PUEBLO, Colo. – Jess Lockwood was standing in the championship hallway at Dickies Arena during the 2022 PBR World Finals last month when he glanced up at his picture.
It has not even been three years since Lockwood staged one of the greatest comebacks at the PBR World Finals to become the youngest two-time World Champion in PBR history. But the dominant Lockwood fans have been accustomed to seeing has seemingly faded away since sustaining a career-threatening torn left hamstring in 2020.
Physically, Lockwood has returned to competition multiple times following two core-muscle surgeries and a combined 16 months on the sidelines, including the last four because of a left shoulder injury. However, he admits he has never been mentally the same as when he went 5-for-6 at the 2019 PBR World Finals to steal the gold buckle away from Jose Vitor Leme.
At the time of his second gold buckle, there was a debate about which of the two was the best bull rider in the world.
Leme has since gone on to win two world titles and was most recently the No. 1 pick in the 2022 PBR Team Series Draft, presented by ZipRecruiter, on May 23 by the Austin Gamblers, while Lockwood has become one of the largest question marks in the PBR.
“I think that guy definitely is still there,” Lockwood said, pointing back at his decal on the wall. “I have just been living and learning and getting older. Once I get that mindset back that I once had, I should ride better than I ever have. There is no reason I shouldn’t.”
The Oklahoma Freedom have no doubt in Lockwood’s talent, selecting him with the No. 1 pick of Thursday’s PBR Team Series Supplemental Draft.
2016 World Champion Cooper Davis (Carolina Cowboys) and Vitor Losnake (Arizona Ridge Riders) were the only other riders selected in the Supplemental Draft. The Austin Gamblers, Nashville Stampede, Kansas City Outlaws, Texas Rattlers and Missouri Thunder opted to pass on making a supplemental draft selection. They will instead round out their 12-man rosters with free-agent signings.
Lockwood was not eligible for the Initial Draft on May 23 because he did not want to ride at all 11 PBR Team Series events. Therefore, he chose to enter the Supplemental Draft and will ride part-time for the Freedom.
“You don’t have to go as much, and you still get to ride bulls, and it is a way to prepare for next season with having this season cut short like it was,” Lockwood said of his decision to choose partial availability in hopes of preparing for a world title run in 2023.
That decision was music to Freedom General Manager Brandon Bates’ ears as he hoped to pair Lockwood with Freedom assistant coach Kody Lostroh.
“Some may think I have it backward, but I feel like I can rebuild Jess under the tutelage of Kody Lostroh, and he will become the greatest of all time,” Bates said.
The 2009 PBR World Champion, Lostroh is building out the Freedom’s sports psychology/mental wellness program and credits his work with a sports psychologist in 2009 with helping him win a PBR gold buckle.
The Colorado native agrees with Bates that the Freedom can help Lockwood tap into his lost potential.
“It is something I have been working on in a smaller scale with the Western Sports Foundation,” Lostroh said. “Our approach is going to be individual to each guy. With Jess, he has experienced a ton of success at a very early stage of his career. I can totally understand how mentally overwhelming it is. It is so much stuff to deal with in a short amount of time. It is about making this fun and making it simple again for him. It is a simple sport. It is not a thinking man’s game, but we can do things without giving away all of our secrets. We can get him there again. If he did it once, he can do it again. If one man can do it, then what else can another man do?
“Jess is a killer. Everything he has done in such a short amount of time, he is almost like Leme No. 1. Crap happens. Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face, and he has been hit in the face. There is no reason he can’t get back up and go again. I see this carrying over to not only where we got two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood kicking butt again, but a whole team of Lockwoods. That attitude and success can be contagious, especially when you put it into a team format. We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
But does Lockwood believe he needs help?
Lockwood could retire today, and he would go down as one of the sport’s greats.
What value does he see in having Lostroh as his coach and being a part of a team of bull riders?
“This is exactly what I need,” Lockwood admitted. “No matter how great you are, you can’t just always rely on yourself. You need to reach out for some sort of help. I know I still love riding bulls, and I still have the mentality that I had in 2019. I know in 2019, it was all the time, and nowadays, it is only when I show up to the arena. Whenever I show up at the arena, I am still 2019 Jess, but that doesn’t work. You see how it works. I make a ride here and there and still ride good, and still have the potential to ride good. But the buckoffs on the ones I should be riding, that is where you see me slipping and falling. I have gotten older, and I like being home more. I stress when I am not at home. Even though I have a buddy who takes great care of the place, it is not knowing what’s going on at home. Not being there. Not taking care of animals. Not being there to handle something if it comes up. That is not keeping my mind 24/7, 365 on bull riding.
“Brandon said Lostroh will be able to get into my brain and teach me, and I will learn that I can still do all the stuff I want to do right now, but it is compartmentalizing it all and being able to flip a switch when need be. Then it is game on.”
Lostroh, Oklahoma head coach Cord McCoy and the entire Freedom management team discussed the importance of sports psychology during their pre-draft scouting process.
There is a phrase always echoed in the sport of bull riding, but an important follow-up question is very rarely asked, Lostroh explained.
“Ask a guy, ‘How much of bull riding is mental?’ and they say ‘90 percent,’” Lostroh said. “Then ask them how much do they work on it. The answer is zero. That is mind-blowing.
“For me personally, I struggled. I didn’t have a lot of natural talent. I had to work really hard to get good and make it look smooth like it should. I didn’t want to be just good, I wanted to be great, and that is when I started looking into sport psychology kind of things. Because in every other sport, the elite had that edge, and I wanted that. So I went on a journey. For three years (2008-2010), I built the foundation of what works for the sport, and it is what works for me, and it could be different for other guys. I 100% believe in the system we are working on.”
Lockwood will be teammates in Oklahoma with Eli Vastbinder, Derek Kolbaba, Chase Outlaw, Briggs Madsen, Caden Bunch, Shawn Bennett Jr. (free agent signing), Deklan Garland (free agent signing), Trevor Kastner (free agent signing), Kyle McDaniel (free agent signing) and Casey Roberts (free agent signing).
The PBR Team Series begins with the season opener on July 25-26 at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Teams compete head-to-head in five-on-five bull riding games. The winner of each game is the team with the highest cumulative aggregate score.
Lockwood hopes his teammates will look at him as a leader, similar to how he helped guide the USA Eagles to victory at the 2019 PBR Global Cup USA, but he knows he needs to earn that role with the Freedom.
The Volborg, Montana, native also believes having the support of his teammates will help him get back to his championship form. Lockwood is 13-for-48 (27.08%) since tearing his hamstring in March 2020, and he has failed to qualify for the PBR World Finals in back-to-back seasons.
“If I am the person they look up to, a guy who has won two gold buckles before, and they trust me in guiding and leading, then I think that will not only boost my confidence, but that will make me want to be better,” Lockwood said.
Article Courtesy of PBR
Picture By Andy Watson/ Bull Stock Media