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Flannery: Communication Between Players and Coaches Is Critical

  • Date:
    Oct 31, 2014

In the past year, Eric Flannery has won a state championship as head coach at St. Edward High School in Lakeland, Ohio, and a gold medal as assistant coach for the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team. He has just published a book about his experience and philosophy as a basketball coach – learn more about “Worthy of the Jersey” and pre-order copies of the book at

Get to know Coach Flannery

We asked youth players and coaches to submit questions for Coach Flannery this week via Facebook and Twitter, and here are his responses:

How much of a part does lack of athletic skills impact kids’ basketball skills? What time ratio should you use for training? -- @RonUsher


In my opinion basketball is the sport in which athletic skills are the most important, you have to have a certain level of athletic skill in order to be competitive in our game.  However, as kids mature they can definitely improve their skill level and athletic ability.  Skills can be developed over time with proper technique and plenty of repetition.  Players at all levels can separate themselves with better strength and conditioning.


At the younger ages, skill development training should be a large part of your training, teaching them the correct techniques.  As kids get older, more time should be spent on understanding game concepts while emphasizing skill development.  If I had to break it down, about 75 percent of my practices with younger players would be focused on skill development.  As they get older (high school age), we tend to have about half of our practice time focused on skill development. 


Coach, what drills/plays do you recommend for 1st-3rd graders learning to play basketball? -- @indoldschool  


The simpler the better. Drills that focus on the basics of dribbling, passing and shooting close to the basket should be the priority.  Emphasis should be on teaching the proper techniques rather than results.  As far as plays go, again keep it simple. When I coached my own sons at that age we simply ran a basic motion with a couple rules about how to play with and without the ball.  For example, if you are standing in one spot for more than two seconds you should cut to the basket. If you are holding the ball for more than two seconds, you need to pass or dribble in order to keep the ball moving.  Over-coaching is always a concern at all levels, where too much is emphasized on plays and strategies and not enough is emphasized on teaching the basic concepts of the game.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your own communication with a group of athletes? -- @RISEathlete 


It is difficult to have an objective measurement of communication.  However, we measure communication through drills and how our players interact on and off the court.  How do they communicate player to player, player to coach, and coach to player.


We have meetings prior to practice each day in which we will have the players do most of the talking.  They can answer questions, explain plays, or explain philosophies we are using. For instance, “Why are we running this play or playing this defense?” It gives you an idea of what they are understanding and teaches them to talk.


We also have very specific drills that involve communication and if the players fail to talk, there will be a consequence.  


Finally, we have a rule about talking. If you are not talking, I can assume two things as the coach: 1. You are tired; or 2. You don't know what you are doing. In either case, you cannot play.


My sons are 11 and 9, what are the most important drills they can be doing on their own or together in our driveway? -- @520millwood 


Two ball-handling drills are the best for dribbling.  Where each kid has a ball in each hand while dribbling, this forces their weaker hand to catch up to their dominant hand.  You can never get enough shooting, whether spot shooting or shots at game speed.  Again, you do not have to get too creative, simply have them take shots they would normally shoot in a game.  Passing is one of the weakest skills players have developed, so any drills working on their passing skills can separate them from a lot of other players.  Basketball is a game of repetition, so the more they practice the basics, the better they will be.


What are your thoughts on having lower hoops for younger children to develop proper form habits (Grades K-4th)? #AskCoachEric-- @JDicruttalo 

I am 100 percent in favor of younger children playing with lower hoops.  We run a summer camp for grades K-3 and we use only lowered baskets, so we can teach the proper fundamentals and kids are achieving some success and getting excited about the game.  We also like to use the Spalding Rookie Gear Basketballs, because they are 25 percent lighter than standard youth balls. Children develop bad habits early in their playing careers because of the strength needed to get the ball to the basket at such a young age.


Hi Coach, What would you consider the most important aspect of the game to teach players aged 16-18? -- Davy Seits

At that age we still consider the fundamentals a huge part of what we teach.  I don't believe you can ever emphasize the fundamentals too much.  However, the focus begins to turn to communication and understanding situations (time, score, good shot vs. bad shot). Sometimes as coaches we assume our players know and understand the obvious, the reality is they need to be taught these things. We practice game situations as much as anything as the season progresses.


What makes a complete point guard? Or what do colleges look for in a point guard? Thank you! – Junior Moore

Besides having the physical tools to compete at a high level, a complete point needs to be a coach on the floor.  He needs to have a better understanding of situational basketball and how to be a great leader.  A complete point guard communicates constantly and has the respect of his teammates to get the ball where it needs to be at the right time.  He needs to be a great ball handler that sees the floor and controls the tempo of the game.  Finally, a "complete" point guard must be able to make free throws at a very high percentage and be able to score when needed.


What is the best way to better my feel for the game -- Adebola Oguntade

The best way is to have other people you believe have a great understanding of the game observe you practice and play in games.  Then sit down and listen to what they have to say.  Watch film of yourself and evaluate how you handle game situations.


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