Any livestock judging enthusiast knows that the busy fall judging run is filled with many mixed emotions. Every contest that happens is filled with history and prestige, regardless of where you stand in the livestock judging ranks, and the stakes and pressure run high. Those in high school may be preparing to represent their state and chapters at the national contest level. Many are stepping foot into their very first collegiate judging contest. And a few are setting up their steno notepad for the final contest of their collegiate judging career.
It’s a high stress time of year. It’s a time for preparation while nerves and pressure are the main ingredients circulating the air. It is not a time for the weak and weary, it is a time for nitty and gritty, where only the strongest willed will rise victorious. Yet in the midst of history, personal pride and national championships on the line, young people must not lose sight of the fact that the fall contests are more than just a judging contest. In fact, livestock judging is more than just a competition or sport. And after the titles are won and the victories are written, there will be more than just a title you will take home and have to your name:
1. A Portfolio of Work Ethic
Preparing for a contest at any level is no easy feat. Much like a sports team, competing on a judging team at a high level requires practice at least five times a week. Practices go for long hours, and weekends are dedicated to traveling many miles and spending nights away from home. To elevate to the next level, hours of work outside of practice are required to perfect your craft and develop the skills needed to stand out in the reasons room.
By committing yourself to the preparation required for a contest, you are committing yourself to hard work and dedication. You are proving to yourself and others that you have the ability and determination to put in the time, work and extra effort for greatness and success. The ability to push yourself and outwork your competitors is a valued skill that will not only help you come contest day this fall, but it will help you standout from the candidate pool as you pursue a career in life.
2. Decision Making Ability
Each and every practice and workout you attend, you are forced to think critically and make decisions. You are put in situations where you have to compare and evaluate livestock and make the decision that best suits you and makes the most logical sense. Often times, in close decisions in a contest situation you have to think deeply and strategize how you will arrive at the lowest risk choice under immense pressure.
For many people, good decision-making skills are ones that must be developed through intentional practice. Competing in a judging contest provides that exact opportunity for young people as they work to make good decisions to help fulfill their goal of success. The act of comparing and measuring pros and cons is a skill that long surpasses contest day.
3. Clear Communication Ability
To make a decision is one thing, but to clearly defend your decision with conviction is another. When in a contest situation, you know you have a short time frame in which you must use the decision-making process to arrive at a fair and informed decision and then utilize clear and compelling reasoning to defend that decision to others. Practicing the ability to formulate reasoning into a verbal declaration in a short time frame is important to developing vital communication and public speaking skills. Each time you prepare a set of reasons, you are working to organize your thoughts and deliver them in a communicative way.
The ability to think quickly and communicate clearly is a void in much of society today. A judging contest sets up the perfect opportunity to put this into practice each and every day. If you put in the extra effort to be a strong communicator, you will not only rise in the reasons ranks but you will thrive in all personal and professional relationships as you continue forward.
4. Confidence and Character
To rise to the top in a judging contest requires immense confidence and belief in one’s own ability. There is no question that the constant development of skills acquired through practice helps to develop a sense of confidence. The more you practice and the more you work on perfecting your skills in a contest setting, the more comfortable you will be and the more confidence you will exude. There is no greater feeling than the feeling of confidence in your ability. When you are more confident you will push yourself to strive for more and perform well under pressure when the stakes are high.
The confidence you build is also key to being secure in your character and what you choose to believe in and value. In this case, character means the ability to be trusted and to make decisions with the upmost integrity. Those who judge livestock at any rank or at any show are depended upon to make their own decisions with integrity and conviction. Each time your step foot on the contest floor or step foot in the ring to sort a show, you are being entrusted to do the best job you can and make fair and informed decisions based on what you see and what you like. The constant pressure to act out of integrity, pushes those who judge livestock to constantly maintain a level of trust with the people around them. By striving to do what it is right and defend what you believe is right, you will cultivate trust, respect and a high standard of character to live by.
5. Endless Friendships, Connections and Memories
“It’s not about what you accomplished – it’s about who you accomplished it with.”
Long after the ribbons fade, the trophies collect dust and the “National Champion” title loses its glamour, all that will be left are the friendships forged and connections stitched. Spending each week in close quarters, in a van or even living with your fellow teammates pushes personal boundaries aside and encourages close relationships to form. The greatness of a livestock judging program is its ability to miraculously bring strangers from across the country together to work alongside each other and one day become lifelong friends through the common thread of passion for good livestock. Competing on a judging team allows you to take heed of friendly competition and praise the value of surrounding yourself with people who push you to reach your goals and the overarching goals of the team. The miles you put on the van will take you to places you have never been and put you in contact with industry leaders you may have never met otherwise.
The value of our industry is in the people. And there is no better way to meet people with a common interest in your field of passion than through being a member of a judging team. While you will always remember the victories and the collective feeling of a team success, what you will reflect on the most are the memories you made while practicing on the road. You’ll talk about the friends you made whom you wouldn’t have met otherwise. You will recall the times your teammates held you up to support you through tough times. You will reflect on the victory celebrations and the way you lifted each other up. Livestock judging is more than just a recruited team with one goal – it’s a family with a dream.
As you can see, livestock judging is more than just a membership to a team, a sport or a contest. In the peak of your preparation, it may seem as such, yet from the rear-view mirror it is so much more. So, for those of you who are representing your state, beginning your collegiate journey, or stepping foot in the judging arena for the final time – take a deep breath every once in a while, and try to remember the bigger significance. Try to remember that regardless of the outcome, you will leave your final contest with developed skills that will make you an indispensable member of any professional team and a respectable individual in the industry. You will create connections that will lead to bigger opportunities down the line. And above all, you can feel grateful knowing you have a close unit of people and friends who will stay with you in life, long after the you mark your last card.