EDMONTON – Bull riding is the quintessential individual sport – a solitary man-versus-beast confrontation.
There are no teammates to call time out, provide blocking protection or take the ball in the clutch.
The PBR Global Cup changes that dynamic.
The competition among five countries vying for their share of a $1,000,000 purse, Canadian soil placed into one of the five horns comprising the coolest new trophy in sports and bragging rights as the very best bull riding nation on the planet brings a new team dynamic to this beautiful, solitary sport.
And because each team’s seven bull riders (14 for host country Canada) are competing for collective glory, coaches will play an essential role in deciding which group of cowboys cashes in on the $400,000 Global Cup team payday.
The lineup of Global Cup coaches are nothing short of legends of the sport. They hold seven World Championships.
One of them, three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes who is coaching Team Australia, is immortalized in a statue riding the great bull Little Yellow Jacket in front of PBR’s headquarters in Pueblo, Colorado.
So what does a bull riding coach actually do?
You won’t see any clipboards wielded or headsets barked into. Most of the work will be handled in conversations, bantering, meals and team meetings leading up to the competition.
At the sport’s top level, the athletes have accumulated years of muscle memory, and instinct-driven coordination. Make it to the top of the PBR, and bull riding becomes a mental game.
The former riders turned coaches (Brazilian coach Robson Palermo still competes and Canada’s Aaron Roy is sidelined due to injury) will be tending mostly to the psychology of getting their men confident and positive before mounting fearsome 1,800-pound wrecking machines.
Brazilian native Moraes says language and culture are his main coaching challenges.
“I don’t speak Australian, they don’t speak Brazilian, and we don’t get each other’s jokes,” he said.
But after spending the past two days with his team, the affable Moraes feels these initial barriers are no longer an issue.
“I want the whole world to see how strong the Australians are,” Moraes said. “They are a force to be reckoned with. They just have to believe in themselves.”
Similarly, Team Mexico Coach Michael Gaffney, the 1997 World Champion, arrived in blustery Edmonton and was introduced to a group of cowboys proudly representing their country.
Gaffney grew up about 80 miles north of El Paso. His dad was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base. He speaks some Spanish, which will help in communicating with most of the team’s riders who don’t know English.
Compared to coaches like Team Brazil’s Palermo, who often pulls the rope for the athletes he’s now coaching, or Canada’s Roy, recovering from a badly broken femur as he plans to one day compete again with his Canadian countrymen, Gaffney says he’s at a slight disadvantage in having just met eight new faces.
“We are new to each other, but it’s a complete honor and privilege to be asked to coach these guys,” said Gaffney, one of the most well-liked and technically proficient riders of all-time.
“We don’t often get to see any Mexican riders on the big stage. This is our Olympics.”
Competing in Rogers Place at PBR’s biggest, new product launch since its founding and during an event televised live on TSN across Canada “will be good for their exposure and good for their game,” Gaffney said.
The local riders are especially looking forward to that national coverage, which began on Thursday before the Canadian National Qualifier with five different TV crews in the arena beaming simultaneous interviews.
“Nobody on Team Canada has been in anything like this,” said Roy. “They go to events in different groups, but never have come together in a big event like this. These guys are really behind each other cheering for one another.”
Justin McBride’s coaching philosophy centers on making riders cognizant of magnitude of the Global Cup, which will make its next stop in Sydney, Australia in June 2018.
“This is a very unique opportunity for the seven guys from the U.S. – a chance to represent their entire country as a bull rider,” the two-time World Champion said.
“That’s something pretty special. This is an individual sport. For the next two days these riders get to be part of a team and do their country proud.”
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