There are often a few crucial moments that impact the outcome of a lacrosse game, such as loose balls, man-down scenarios and fast breaks. Among those key events, I am personally a big fan of fast breaks. They are not only very exciting to watch but also one of the surest ways to create momentum for the offensive team. Fun fact fast breaks are also the reason we call lacrosse “the fastest game on two feet”.
So what is a fast break? Fast break is an offensive transition opportunity where four or five offensive players are against three defensive players. This is one of the best opportunities to score if your team has the ball and one of the most challenging situations if your team doesn’t have the ball and tries to defend.
Therefore, regardless of your level of play, it’s crucial to understand how fast breaks work and how to respond to the situation properly both as offensive and defensive players. Even during regular practice, 4-on-3 fast breaks are common drills coaches utilize to ensure players are familiar with them.
Without further ado, let’s go over how both teams can take advantage of this opportunity.
Why is fast break super important
Fast breaks often create scoring opportunities that otherwise don’t exist. As soon as the ball carrier identifies a fast break, he uses speed to carry the ball as fast as possible down the field before the defensive players have a chance to recover.
This is the ideal situation for the offensive team to score goals because, in a settled offense, it’s not as easy and straightforward to score and build up momentum. Not to mention, there are a lot of uncertainties around a settled offense that could give the other team a fast break opportunity.
So here’s a typical 4-on-3 fast break scenario: a middie breaks away either near the defensive area or the midfield line and races down the field to the other side. As s/he gets inside the restraining box, three other offensive players are in position and there are only three other opposing defenders. Now the middie has the ability to either feed to another player in a better scoring range or shoot on their own.
If you ask me, I would love to have fast break opportunities all day every day and many players would agree with me. It’s one of those rarely scoring opportunities that shooters can’t miss.
Read also: Different types of lacrosse shots
How to execute fast break offense
To execute fast break properly, we need to walk through how offensive and defensive players should respond to the situation and what different strategies they could use. Let’s start with the offense.
Something to keep in mind is even though only four or five offensive players will be running down the field, a successful fast break depends on the effort of an entire team. Whether it’s the goalie or a long stick middie clearing the ball, the first player who touched the ball sets the tone.
So on a 4-on-3 fast break, players need to maintain proper spacing and positioning to place themselves in good scoring areas as well as prevent defenders from having easy slides. Once the ball carrier initiates a fast break opportunity by moving the ball toward the goal, the offensive players set up in an “L-break” since the formation looks like an L when viewed from overhead. See below for an illustration.
The player who is positioned 12 yards up field from the goal is called “point”. They are on the opposite side of where the ball carrier is running along. This also means once the ball carrier identifies a fast break opportunity, they need to commit to running down one side of the goal to set up the L-break.
The remaining two offensive players stand low right and low left on the goal-line extended (GLE). The low offensive player on the point side stands next to the crease to keep one defense with them at all times. The low offensive player on the side of the ball carrier stands five years away from the crease.
From there, there are a few different methods the ball carrier can take on. But no matter the approach, he needs to go hard to the cage and look to shoot anywhere within 10 yards from the goal until a defender slides to stop him. If not, he can choose to shoot at the net himself. If so, he could pass it to the point offensive player.
Watch this clip that demonstrates how to run fast break using a real game example:
3 tips to execute successful fast breaks
- Whoever has the ball possession needs to charge as fast as possible and should not refrain from shooting on their own when no opponent is in position to defend
- Move the ball as quickly and efficiently as possible
- Quick on your feet. Always be moving and find opens to feed or shoot
Read also: Best Lacrosse Attack Heads in 2022
How to execute fast break defense
Now it’s time to move on to how to set up defense on a 4-on-3 fast break. Although fast break is never fun for the defensive team, it’s a common scenario offensive players must be familiar and get comfortable with. Otherwise, it will be heavily exploited by the opponents.
In contrast to the offensive L-formation, the defensive players need to set up in a triangle. Because the defensive team will be one man short against the opponent, each defender has the responsibility to defend 2 attackers. For this reason, early and clear communication is key. As soon as the opponent initiates a fast break, the three defenders and the goalie need to yell “fast break” to alert the team and form a triangle.
As you see above, the three defenders need to stand as tight as possible. Lower defenders are roughly 2 yards up, 3 yards over from the goal line. The point man is about 12-10 yards front and center above the goal. The lower two defenders need to defend the nearest offensive player. The point man is responsible for the top 2 attackers.
Once everyone is in position, the most important thing to keep in mind for the team is to rotate as a unit. If one player moves, everyone else moves together. As the ball carrier speeds down the field and quickly approaches the goal, the point man needs to slide to stop the ball. Then the lower right shifts to guard the point attacker and the lower right rotates across.
This is how the rotation is done in a real game:
In addition to blocking open passes and shoots, the triangle formation buys time for the defensive team. In a matter of seconds, if offensive players don’t find an opportunity to shoot, the situation can quickly turn into a settled offense. Not only are additional defenders back in positions but also can force the opponents to make mistakes in the midst of fast passes.
3 tips to execute successful fast breaks defense
- Communicate at all times. A good defense is done by constant communication. Get into the habit of communicating with your team during practice
- Keep the sticks up and in the passing lane. Maximize your coverage area as much as you can
- Step to the middle first on rotations. What this means is instead of breaking directly toward the attackman your first step should be towards the center of the triangle (credit to lax goalie rat)
Helpful fast break drills to do during practice
If you read my post on must-know lacrosse tryout drills, you would know 4v3 fast break drill is one of the most important practices players do to showcase and improve their skills. In this section, I would like to go over the three different fast break lacrosse drills Coach Rienzo explains in this video.
In the most basic form, the fast break drill includes a stationary 4 v 3 scenario where 4 offensive players try to shoot at the net and 3 defensive players try to defend. The drill starts with a ground ball. From there, the ball carrier sprints down toward the goal and executes the fast break drill.
At a more advanced level, the fast break drill starts much earlier than the final action inside the restraining box. Usually the drill starts with the goalie passing an outlet to middie 1 meanwhile middie 2 breaks up to the midfield at full speed to receive a pass from middie 1. From there, middie 2 brings the ball down to the opposite end of the field and executes the fast break drill.
There could be many different variations to this drill, but the idea is to teach every player to properly handle a fast break scenario so when the time comes during a game they could either seize the opportunity to make a score or defend the opportunity to block the shot.
Read also: Best Lacrosse Defense Heads in 2022