Why You Should Stop Using “Bag Skates” as a Coaching Tool

Greg Revak Photo
Greg Revak

There are better ways to motivate your team.

The bag skate.

If you’ve played hockey, you’ve probably been put through one.

Maybe your team wasn’t focused. Maybe they weren’t working hard enough. Maybe someone stepped out of line and broke a team rule.

Maybe the coach was just having a bad day.

Whatever the case, the bag skate is the act of skating a team, without pucks, to the point of exhaustion.

The most famous type of a bag skate is a “Herbie.” It’s the famous skating you see in the movie ‘Miracle’ after a lacklustre loss to Norway. Herb Brooks yells “again” and Craig Patrick blows the whistle to start a Herbie.

“Herbie” = Goal line –> near blue line –> back to the goal line –> red line –> back to the goal line –> far blue line –> back to the goal line –> far goal line –> back to the goal line.

Perhaps this was an effective tool for a coach back in 1980. But now? Well it’s old school and we’ve come up with better ways to teach players a lesson.

Why does a coach do a bag skate?

The bag skate has traditionally been used to punish a team after a terrible performance or grossly breaking team rules. Other times coaches do a mini-bag skate to get their team’s attention when they are having a terrible practice.

Taking a quick jog back memory lane: when I was in high school I was asked to come practice with the local junior team. Before the practice, I am dressed and waiting by the door for the Zamboni to finish up while there was some commotion with a few players pacing back and forth. They were freaking out because the assistant coach had placed a puck bucket with a case of beer at the centre ice dot.

What I quickly pieced together was the team was very concerned they were about to be bag skated due to the fact one of the players was seen in a gas station buying beer under-aged with a fake ID by the team’s assistant coach.

Fortunately for me, the assistant coach was playing a prank and sending a message softly to the team. It would have been one heck of a way to be introduced to that team.

Are bag skates worthwhile?

Some coaches believe they are valuable. I ask, why?

Normal responses:

  • “If they’re not going to work hard in the game, they’ll work hard in practice.”
  • “It sends a message to the team and they’ll do better going forward.”

Effectively, they are utilizing fear as the type of motivation. The goal would be to put the fear of a bag skate into the players’ brains in order to have them perform better and to avoid punishment.

It’s a terrible long term strategy. Bag skates chip away at the player’s enjoyment and take away from the excitement to show up to the rink. In most situations, it alienates the coach from the players.

By themselves, bag skates are a terrible idea. It’s time that could be spent correcting mistakes and developing skills needed to have success. Psychologically bag skates take away the enjoyment and excitement of being at the rink.

For coach longevity and keeping players engaged it’s a smart idea to avoid a bag skate practice.

  • Positivity is more powerful and longer lasting than negativity.
  • Bag skates kill morale in multiple ways. Coaches alienate the players from themselves. Players begin to see the rink as a chore instead of a place where they look forward to being.

From a physical standpoint, science tells us that sprints lasting longer than 10-15 seconds are counterproductive at all ages. This is due to muscle acids and a breakdown in quality of skating technique.

Lastly, a bag skate practice utilizes valuable ice times that takes away from opportunities to improve our players.

What tools are available to coaches?

At the end of the day a straight up bag skate just isn’t effective. Players aren’t getting better and surely will build resentment and eat away at their energy levels. What is most effective is to go directly at the problem and work at it.

If you’re disappointed in the team’s compete level, put them in situations where they are competing. Play a game!

Are you upset at physical engagement? Play a 2v2 game in the corner where they can’t escape contact.

Was the conditioning an issue? Have drills at practice that involve lots of skating up and down the rink.

At practice, particularly with younger players, coaches can see them goofing off while they are trying to get work in. Instead of skating them, have a go-to game that can refocus players on competing and doing the thing they love most: playing hockey. This is something that the USA National Team Development Program does and had great success with.

Executive summary

  • Bag skates do more harm than good, physically and mentally. They take up limited, valuable time.
  • Build in what you are disappointed with into the practice plan. Attack it directly.
  • Use games as a tool to refocus the group.

Life lesson – Bag skating or yelling at your team is like yelling at your spouse. The more you do it, the less effective it becomes.

Mike Babcock said it best: “If you’re a minor hockey coach, your number one job is to share your passion for the game. They’ve got to love the game more when they leave than when they arrived.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about fostering a love and enjoyment for the rink, the locker room, the process, the games, and relationships that hockey builds.

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