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Forget everything that you think you know about bull riding. What once was only an individual event is no longer.
Although the sport in itself has not changed, Professional Bull Rider’s Team Series shakes things up. It’s fast, it’s flashy and it’s bringing a whole new side to the sport.
In the past, riders were competing against themselves, an 8-second clock, and a bull. In the present, riders compete against those same three factors and compete alongside teammates against another team.
That’s right, bull riding is now a team sport and it’s electric.
— PBR (@PBR) August 29, 2022
The PBR Team Series launched it inaugural season with eight founding teams in June.
- Carolina Cowboys
- Oklahoma Freedom
- Austin Gamblers
- Kansas City Outlaws
- Texas Rattlers
- Arizona Ridge Riders
- Nashville Stampede
- Missouri Thunder
They will play a 10-weekend regular season that will culminate in a team playoff in November. Each team is made up of seven riders on the main roster, five other riders on the practice squad, and a head coach (or two). Each team will host a three-day regular-season event in their home city, but all eight teams travel to every event.
The Concept Of PBR’s Team Series Is Pretty Simple And It’s Awesome
Five riders from every team are selected by their coach(es) to compete against five riders of the team they are facing that week. And then it’s game time.
The goal, first and foremost, is to reach the 8-second mark just like in a regular PBR event. The team part of the competition adds an extra element.
Rather than individual scores competing against individual scores, the team with the highest aggregate score tallied from the successful rides wins. Thus, a lot like penalty kicks in soccer, the team that has the most riders get to 8 seconds typically wins.
Silvano Alves set Bridgestone Arena off with this walk-off ride yesterday 🔥
Catch the Stampede Days finale on CBS and CBSSN! pic.twitter.com/D7h5QpvNht
— PBR (@PBR) August 21, 2022
The Transition In Format Brings A New Backend Outlook On The Sport
Not only does the format change the scoring, it also changes the approach. There is a strategical element to bull riding that did not exist in the past.
A lot of that responsibility falls on the coaches.
Each week, around noon on Tuesdays, the teams draw the bulls they will be riding that week. From there, the coaches are tasked with assigning each bull to a rider on their team before midnight.
In turn, those 12 hours are stressful and extremely busy. Not only does the Team Series require coaches to know the bulls, and how they best fit their riders, it requires the coaches to know their riders and how they best fit the draw of bulls.
“Tuesdays are a lot of research and thinking,” Arizona Ridge Riders co-head coach and five-time PBR World Finals qualifier Colby Yates said. “It’s not easy to figure out who best fits on what bull. We know a lot of the bulls, but there are a lot of bulls that we don’t know. That requires us to go back and watch tape, see how the bull performs, and try to pair him with the rider we think will find the most success on that bull.”
Beyond the rider/bull pairings, the Team Series format also asks coaches to set their lineup. Much like in baseball.
Which rider will be riding which bull when?
There are many ways to approach that question. Over the course of the first PBR Team Series season, the team that scores first has won more often than not.
If that is the case, does a team send out their best rider first to put a score on the board? Do they save their best rider for last? Is it better to start with the easiest bull? Does opening with the rankest bull provide a better opportunity to put a big score up first?
— PBR (@PBR) August 21, 2022
All of those thoughts ultimately play in a role in the outcome and the coaches are the ones who have to answer for the decisions.
“We believe in the momentum,” Yates said. “Our team has shown that getting scores on the board right off the bat is going to bring us the most success. But we always have our closer at the end to try and guarantee the first bull of the night and the last bull of the night.”
Other teams may choose to do things differently. That’s up to the coaches.
Regardless of how the draw, and order shakes out, every team has one rider who stands out above the rest. It could be because of experience, skill or simply mindset.
For the Oklahoma Freedom, that would be captain Eli Vastbinder. As the oldest rider on his team, he is the guy and his coaches rely on him as such.
Being The Guy Comes With A Price
Each week, Vastbinder knows he is going to be the guy assigned to the gnarliest, rankest, baddest bull.
He travels to an event, spends a few days competing on the nastiest bulls, travels home, spends a short period of time with his friends and family, and then turns around and does it again. It’s not an easy lifestyle, but it is one that comes from being the best at what he does.
Vastbinder understands the pressure that is put on him. Where many would shy away from that role, he thrives.
Eli Vastbinder is a diamond under pressure! Our team captain brings the win home. pic.twitter.com/YcUw50lZz6
— Oklahoma Freedom (@OKFreedomPBR) August 6, 2022
For the 31-year-old, it comes down to mindset. Riding the baddest bull week-in and week-out takes a toll on a rider’s body, as well as his psyche.
“It’s all about how you look at it,” Vastbinder said. “And that goes for all rodeo in general. You have to have the mindset that you can do it. It’s easy to look at the rankest bull and be fearful or hesitant, but you can’t let yourself think that way.
“I try not to let the slightest bit of ‘this is going to suck’ enter my thoughts. I always look at myself as the best and I try to never step away from that, so I always want to compete against the best, biggest, strongest bull. It comes down to mindset and whether you love it or not. And I love it.”
While Vastbinder’s role may seem difficult, it isn’t different from what he is used to. Prior to the Team Series, it was virtually the same mental approach.
To win an individual event, it takes a big score. To get a big score, it takes an 8-second ride on a mean, nasty bull. That remains the same in the Team Series.
But with that being said, where Vastbinder was mostly on his own in the past, he now has a group of riders and coaches behind him to help him get to where he wants to be and find that edge.
Individual Success Is Important, But It Stems From A Bigger Mission
In the past, where a result could make or break an individual rider’s day, now it can make or break an entire team’s day. That goes for both success and failure.
“Before, if I had a bad day and fell off of a bull, I could kind of shake it off,” Vastbinder said. “It used to be like, ‘oh, I had a bad day, on to the next one.’ That is no longer the case. Now, if I have a bad day, I am letting my team down.
“But that also goes for good rides too. If one of my teammates gets bucked off, I have the opportunity to go out there and pick him back up with a big score of my own.”
For some of us, that added pressure of having to perform for something greater than ourselves may cause us to crumble. That isn’t necessarily the case for the riders.
In fact, it has led to a lot of camaraderie and it has only elevated the quality of competition. Riders are going bigger than ever with the energy of their team behind them.
— PBR (@PBR) August 27, 2022
Vastbinder, who has dealt with injury throughout the inaugural season, believes that a bull rider’s love for what he does is stronger than any obstacle. Whether it be an injury, time away from family, or failing to reach the 8-second mark, there is a drive deep within that keeps them coming back.
“It’s how you look at it,” Vastbinder said. “You can go into it scared and back down, or you can step up with a positive attitude and be ready to dominate. Some people call us crazy, but is doing what you truly love really that crazy?”
The Bond Amongst Bull Riders Pushes Them To Push Forward
Even though they are all competing against each other, there is a sense of camaraderie amongst bull riders. Now more than ever with the Team Series.
All of the riders know the guts and the heart that it takes to do what they do. It is a brutal, dangerous sport. That hasn’t changed.
HEADS UP. 😳 pic.twitter.com/r9NK5PfMuh
— PBR (@PBR) August 28, 2022
Last night was flippin' awesome.
Night two of Gamblers Days kicks off NOW on PBR RidePass on Pluto TV. pic.twitter.com/vNvBGn9azt
— PBR (@PBR) August 27, 2022
Bull sent him head over heels 😬 pic.twitter.com/OvR91LAAMa
— PBR (@PBR) August 20, 2022
In turn, even though they all want to go out and win, there is a mutual respect for other riders on other teams. Especially for those with blood kin in the sport.
— PBR (@PBR) August 24, 2022
In addition to their teammates cheering them on, there is another new source of energy for the riders in their “home” city. Where a crowd used to root for their favorite riders and get excited for big riders, home crowds have a chance to get behind their team. Riders who may not have had the crowd behind them as much in the past are getting an extra edge in front of their franchise’s fans.
— PBR (@PBR) August 21, 2022
Professional Bull Rider’s Team Series is the same sport that it has always been. Riders try to hang on for 8 seconds and score the biggest score possible.
However, with the new format, there is a lot more that goes into it. It’s a bigger production than ever before and it provides a new reason for fans to get excited about the product in the ring.
As the Team Series continues to roll out its inaugural season in 2022, it’s only going to grow. It will take time to establish its roots and build fanbases around the specific teams, just like any new sports league or franchise, but the sky is the limit.
Now is the time to pick a group of riders and hop on the bandwagon because PBR has turned bull riding into a team sport and it’s bigger, crazier and more strategic than ever!