Field hockey’s “Animal Game” contributes to the team’s focus and decisiveness

For many years the “Animal Game” has been a part of the Princeton High School field hockey tradition. It is an activity that the girls have played at team bonding events, before practice, and just when they have had some free time. However, this year the Animal Game has taken on a new role for the field hockey team. It is no longer just a fun way to pass time, but a strategy the team uses to maintain its focus and have more success on the field.

The Animal Game begins with the whole team getting in a circle. Each team member has her own animal and a motion to go along with that animal. Players are assigned their animal at the beginning of the season and keep it for the rest of high school.

The captains start out with a clapping rhythm and first signal their own animal, and then act out the signal of the next animal, passing the motions across the circle. Everyone has to focus on who is passed the signal in order to continue the game. If you lose focus or your composure, you are out.

The game took on its new role when Head Coach Heather Serverson noticed that the team was losing focus before games and gave it a more prominent role as a game-time ritual during halftime.

“Whenever we had extra time … players would tend to go off and have side conversations or communicate with their parents in the stands,” Serverson said. “Those little conversations … might be innocent and benign, but they pull [players] away from the conversation we just had at halftime.”

When Serverson suggested that they try to play some game-requiring concentration, everyone immediately thought of the Animal Game.   

Before the girls implemented this new halftime routine, they had what they considered to be a rocky beginning in their season. They lost to Allentown High School 4–1 and to The Lawrenceville School 2–1, two teams which beat the girls last year as well, early on in the season.

“We didn’t show up and play our game like we thought we would [against those teams], so that was rough,” said Co-Captain Lucia Matteo ’16, a left back.

However, since those two losses the team has only lost two other games while winning eleven, a change that the team believes can be at least partially credited to the Animal Game.

“I actually do think it has made a difference, just because if we stop talking [as a team] people might start talking about other stuff and that … takes away from the focus of the game,” Matteo said. “But with the Animal Game, everyone’s there and everyone’s paying attention.”

In addition to helping the girls maintain their focus, the halftime activity allows them to relieve any tension that may have arisen on the field and enables them to feel like a unit going into the second half of a game.

“When we play the Animal Game after we’ve had our discussion about what’s working and what isn’t in the game, it’s a way for all of us—those who are not playing and those who are playing—to come and focus together,” said Co-Captain Julia Snyder ’16, a center back.

“[The game] takes the stress away and helps us to remember that we’re just out here to have fun as a team,” said Co-Captain Trish Reilly ’16, a center midfielder. “Sometimes there’s obviously tension on the field when one person makes a mistake and [we] have to call each other out for it. But the Animal Game makes [us] realize that we are all friends.”

Since the players believe the Animal Game is so effective, they plan to continue using it throughout the season.

“We’re still not focusing in the way that we need to, so we’re definitely going to have to keep using it,” Serverson said.

In the future, the team sees playing intentional pump-up games as something that will continue to help the program.

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