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The Bad Shift: How to Bounce Back


We’ve all had that bad shift. Here’s how to bounce back and get ready for the next one.

By Matt Schoepflin

Have you ever had a bad shift in a hockey game? Of course you have. We all have. What do you do to bounce back from it and get yourself ready for the next one?

It could have been a missed pass for an easy goal, or maybe you got walked on a 1 on 1 and they scored. Or you didn’t control the rebound and it led to an easy tap-in goal. Regardless of what happened, we’ve all had a bad shift.


I know from personal experience that there’s no worse feeling than skating back to the bench knowing that your mistake cost your team a goal. But the reality is that it happens to everyone.

Even the best hockey players in the world have shifts where they make mistakes that ultimately lead to the puck ending up in their own net—or at the very least not in the opposing team’s net.

How you respond to those situations, and approach each shift in general, is really what makes the difference.

I’m sure you’ve heard people in hockey (and other sports) talk about being on an even keel. Never too high, never too low. And it’s true; the best players are able to control their emotions and take the good with the bad and know that they’re only as good as their next shift. And that’s where their focus needs to be. This leads to this question: how do you become more consistent, shift after shift?

While trying to stay on an even keel is great in theory, it doesn’t exactly help with the process of actually doing that during the game. One thing that worked for me as a player—and has helped numerous other players that I have played with, coached, and instructed—is something I call mental reminders.

A mental reminder is a word or phrase that acts as a trigger for your mind. When you see that word or phrase, it instantly reminds you that you need to focus on the things you can control and that make your game successful.

I like to use the example of a former teammate who used to write “FTB” (For the Boys) on the handle of each one of his sticks. When I asked him about it, he said that one thing he always struggled with as a player was that if he felt like things weren’t going well he would try and do it all himself. It wasn’t that he was a bad teammate; in fact, he cared so much that he wanted to do things himself to try and lift his teammates back up. We all know (at least I hope) that trying to do it all yourself isn’t the answer.

So he used “FTB” as his mental reminder that he was there “for the boys,” and that he needed to trust them and work with them to get things back on track. That was his trigger word and what worked best for him.

Obviously everyone is different, and each player should come up with something that works specifically for them and helps trigger their right mind frame. Here are 4 examples that have worked for many hockey players after a bad shift:

SKATE – If your feet are moving you are making smart decisions and good plays

BELIEVE – Use that as a reminder to believe in yourself and trust in your abilities

TRUST – This is to remind yourself to trust the process and not get frustrated if everything doesn’t go your way all the time. Also to trust your teammates and know they have your back.

NO FEAR – No matter how small you are, make sure you never play that way. This is a reminder to play ‘big’ and not be scared of playing against bigger players.

As you can see, there are an infinite number of possibilities. As a hockey player, you need to figure out what is going to work best for you. I encourage anyone who follows this strategy to put it in a place that has easy access and where you’ll see it between every shift. Think someplace like the handle of your stick, the inside cuff of your glove, or even the cuff of your jersey sleeve.

That way, every time you come off the ice after a shift you’ll see your reminder. Then you can take 10 seconds or so to refocus and clear your mind so that you are ready for your next shift. Whether things go good or bad in your previous shift, it’s a great way to reset and get refocused on the game.

Consistency is one of the most valuable assets you can have as a player. It is one more tool you can add to your game that will help you achieve it. And remember, every shift is a new opportunity to do something positive for your team. Make sure you’re ready for it.

From an article appearing at Boost Hockey. Matt Schoepflin is a frequent contributor to He is passionate about coaching and giving back to the game that has given him so much. Boost Hockey helps hockey players grow into the individuals they want to be. Published with permission.

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