Play Like An Animal!

By Missy Doherty, Head Coach, Penn State University, @PennStateWLAX


What animal do you most look like? This is a common bus game that for the most part is funny, although sometimes the truth can hurt. No one wants to look like an armadillo. But we can learn a lot from animals, so let’s just look at the top five lessons we can get from animals.

Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics Strategic Communications.
   Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics Strategic Communications.


This is my latest challenge as a parent of two young boys. Nowadays if things aren’t going well, more often the blame-game begins. They need to have the nicest teacher; that coach isn’t very nice, let’s switch teams; their friend isn’t being nice to them, I need to talk to their parents. ADVERSITY. How do you deal with it? Do you keep changing the environment around the individual, or does the individual have the ability to change in order to maximize their environment? This is so hard as a parent, because I want to give my children the best!  But as a coach, I have the constant reminder that my young boys have to deal with disappointment. They get stronger when they can solve some of their own problems. If they can be a chameleon and find the ways to get the most out of the environment around them, they will learn how to be stronger individuals. The strongest athletes I’ve encountered had great self-awareness for the things they could improve themselves, and they didn’t waste their time blaming their struggles on everything else around them.


Poor camels. They have two huge humps to carry around, the heat I’m sure in the desert isn’t quite comfortable, and they are probably constantly being yelled at to keep moving faster. If they knew how bad they had it, they probably wouldn’t move. If they were humans, they would probably demand to work in a cooler environment, they wouldn’t move if they were yelled at, and quite possibly they would request to have some hump reduction surgery. But they don’t look at the world that way. They are ready to work. We need to embrace our strengths and not be overwhelmed by our deficits. My challenge as a coach isn’t as much to correct mistakes as it is to bring out the best qualities in my athletes more consistently. I tell them all the time to embrace their awesomeness. But you can’t do that when all you see are your humps. Expand your vision and focus. Realize you do have weaknesses, but focus on how you can more consistently showcase your best attributes. And of course, the harder you work, the more your deficits become a distant memory.


The common debate… who is better, dogs or cats? Dogs of course, but just don’t tell that to my assistant Brooke. There are many things to learn from dogs, but the most applicable thing to athletes is their ability to refocus. Have you ever gotten mad at a dog, and then two seconds later he is wagging his tail at you?  He knows something bad happened, but he is over it. He’s moved on. And not just moved on sulking, he is happy and wagging his tail!! The most successful athletes have the ability to refocus quickly, and to do so in the most positive way. It is very hard not to carry over your past mistake into the next play. But the players that can let things go, and refocus quickly and positively are the most successful. How long does it take you to wag your tail again after a bad play?


There is a scientific myth that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly because their tiny wings can’t generate enough force to lift their large bodies. But they do, and thankfully they don’t look around and start comparing themselves to the honeybees, the butterflies, the moths etc… who look perfectly proportioned in their daily flights. They just do what they can do, their success isn’t slowed because they feel inferior by comparison. Today’s athlete spends too much time comparing themselves to other athletes. Some comparison evolves from competitiveness, which can be a useful tool to push yourself to the next level. For example, I want to improve my fitness so I can run as hard as the captain on my team. But other comparisons can be debilitating when they stop you from performing. Just because one athlete on your team is extremely successful at 1v1s, it doesn’t mean you should not go to goal as much because you aren’t as “good.” No one else’s performance can dictate what you should do. Stay confident in your own abilities so you can fly at your highest level.


Panda is my last animal, because who doesn’t want to be a panda? They are awesome. When in doubt, be lovable.

One thought on “Play Like An Animal!

  1. OMG. Only Missy could have written this awesome blog. As always, you made me laugh out loud. You also hit the nail on the head! Bravo for your sage advice. I had expected an ode of some sort, but the animal analogies made up for that.


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