How many times have you heard the stories told about these awful bag skates? The ones where you expect practice, but your excitement turns to dread when you realize there are no pucks on the ice. The times when you had a subpar game and you know the next day’s practice is just going to suck. It is almost a rite of passage for hockey players to endure these skates and to be able to tell the tale of living through them. As a player, I know these skates well. As a coach, I’ve skated my teams but not in this traditional way with its traditional message. Some coaches are for the bag skate, some against it. I think before you put this type of skate into your practice plan you should ask yourself, "Why am I doing it, what am I teaching, and what message am I sending?"
I believe in skating one’s team; athletes have to push their limits to succeed. If you don’t skate your team, there are issues there, too and that is a whole other topic for another article. But, back to the bag skate—why do we do it?
A lot of times the answer is simple: we as a team messed up, so we skate. But does that even make sense? Our teams are comprised of hockey players. They should LOVE to skate and find a thrill in feeling their edges cut into the ice as they fly from one end of the rink to the other. However, the bag skate teaches players to hate the skating part of practice. Be honest, who gets excited when coach says, “Everyone on the line?”
Our teams are full of athletes who should thrive on the concept of breaking limits. However, the bag skate teaches them that pushing yourself to that last bit of effort is a punishment. It teaches them that having no pucks is a bad thing, yet what percentage of hockey is played without a puck? The bag skate teaches them that skating is a negative consequence, rather than a positive and essential attribute of the game.
If you follow my line of thinking, then why do we punish them with skating? It is the most essential aspect of our game. Please hear me clearly, my teams skate and skate hard. But my message is clear: they skate, but they do NOT skate for punishment. They skate to be the BEST. And that is the difference that is important to me as a coach.
If you couldn’t tell yet, I love to skate. I have often said I feel more comfortable in my skates than I do in my sneakers. And even then, when I was put on a line as a player, I still hated the bag skate. As a coach, one’s personality plays a role in their coaching style and this one tweak is specific to mine. As I said before, my girls skate and skate hard. They will have legendary tales of surviving these sprints. However, the purpose of my skates and the message behind my sprints are clear.
My drills are designed as such that they are doing sprints without feeling this is a bag skate type of practice. My sprints are entailed with game ready purpose and to replicate game type simulations. And before I put them on the goal line to transition them to a no puck portion of practice (the traditional “bag skate”), I remind them that we don’t skate for punishment, we skate to be the BEST. And before that final sprint, the one that matters, the one where limits are broken, where goals are achieved and athletes go to the next level, I remind them of their goals as a team and why this helps us get there. I’m not saying my way is the right way, it is just a different way.
As more and more coaches come up the ranks, I think “To bag skate or not?” isn’t the question. The bigger question is “what is the message you send with that choice?”