For those who may be a bit foggy on what exactly Flex is, it is quite simple. Out of a 4 out, 1 in, strong side post alignment, the offense begins on the slot position, and the ball is reversed via the pass to the opposite slot. Upon successful completion of this pass, the weak side wing will use a baseline rip screen from the big, and the player with the ball will look to make the pass on the ensuing cut. If the cutter is not open, the player who initiated the offense will set a pin down screen for the big, who will look to cut up for a catch and shoot. Upon this reception of the ball, the player who set the pin down will widen out to the corner, and the exact same action will be run on the opposite side of the floor.
Proponents of the Flex will argue that the offense is conducive to teaching all basic principles of offense, such as passing, screening, cutting, and catching and shooting. Indeed, the basic action, the baseline screen into the pin down screen (which has grown to be known as “Flex Action”) can be a tricky action to defend as well, if a team is not prepared to defend it. Each player also plays every position in Flex at some point, and as a result, great teamwork is promoted by running the offense. For players who may not be very skilled, Flex, with its simple continuity, is a very easy offense to teach. In fact, the University of Maryland, under Coach Gary Williams, won a National Championship with it in 2002, and Al Skinner and his Boston College teams of the mid 90s were always a top Big East team while running Flex. Mark Few at Gonzaga has taken Flex, tweaked it to add pick and roll action, and his Bulldogs are everyone’s favorite Cinderella story each March. With all this in mind, why would anyone believe that Flex is ruining basketball?
In the state of Maine, basketball fundamentals are at an all time low. With many players involved in multiple sports, the rising costs of basketball camps, and not to mention distractions of the electronic variety, young athletes are not putting as much time into developing their skills as they have in years past. While the level of play is going down, the expectations for coaches to win is at an all time high. The problem with this is that most coaches simply don’t have the players with the skills needed to win - so they turn to Flex. As mentioned, Flex is very simple to teach, and gets everyone involved. In Maine, where coaches have so little time in the offseason and preseason with their athletes, Flex has become the easy answer to the question, “what am I going to run for an offense with a team that lacks individual skill?” As individual talent decreases, the Flex offense increases. What is not realized oftentimes, is that like with any offense, good basketball players are needed in order to run it effectively. The Flex offense has many counters to the basic Flex Action, such as slips, curls, fades, seals, duck ins, and post ups. If a team has players that can’t read screens or defenses, it doesn’t matter what they run for an offense - Flex or otherwise. In this case, why not take the time spent in practice teaching and running Flex, and use that time for individual player development - ballhandling and finishing drills, rip moves and shooting drills, basic floor balance and structure, and simple screening and pick and roll utilization techniques in order to teach an offense that is much more difficult to defend, and gives the players more ownership, which promotes buy-in to the overall program? In the Flex offense, for the most part, a player is either screening, cutting, or passing; little individual creativity is allowed, and if shown, the offense will break down. If coaches spend more time teaching the basic fundamental skills of the game, in addition to a few advanced actions, their players will steadily improve, as will the team. While the results may not be immediate, over time, the program will have many well rounded, intelligent basketball players who will not only be able to make basketball plays in any offense, but also be able to run the Flex more effectively if that is the offense their coach wants to run.
The Flex offense is a major reason why basketball talent in the state of Maine is at an all time low. It is simple, boring, predictable, and easy to defend. It is not a very fun offense to run as a player, and sadly, it is permeating through gymnasiums at an alarming rate. Is this a reason why many programs are seeing their lowest numbers in years, and seeing kids quit or choose to participate in another sport? Maybe, maybe not. Research shows that kids today have attention spans of six to eight seconds, and need activities to be fast paced and “fun.” Flex does not exactly fit this description. It is up to coaches and educators to put kids in the best possible situation for success. If coaches continue to run an antiquated offense that hinders individual development, the coach is not helping the kid. With all of the information out there, and the data we have available, it is time for coaches in this state to look beyond the Flex offense and move into the modern age in order to save Maine high school basketball.