How to Defend the 4 on 3 Fast Break | Lax Goalie Rat

How to Defend the 4 on 3 Fast Break


Today I want to cover how to defend a common defensive scenario: the 4 on 3 fast break.

By now you should understand that a lacrosse goalie is the field general on defense. Therefore, every lax goalie must understand how his/her defense should defend a fast break so he/she can direct them accordingly.

The fast break is a fairly common in lacrosse as it can occur on any face-off or during the defense to offense transition. Its any scenario where the offense has 4 players while the defense only has 3, plus the goalie.

There are 6v5 and 5v4 breaks, called slow breaks, but for the purpose of this post we’ll cover how to defend the 4v3 fast break.

Setup Defense in a Triangle

The best method to defend the 4 on 3 fast break is to setup the defense in a triangle.

As soon as the team recognizes the fast break, everyone on D but most importantly the goalie, needs to yell “fast break” which identifies the 4v3 fast break and tells the team to setup in the triangle.

Since the defense is a man short one defender will always need to “split 2”. Meaning they have responsibility for defending 2 attack players.

While the other 2 defenders can assume responsibility for defending a single player.

The basic setup looks like this with our defense in blue and in a nice tight triangle:

Fast BreakTriangle

Lower defenders are about 2 yards up, 3 yards over from goal line. While the Point D-man is about 12 yards above the goal line. If you have a great goalie he can sink in to about 10 yards. On the other hand if you have a beginner goalie (point him to my blog) you may want to push that point man out an extra yard, however be careful to not get too extended out.

As the fast break develops, the point man in the triangle splits 2 with the top 2 attackman.

While the bottom left and bottom right defenders have single man responsibly.

Remember the triangle should be as tight as possible. If we we’re going to give up a shot, the goal is to make it from as far out and as low angle as possible, giving the goalie the highest probability to make that save.

Rotate as a Unit

As the ball carrier sprints towards the goal, the goalie is yelling “HOLD” in his best Braveheart imitation. Meaning the triangle stays put.

When the ball carrier is about to become a threat the call is “Rotate”.

You should imagine that all defenders are attached together with a string: when one moves, they all move.

The point man rotates over to stop the ball. Back right rotates up to guard the other attackman up top. Back left rotates across.

It looks like this:


The Back Left defender now has the responsibly of splitting 2.

If the offensive makes a pass, the defense continues the rotation to end up like this. In this setup the defender opposite the ball is tasked with splitting 2.


Defenders should always open up to the middle of the field. Never turn your back to the ball.

Step to the Middle First on Rotations

Here’s a tip I picked up from watching Paul Rabil’s videos and it’s extremely important.

When rotating, many defenders make a mistake of breaking directly towards their attackman who they have responsibility for.

Instead your first step (or two) should be towards the center of the triangle.

Like this:


Why? You’re occupying the passing lane.

A straight sprint to the defender leaves the skip pass wide open. By taking a step towards the middle 1st, the ball carrier sees no open passing lane and will elect to pass adjacent.

If you step towards the middle with your first steps you occupy that lane just long enough to discourage a skip pass.

Force Extra Passes

When defending the fast break we’re trying to buy time. The 4×3 fast break doesn’t last forever.

In fact depending on how the play develops you should have another defender, perhaps even 2 or 3 extra defenders, joining the fray in a matter of seconds.

The offense usually has time for just 2 quick passes.

If you can force extra passes there’s a good chance your defender will be able to hustle back into the play and eliminate the extra man advantage that the offense has.

Forcing extra passes also has the benefit that your defense could cause errant passes and force a turnover.

Communicating on Fast Breaks

Here is the lacrosse defense terminology that you should use to communicate while defending a fast break:

  • “Fast Break” – Let’s the team know that a fast break is happening and they should get setup in their positions.
  • “Point” – Indicates who has responsibility for top of triangle. As a goalie, even before a fast break ever develops, make sure your defense knows who has point in the event a fast break does occur. Be prepared.
  • “Back Right” / “Back Left” – Same as above but indicates other positions on the triangle.
  • “Hold” – Let’s the defense know not to rotate yet. Yell it loud like William Wallace.
  • “Rotate” or “Go” – Defense rotates.
  • “Even” – Indicates that the defense is back to full strength and normal defensive principles apply.
  • “Slow Break” – Indicates there is a 6v5 or 5v4 situation which is defended a little differently than the classic 4 on 3 fast break that we’re covering in this post.

As I mentioned in my lacrosse defensive terminology post you don’t have to use these exact terms, but you must have a term which means the same thing and that everyone on the team understands.

Defending fast breaks requires trust and communication between the defenders and the goalie.

Keep Sticks in the Passing Lanes

The final tip for defending a fast break successfully is to always keep the sticks up and in the passing lanes.

That means all defender’s sticks should be to the inside occupying those passing lanes and ready to pick off any poor attackman who tries to sneak a pass through.

Watching Fast Breaks Live

Let’s have a look at a few live clips of fast breaks so you can see this defensive theory in action.

Here’s a clip of Johns Hopkins defending a Ohio State fast break with a perfect in unison rotation by the Hopkins defenders.

This next fast break develops right from the face off which goes to show the defense must know in advance where they will setup should a break happen on the face off – because it can happen easily.

The Cornell defender passes the ball pretty early (at the box line). In this case, the team could have continued to HOLD with the point man sliding over to defend the new ball carrier.

If the new ball carrier passes back to the faceoff middie, the defensive triangle rotates but in reverse.

As such Duke defense is indecisive and they don’t really hold nor do they fully rotate, leaving the Cornell attackman with time and room for a clear shot.

And finally another great example of perfect rotation to stop the fast break and in this case even cause a turnover.

Here is Coach Rienzo from BTB Lax with his explanation of how to defend the fast break:


All lacrosse goalies need to learn how to properly defend a fast break. That way when the 4v3 break eventually does occur in a game, you’ll be able to lead the defense.

To properly defend a fast break keep these 5 things in mind:

  1. Setup in a triangle
  2. Triangle rotates together
  3. Sticks up and in the passing lanes
  4. Force extra passes
  5. Step to the middle 1st on rotation

And hopefully you don’t have to defend too many fast break scenarios because anytime the offense has an extra man there’s no doubt they have the advantage.

Until next time! Coach Damon

Any other questions about defending fast breaks? Leave me a comment down below. 

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