finishing third at the BFTS event in Billings, Montana, back in April.
More importantly, Triplett’s performance in Laughlin was an indicator that the past two weeks he spent living and training with Douglas Duncan in Alvin, Texas, had paid off.
Triplett has always looked up to Duncan as one of the better bull riders on tour. Struggling to generate any momentum since the beginning of the second half, Triplett and Duncan began chatting before Triplett asked Duncan if he wouldn’t mind having a visitor down in Texas.
Duncan extended an invitation, and Triplett ventured down to the Lone Star state to train through a nearly, daily variety of such exercises as hot yoga and an 8-round boxing/cardio class with one of the BFTS’s most dedicated workout machines.
“He is someone that is a great role model and is someone that takes his training very serious,” Triplett said. “I thought it would be really wise for me to hang out with a guy who is going to make me focus a little better and make me train a lot harder.”
It is easy to question why Triplett would think he needs any help. He’s developed into a Top-10 bull rider this season thanks to nine Top-10 finishes, as well as three Top-5’s. The Columbia Falls, Montana, bull rider has clearly exceeded expectations in his first full season on the BFTS after just qualifying for the Built Ford Tough World Finals last year with a strong finish during the final three regular-season BFTS events.
Although, Triplett had become frustrated with himself recently. He was beginning to feel the pressures of a world title race and the distractions of being an up-and-coming PBR star.
Triplett also realized he had lost track of the effort and determination he had last year to scratch and crawl his way toward the World Finals. He had such a strong first half to the 2014 BFTS that he had, in a way, gotten somewhat lazy.
Triplett had only ridden two bulls in four events since the beginning of August prior to Laughlin, and was starting to add more pressure on himself to succeed.
In Texas, Triplett voiced his worries to Duncan.
“This year, maybe I have been taking things a little bit for granted,” Triplett said. “I was only covering one bull a weekend and I hadn’t been too happy with that at all and it kind of lit a fire under me to where I am going to start picking my game up until the Finals.
“(Douglas) said I was taking stuff too serious and I was not having fun with it. I was tensing up instead of making the right moves to ride the bulls, and that is exactly what I have been doing. I had been trying way, way too hard.”
Duncan understands that it is easy to let the pressures of the sport get to your head and stop you from having fun, which in turn can lead to a rider pressing for success.
“I think Triplett does that a lot to himself,” Duncan said. “(Last week) he said, ‘I have to get it together. I am falling out of the Top 10.’ I said, ‘Well, that is your own fault for looking at the standings, you shouldn’t even know what place you are sitting. It shouldn’t care if you are third, fourth or 30th. You will know when you are first or not when they do introductions.”
It is part of being a professional, something that the 27-year-old had to eventually mature into himself, Duncan admitted.
Duncan, who is currently 27th in the world standings, has gone through the rigors of the sport, suffering injury after injury and has had to overcome a plaguing hip injury that has even flared up this year.
He may be older now, but he still understands the frustrations of failing to convert at a BFTS event. It is why he tries to apply a “5-minute rule” at events. After a buckoff, Duncan allows himself five minutes to fume over it before letting it go and moving on to the next bull.
It is a mental approach that Triplett, who is sixth in the world standings following his third-place finish in Laughlin, will need to apply for this coming weekend in Oakland, California, after coming oh so close to that long-desired, first career victory.
If he had just held on for that extra millisecond aboard Compact he could have been celebrating. Instead, it was the 14th consecutive bull he bucked off during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
This coming weekend will be his latest opportunity to show what he has learned.
“Douglas has a positive, positive attitude,” Triplett said. “Even if he has a bad weekend, he loses focuses on what happened as soon as he leaves the arena.
“That is what champions have. When they have a bad weekend they can push it away a step and look forward to the next weekend and succeed.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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