Getting More Ice Time


There is no more disheartening feeling than when the coach looks down the bench to find the player they want to put in the game and when he looks at you, it feels like he looked right through you … didn’t even see you sitting there.

Not every player gets to be a starter. In hockey, we talk about role players. Players have certain skills that are perfect for certain situations. Having a role on the team is important to be sure but what happens when you find yourself as a role player who gets very little ice time?

When we talk about mental toughness, it might be the player who gets very little ice time who needs to be the most mentally tough player on the team.

Being a starter, a go-to player, is easy compared to the player that only gets one or two shifts a game. Throughout the week, everyone is expected to practice at a high level. Everyone is expected to hit the gym, eat right, get a good amount of sleep, keep their grades up, on and on and on, but at the end of the week when the fans are in the stands, and the game is on the line, there you sit. Maybe you’ve had a shift or two. Maybe you had a strong week of practice. Maybe you’re feeling good, energized, confident. But there you sit.

Being the player that sits the bench can be one of the most difficult roles in hockey. Whether they call you a role player, or reserve player, or practice player, the fact is, you get to practice but you rarely get to play .. ouch

So what are some strategies for managing your mental toughness when you don’t play as much as you’d like?


It goes without saying that as a player that sees very little ice time, the shifts you do get, you better be ready. That might be the most difficult aspect of getting little ice is having to perform at a high level when you’ve been sitting there, getting cold, getting frustrated, getting mad, and now you are called on for 40 seconds of magic.

Being ready to hit the ice for the rare shift requires a tremendous level of focus, discipline, and dedication. Whatever position you play, while you’re on the bench you need to soak up the game. Know everything that’s going on on the ice. Know the tendencies of the players you will play against. If defending, know the speed and skill of the players entering the zone. If attacking, know the tendencies of the defenders and goalie.

As a bench warmer, you need to become a student of the game. You need to be the smartest guy on the bench because when you get your shot you’ll need more than just skill to perform well.

You’ll need skill, enthusiasm, grit, and most importantly smarts!

Some of the best coaches I have ever met or worked with were role players. They freely admit it’s because they had so much time to analyze the game its why they got into coaching.

So your first job as a bench warmer is to become the smartest hockey mind on the bench.


Being the player you need to be even when you don’t feel it is a critical mental toughness skill in hockey. When you’re riding the pine, it’s a sure bet that that’s not where you would prefer to be. So when you’re in a situation that calls for an attitude that is different than what you’re feeling, then you need to act as if you feel it anyway.

So what does that mean? – Well, for one, you’re not excited to be on the bench but you need to be enthusiastic about the game. Your confidence isn’t being stroked when the coach looks right through you but you need to maintain a confident attitude regardless.

So what does that look like? – Confident, enthusiastic players sit up straight and have their head in the game. They talk to their teammates and are attentive to every aspect of the game. Unconfident, sulking players pout on the bench, their shoulders are slumped, the look on their face is sour, and they have no idea what’s going on in the game.

Trust me, sulky, pouty, and slumped is a sure bet to warming the bench all game. On the other hand, the player that is ready to jump over the boards in an instance, regardless if they’ve been sitting there for 10 minutes is someone a coach will put in. The player that talks up his teammates and know the situation on the ice is more like to see ice time than the sulker.

  • I know it’s brutally difficult to act like you’re excited when you’re frustrated as hell – but do it anyway
  • I know that it crushes your confidence to be a player that the coach doesn’t seem to believe in – but act confident anyway
  • I know that your legs are stiff and your hands are cold and the last thing you feel like doing is cheering for a teammate who is playing every other shift – but stay ready and cheer anyway
  • Being a benchwarmer is a temporary situation. No player is a bench warmer every game on every team, in every season all the time. Warming the bench comes in waves. Your job is to ride the wave and be ready when it’s your turn.

If that means acting like you’re ok with it during a game, then so be it. You can work on the reasons why you’re riding the bench in practice, but during the game, you have to be as intense and prepared to play as the guys that are getting all the shifts.


If you’re not getting a lot of ice time, you had better know why. If you are honestly unsure why you’re not playing then either you’re a weeny and won’t talk to the coach or the coach is a jerk and won’t talk to you. The bottom line is YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHY.

It is only when you understand why you’re not playing that you can do anything about it. I know, super obvious here. But you would be shocked at how my players suffer in silence hoping that whatever the reason will magically go away. That’s garbage.

You don’t want to be on the bench so find out why and get to work improving in the areas the coach needs you to be better. If you’re making mistakes and that’s why you’re not playing. Work hard in practice to eliminate them. If they’re mental mistakes, then your time on the bench should be classroom time to better understand how to eliminate the kinds of mistakes you’re making.

If it’s size or speed that is keeping you on the bench then get to work in the gym and in practice to come up with other advantages you can offer. Maybe it’s being a relentless competitor on the ice. There’s something to be said about a player that just out hustles and outworks others on the ice. They battle harder, they persist longer, and that kind of grit and determination can actually knock other players off their game.

If you’re in the doghouse because of something else, like maybe you screw around too much, cause chaos in the locker room, or get in trouble when on the road, then stop being an idiot.

There is nothing more frustrating than a player with skill sitting the bench because their maturity level is low. Frustrating for the coach, teammates, and parents more so because they see the potential but the ridiculous behavior is taking away from their ability and that of the team. Don’t be that player!


If you’re not playing, there’s a reason. Understanding why you’re not playing we just talked about. But knowing why you’re not playing and being willing to become the player that can and will play can be difficult for some players. There’s this thing called EGO that can trip players up sometimes. When you’re not playing your ego takes a hit. It’s pissed, frustrated, confused, and sometimes resigned.

If you let your ego drive you in this situation then you’ll do more to protect it than you will solve the problem. In other words, you’ll protect your ego but look for other reasons why you’re not playing. The coach hates you. Other parents convinced the coach to play their kids instead of you. It’s not fair, it’s not fair, Wha aaa aaa!

How is that going to help?

You’re not playing and you need to fix the problem. Fixing the problem is about changing the parts of your game that are keeping you from getting a regular shift. It’s about changing some part of your game to be a player the coach will put in. It’s NOT about seeing who’s to blame. It’s not about feeling sorry for yourself and saying F’it. It’s not about riding out the season and hoping you get on a better team next year.

Making a decision to change is your only path to solving the problem of lack of ice time.

Now I’m not saying that you can fix every problem and you’ll immediately see the ice more, there’s a pretty good chance that won’t happen, short of an injury or something. When you get into a bench-warming mode, it’s really hard to get out of it. But the ONLY way you can is if you make a commitment to changing into the player that will get more ice.

Oh, and this brings me back to the other tips we’ve already talked about.

When the time is right and you’ve fixed the problems, it’s your good attitude (fake or not) that gives you a better shot of getting your ice time. Coaches remember the players that worked hard, fixed the issues holding them back, and kept a good attitude throughout. Those are the players that get another shot. Be that player.

It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll experience time on the bench. Knowing how to address it and work through it puts you ahead of the rest who fight it.

I talked to a rookie at an NHL camp earlier this season and they told me that sitting the bench as a pro is the best and hardest thing they’ve ever had to do. All throughout their hockey development, they were the go-to guy. Plenty of ice time. Tons of opportunities to show their stuff. Even through college, they played a regular shift game after game including specialty teams. And last season was the first time they ever sat the bench game after game.

They said it was the hardest because, well, it sucks sitting the bench (that’s a quote). But they also said it was the best because it gave them a new attention to detail that they never really appreciated. All of a sudden it was the little things that could make a difference. They said, and I quote “I almost wish I’d had the chance to learn this earlier”

So if you’re sitting there frustrated with the little ice time you’re getting, you’ve got a job to do!

  • get smart
  • act as if
  • understand why
  • make the decision to change

and appreciate the opportunity to learn something early in hockey that can help you when you get a chance to sit the bench as a pro.

Now that would be an awesome problem to have!

Kevin L. Willis, PhD
Sport Psychologist
Level 5 USA Hockey Coach

Focus Compete Level Grit Toughness