5 Things Great Hockey Players Do Between Shifts (that gives them an edge)

Ben LevesqueMental Game6 Comments

5 things hockey players do between shifts

Did you know that an ‘in between shifts‘ routine can give you an edge over other hockey players?

It’s true.

In fact, if you look at any of the PROs in the NHL, you’ll see that they pretty much all follow the same routine when they get back to the bench—at least in some way shape or form.

And it’s something that happens on a subconscious level—they’ve naturally been doing it for years because they’ve learned that following this routine in the right order is the best use of their time on the bench.

Amateurs, on the other hand, do something completely different.

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They don’t have a plan once they get back to the bench—they just go about it any old way.

This can lead to them getting tired faster, losing focus, lacking discipline, and even terrible body language (which is a real performance killer).

But what is it that separates a bad bench routine from a good bench routine?

What do the PROs do between shifts that allows them to come back rested, ready, and with a clear mind to perform while amateur players just seem to watch the clock tick away?

Well, it turns out there are only 5 things you should be doing between shifts, and I’m going to teach you each and every  one of them.

By the end of this post, you’ll have the same bench routine the PROs use that you can implement into your game to have more consistent performances, stay fresher longer, and stay in control of your emotions.

Here are the 5 things you should be doing between shifts.

Catch your breath (the right way)

catching your breath


The first thing you’re going to want to do when you get back to the bench is sit down and catch your breath.

Not talk. Not scream. Not do anything other than catch your breath.

“But Ben, catching your breath just happens naturally. This is useless.”

Not so fast.

Chances are you’ve been breathing wrong all along.

What’s worse, it may be hindering your performance!

There’s essentially two ways to breathe:

  • Apical breathing
  • Diaphragmatic breathing

Apical breathing or chest breathing is when you use your upper chest to breathe. This is NOT how you want to breathe when you get back to the bench.

Why? Because chest breathing requires more muscles and thus is more exhausting. As hockey players, we want to conserve our energy as much as possible so we can last an entire game.

Instead, learn to use diaphragmatic breathing, which is just a fancy way of saying to use your diaphragm todiaphragm breathe. It may be weird at first if you’re not used to it, but it can make all the difference if you learn this technique and use it between shifts instead of the old chest-breathing technique you’re used to.

The reason diaphragm breathing is so effective is because it fills up your lungs completely, which means more oxygen gets distributed to your brain and the rest of your body.

More oxygen means less fatigue, more alertness, and smarter decision-making.

All of this with a simple tweak to the way you breathe between shifts.

Awesome, right?

That’s not all proper breathing can do for your game.

Diaphragm breathing also helps you stay calm and think rationally, rather than let your emotions get the best of you.

Research has shown that there are two pathways to the brain:

“One is for rational or attentional thought, while the other is for emotions. The two pathways are inversely related. So when your emotions start heating up, your ability to think rationally diminishes. The key to retaining control in these situations is to focus on an attentional task that brings down the emotional side and lets you be more objective. Researchers have found that breathing does this best.

Concentrate on breathing ‘into the belly‘ rather than with your chest, and you’ll maximize your oxygen intake.

Doctors even found that proper breathing in sports can improve performance up to 15%!

This is the FIRST thing you want to focus on when getting back to the bench—nothing else.

Once you’ve caught your breath, you’re then going to want to…

Re-hydrate with water

re-hydration in hockey

Another one you’re probably already doing.

But you’re probably doing it wrong again (hopefully not as bad as Dustin above)…

Are you just drinking when you’re thirsty?

That’s the WORST thing you can do.

Scientists agree that thirst is NOT a reliable indicator of dehydration, meaning that if you wait until you feel thirsty to drink, it’s already too lateyou’ll only be 25-50% hydrated!

What does that mean for your performance?

Well, research shows that losing as little as 2% of your body weight in fluids can cause a significant decrease in performance—increased fatigue, reduced endurance, and declining motivation.

You’ll feel tired and just won’t want to battle for the puck as much. These two factors can DESTROY your performance.

What’s worse, you have no real way of knowing you’re dehydrated.

Don’t let dehydration get the best you.

The bottom line: drink in between shifts, regardless of whether you’re thirsty or not.

Force it down. Take 2-3 large sips of water every time you get back to the bench after you’ve caught your breath. This will keep you hydrated the entire game and stop the fatigue and mind-fogginess from kicking in.

This is especially important if you’re in playoffs and there’s continuous overtime. More often than not, an OT game is decided on a little mistake made due to fatigue.

Don’t let this be you.

Stay hydrated and  stay fresh.

Once you’ve caught your breath and had your sips of water, then you can…

Review your previous shift

hockey sense gap

Now is when you should review the shift you just had.

You should have a clear mind now after having focused on your breathing and re-hydration for a little while.

You don’t want to take too long when doing this—just a few seconds is more than enough. You shouldn’t be dwelling on the past, but rather looking at the pros & cons of your shift so that you can be better the next time you jump on the ice.

That said, you’ll want to break your shift review process into three parts:

First, take about 20 seconds to review what you didn’t do so well during your last shift. Quickly go over your shift in your mind and come up with a few things you could have done better.

Second, take another 20 seconds to turn those negatives into positives. For example, if you turned the puck over last shift, tell yourself that next shift you’ll protect the puck at all costs. If you got caught out of position, tell yourself that next shift you’ll pay closer attention to where you are on the ice. This step is all about turning your negative thoughts into positive actions that you can do instead the next time around.

Third, you’re going to want to take another 20 seconds and re-focus. That means what’s done is done, and now it’s time to park your thoughts and prepare for the next shift. Regardless of if you had a good or bad last shift, the next one is the only one that matters now.

This ‘shift review’ should only take about a minute. This is where many amateur players go wrong.

They spend their entire time between shifts dwelling on the past which greatly affects their performance in the future.

Don’t spend your time beating yourself up over that missed scoring chance, that bad pass, or that call the ref missed.

It’s a complete waste of energy.

Focus on your past shift for no more than a minute, and then move on.

I like to use a keyword to help me focus on what’s to come rather than what just happened—I used to tell myself to ‘park it‘. As soon as I would finish my ‘shift review’, I would tell myself to park it. That was my cue to park my thoughts and re-focus.

Come up with your own keyword and use it to keep your thoughts & emotions in check between shifts.

Once you’re done reviewing your shift, then you can finally…

Talk to your line-mates

talk to your linemates

Now’s the time where you can chat with your line-mates.

If you’re an amateur, this is probably the first thing you do when you get back to the bench.

What happens if you get back to the bench and start talking right away?

You can’t catch your breath.

If you can’t catch your breath, you’re not getting enough oxygen to your brain & muscles. Fatigue will set in, and your performance will get progressively worse and worse after each passing shift.

Don’t make this mistake.

Talking to your line-mates is really secondary to the other steps on this list. Talking over plays with your buds isn’t what’s going to make or break your performance.

Make sure you tackle your breathing, your hydration, and your shift review before you even think of talking strategy.

If time permits and you’ve covered the first 3 things, then you can dive into special plays, backdoor passes and whatever else you want to talk about with your line-mates.

I know you’re used to doing this first, but break this bad habit and you’ll improve your game.

Ready, set, go!

ready set go

By now, you should be fully ready to go.

You’re rested, you’ve caught your breath, you’re hydrated, you know exactly what to do better next shift. You’ve even had a bit of time to talk over some plays with your teammates.

All that’s left to do is tell your body to get ready.

Maybe you do this already, but if you don’t, I highly recommend you do it.

Think of a little something you can do before getting on for a shift that lets your mind & body know that it’s go time.

It can be anything.

For me, it was putting a bit of water down my back and then placing my hand on the board—this meant I was ready to jump over the boards and onto the ice at any moment.

Subconciously, you’re telling your body it’s GO-time.

Come up with some kind of ‘cue‘ that you can use to prepare yourself for your upcoming shift, and make it a part of your ‘in between shifts’ routine.

Here’s a cool story for you…

Back in Junior, there were games where I would log a ton of minutes, especially when games were close or when there were a lot of penalties.

During an 80+ game season, managing fatigue is essential.

My ‘in-between shift’ routine played a major part in helping me stay fresh throughout the season.

So much so that my coach knew when to send me back on the ice—as soon as the water would go down my back and my hand went up on the board, he’d call my name and I was back up next.

It meant I was ready to go again.

Find YOUR ‘cue’—it tells your mind, body, and even those around you that you’re good to go.


So there you have it.

Five things that great players do in between shifts that really gives them an edge over others.

It’s nothing complicated, but it’s also not something you’re taught from a young age.

If you go about it any old way, you may just be hindering your performance without even knowing it.

You owe it to yourself to be the best player you can be, and this simple routine can help you accomplish that.

Remember to catch your breath, re-hydrate, and review your past shift BEFORE you talk.

Only then can you be fully ready to go for your next shift.

Find something you can do that tells your mind & body you’re ready to go and build it into your routine. It’ll help you distinguish ‘rest time’ versus ‘work time’.

That’s all there really is to it!

What’s your ‘in-between shift’ routine like?

Leave a comment below because I’d love to hear how you approach your time between shifts.

hockey sense handbook

About the author

Ben Levesque

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Ben has been playing hockey for 20+ years and has learned a ton from playing with the world's best coaches & players. Among his accomplishments are a National Championship, a President's Cup, a Semi-Final finish at the Memorial Cup, several Queen's Cups and a helmet in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

6 Comments on “5 Things Great Hockey Players Do Between Shifts (that gives them an edge)”

  1. arthur souretis

    Yes,Great article as usual,I especially like that there is a sequence and it is100% in the players control to improve his performance

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