We all dream of being called upon to win the big game. Know your playoff role.
By Kim McCullough
We all want to be the one the captain or coach calls upon to win the big game in the playoffs. Every goalie wants to be in for the games that “matter.” Every forward wants to score the game winner and every defenseman wants to be out there in the last minute, blocking shots to preserve the one-goal lead.
But not every player on the team is going to get that chance. That might not be your role. Sometimes you’re having the game of your life and you get to go out every other shift. And other times you can’t make a tape-to-tape pass; you’re giving off huge rebounds; or you can’t hit the net with your shot, and you end up on the bench.
No one wants to be on the bench when it matters. But that’s not something that’s under your control. And focusing on things that you can’t control gets you nowhere fast. That’s why it’s important to know your playoff role.
Success in the Playoffs is All about TEAM
On any given team, every player has a different role. And those roles may change from game to game or shift to shift. In order to win when it matters, every player must know their playoff role to the best of their ability.
The reality is you might not like the role you play. You may not get the opportunity you think you deserve during those big games. When that happens—and it happens to all of us—you need to keep this in mind: You can’t always choose your role, but you can choose how you play it. In order for your team to succeed, you’ve got to know your playoff role and play it to the best of your ability, even when you don’t agree with the role you’ve been given.
It’s one of the hardest things to do—especially in the playoffs, when every shift matters and there is so much emotion and tension in the air. No matter what your role is in the game, you’ve got to support your teammates and they’ve got to support you. It’s a two-way street.
If you are the one who is going out every other shift, you need to know that your teammates are cheering you on and not talking behind your back about how they should be out there instead of you. They’d love to be the ones out on the ice as well, but that may not be their role in this particular game. Remember that at some point the roles will be reversed: You may find yourself on the bench the next game and your teammate may be getting the shot to win it all.
How Will You Choose to React?
If you’re the one who is getting short-shifted, and you choose to pout on the bench and whisper to your teammates about how you deserve to be out there instead of so-and-so, you’ve made your choice. Chances are that your captain or coach sees that and probably isn’t going to give you the opportunity to go out there and win it all in the future, because your actions are hurting the team instead of helping it.
You are allowed to be angry and frustrated that you aren’t the one being given the shot to win it all—but you can’t show that to your teammates. Even though it tears you up inside, your role for the last few minutes of the game may be to cheer your teammates on. You’ve got to make a very conscious effort not to complain or show your frustration.
Your willingness to be a good teammate and to pretend that this decision doesn’t really faze you (even though you are absolutely furious) will get noticed by the coaches as well. They will see that you have bought into the team concept and have chosen to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. Having that “team first” attitude is what will eventually earn you the opportunity to be one of the chosen few on the ice in the last minute of the big game.
It says a lot about you, both as a player and a person, to make the choice to play whatever role you’ve been placed in to the best of your ability‑even if you don’t agree with it.
So as you push deeper into the playoffs and the stakes only get higher, always remember this:
You can’t always choose your role, but you can choose how you play it.
To know your playoff role means to keep working hard and dreaming big. And think TEAM first.
Kim McCullough is coach of the Toronto-Leaside PWHL and owner of Total Female Hockey. From an article appearing on Women’s Hockey Life. Published with permission.