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By Liam Flynn | International insights and experience applied to top junior, Aussie representative b

Forward by Janx

This is a great Q&A with Liam Flynn that coaches and players at all levels will get a lot of knowledge and information from. There would be very few coaches in the country with his breadth and depth of experience at all levels. Liam Flynn is one of the top young coaches in Australia, who made the transition into elite, senior basketball, very successfully, several years ago.

I was lucky enough to coach under Liam for 2 years at State level and I learned so much whilst under him. During this period I also saw him contribute significantly to the development of a number of players such as Daniel Carlin, Nathan Spehr, Joel Spear, Ryan Clark, Sam Daly, Isaiah Omamogho into international caliber players at junior level, before going onto have VERY successful college careers.

His work ethic, ability to teach the game, tactical nous is first class. He has a real ability to breakdown film to extract x's and o's from elite juniors through to the NBA. His mix of knowledge in the ever-growing field of statistical analysis is very much at the next level. When you play or coach for him if you have any sense of morals you work extremely hard for the team when the coach is working as hard as what Liam does.

Recently Liam spent some time back in Adelaide where he lived before moving overseas to coach in the professional leagues in Australia (NBL) Germany (BBL and ProA) and New Zealand (NZNBL). He also runs a business consulting with all levels of basketball - from NBA teams in international scouting, all the way down to local clubs in coach education and program development.

Liam, I feel, can offer some very unique insights on his recent coaching experience. He has just spent a few months coaching juniors back at the club he had spent many years at previously, and is a Life Member at, the Sturt Sabres. This season his team succeeded at both the national level, making the Grand Final of the prestigious National Junior Classics in Melbourne, winning the state of South Australia Winter Season U18 Championship.

In this Q&A he gives some extremely interesting insights as he has so much experience with high level, pro teams and programs and how he applied his knowledge and skills at the elite junior level.

Over to Liam......

What have you been up to lately?

This past basketball season, I was lucky to be able to coach my third year in Germany at a small club in the Bundersliga called Tubingen. Passionate fans, beautiful little city, high quality basketball. When the season finished in April, I headed back to Australia to spend some quality time with family and friends.

This off season has been a really busy one. I was fortunate enough to undertake some consulting work with the Phoenix Suns scouting the international players for the NBA Draft. Really interesting work and extremely knowledgeable people to work with at the Suns. I was then part of a group of scouts that assisted with the advance scouting for the Australian Men’s National team at the Olympics. The past week I have just got back from attending training camps of two NBA teams to see how they teach in their concepts and systems. So it’s been really eventful, but so rewarding – I’ve been super fortunate.

What made you decide to rejoin the Sabres junior coaching ranks after a few years away?

I think Game Coaching is a skill for coaches, like Shooting is a skill with players. It takes a long time to develop, and I feel like if you don’t coach games you can lose your ‘sharpness’ in this area. Things like the ability to manage a game, understand line-ups and subbing, when to implement tactics, when to call time out to stop momentum runs, how to draw up a play in a timeout or communicate a strategy to your team. I believe it is a completely different skill set to running a training session or cutting video to scout an opponent – just like shooting is a different skill to passing.

So I wanted to keep my “Axe sharp” in this area, and when Sturt came to me and asked for help in coaching the U/18 Boys, I was only to happy to do so. They have been a huge part of my coaching career, they gave me my first paid basketball job (although a very small pay!) and my first Senior Men’s coaching job (when they could have gone with a more experienced candidate). I will always feel grateful and indebted to them.

The U18 kids at Sturt this season where an exceptional group of young men – extremely high basketball IQ, excellent work ethics, talented and team first mentalities. The systems and strategy we were able to implement were on par with things I have done at the professional level over the years.

What x’s and o’s did you run with and why?

On the Offensive end, we distinguished between what we did off “Stops” and what we did off dead balls. Off ‘Stops’ we generally pushed the ball looking for easy baskets – always looking for deep outlets to our PGs, getting lane runners to fill corners, passing the ball man ahead, and trying to get ‘heat on the rim’. If we were not able to find easy points, we transitioned into the “Flow” offence used by the Australian Men’s National Team, the ‘Boomers’.

With the “Flow” Offence, we put in some minor tweaks to suit our personal: we did less DHOs and more “Pass and Follow screens” to move the ball faster. We also added some wrinkles I had seen with Cairns Taipans and the ‘Boomers’ to incorporate more Mid PNR and Post entrys.

On Dead balls we ran our “5 Series”, which was a Sweep Cut entry set frequently used in Europe over the past five years. We had eight (8) variations of the offence to get different shots for certain players (3pt shooter, Rim rolling 5 man) or to take advantage of different situations (isolate a poor defender, take advantage of Hedging defence, backdoor play to release pressure).

What did you differently in your trainings to get the most out of the boys?

I don’t know if what I do is different, but I do put a huge emphasis on communication and culture. I was lucky to have a ‘desk job’ at an Australian Rules Football Club, the Port Adelaide Football Club, prior to my professional coaching career. I watched countless training sessions of the football team over three (3) years and saw how big of an emphasis that they put on players being the ones that are driving communication, effort, intensity. So at my trainings you will see a lot of yelling, cheering, ‘bunching up’ (players high fiving and celebrating wins or conclusions of drills). Its player driven and they understand that it makes for an enjoyable training environment.

I’m also a big believer in being a concept based teacher. That is, I want the players to understand WHY they are doing something, not just WHAT to do. I will always teach the CONCEPT before I coach the PRECISION. For example, if we are working on Pick and Roll Offence, I focus on concepts like ‘Creating an Advantage’, ‘Spacing’, and the ‘Timing/Rhythm’ between the Creator, the Screener and the Receivers BEFORE I focus on technical details; like how I want the screener to sprint out of the screen in a semi-circle to create a pocket for the Creator to pass him the ball. I find that if the players understand the concept, I have to coach the precision less.

Your Sturt guys had some great success at the Melbourne Classics how did you operate through the tournament in terms of pre, post game and preparation in the lead up that other coaches could consider?

I was really lucky with the young men I coached this season in that they were very coachable and extremely focused on what they wanted to achieve at the tournament. I never once had to coach effort or get them ‘dialled in’ prior to games. That is really rare at any level of the game.

Prior to the tournament we made sure we had our end game scenarios all set in place e.g. What plays we ran from Side Out of Bounds for catch & shoot 3pt, what our ‘2 for 1’ plays were.

At the tournament, we kept it very simple for our pre-game address – focusing on two main goals on offence and two on defence. These would be a mixture of things that were specific to us, and other things we felt we needed to do specifically for that opponent. I believe if you have strong systems in place on offence and defence, then you don’t need to address every single element of your system pre game. Its just information overload! You should just execute the system that you have in place with minor tweaks to gain or negate an advantage from your opponent. During Games (timeouts, quarter time breaks) we kept these four key points top of mind and made sure we were executing them.

Post game we would do short film reviews with the team - with the games happening so quickly we had to be precise on what we wanted to show the players in this regard.

To what level did you scout other teams? Given your immense experience with professional teams did you do anything different in terms of scouting?

For the National Tournament, we called coaches from other states to get Intel on opponents. We also filmed opposition games and broke down things like PNR coverages, Play Frequencies, ATOs (After Timeout plays) and Individual player tendencies. I also would watch back opponents close games to get End Game plays. We didn’t share all of this information with the players– we just wanted it handy if we needed it.

If it was a professional setting, and we had access to statistics, than I would have taken a deeper dive into Lineup data, Pace, Play Efficiency, Shot locations etc.

What are the main differences between Aussie kids at Sturt (or other clubs for that matter) and European kids?

There are a couple of differences I see – both positive and negative. On the positive side, Aussie kids are extremely resilience and team oriented. These are skills in basketball – like shooting and dribbling, and our kids are world class in these areas. Its why international teams and colleges love recruiting them! I think Australian coaches do a great job teaching our kids about having a ‘Next Play’ mentality and to put the team first. I think we also play physical, tough defence – we guard the ball hard, bump cutters and rebound very well.

The game in Europe is so different to Australia. It’s a lot closer to international play – slower pace, offences with more actions, more pick and roll play, less pressing on defences. Because of that I think the European kids have a better ability to play the pick and roll, execute precise passes out of it, and also, be evasive when defending the ball handler in these scenarios. Additionally, I think because they aren’t reliant on frantic/pressing defences, they guard the ball better and are more proficient at applying pressure through excellent positioning, active feet and constant hand pressure.

What could junior coaches do better here compared with overseas and how did you apply these ideas yourself?

I think we can help our players to be better decision makers by using more engaging teaching techniques, especially open questioning. Help them come to the answer – don’t show them the answer. When introducing a concept, ask them questions and see if they can get there themselves. A Maths teacher would never give their class the answers to bring with them to sit the exam. So we, as coaches, shouldn’t just give the players the answers when teaching new concepts.

I also believe we can allow the players to learning through problem solving. We do this by creating a dynamic training environment. I think as coaches, (myself included!), we are too concerned with drills that look neat and tidy, and we frequently stop drills to make minor technical corrections, instead of letting the players allow the players to make mistakes and learn from them. Creating a vibrant training environment, which is a little messy, a little crazy, allows players to apply concepts and make decisions under pressure.

How can we track you and learn more from you via social media or websites?

You can follow me on Twitter at @coachliamflynn. I usually post a couple of tweets a day using a mixture of teaching points, coaching cues and short GIFs or Videos. It could be a set play I saw in the NBA, an interesting PNR scheme I saw in a European league, or a player development teaching point from an NBL match.

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