Defending the Slow Break: 6v5 or 5v4 | Lax Goalie Rat

Defending the Slow Break: 6v5 or 5v4


In a sport like lacrosse that quickly moves up and down the field it’s not uncommon to find unbalanced situations where the offense has more numbers than the defense.

I’ve already covered how to defend a classic 4 on 3 fast break. Today we’ll dig into other types of fast breaks referred to as “slow breaks” which include the 6v5 or the 5v4.

It could also be a 6 on 6 situation where the defense isn’t quite set yet.

Here is how to properly defend the slow break.

Basic Setup to Defend the Slow Break

Let’s quickly discuss the basic formation that defenses should setup in before we dig into specific tips and tactics to defend the slow break.

If the defense has only 4 players back, we’ll setup in a box. This is the same setup teams typically use when they have 2 players in the penalty box.


As a goalie if you read a slow break situation where you only have 4 defenders back, be sure to communicate loudly that it’s a SLOW BREAK and then yell BOX to let your team know the formation to be in.

If the defense has an extra middie back totaling 5 players, the strategy we played was “5 on a die”.  The 2nd middie back would sprint to the crease to provide coverage there.

Slow Break Dice

Again, as a goalie if you see that scenario you should yell – SLOW BREAK, then DICE to indicate it’s a slow break situation and since you have 5 back we should setup 5 on a die.

Finally once you get all 6 defenders back into the defense area you can yell EVEN or NUMBERS indicating that we’re even strength and team can resume its normal lacrosse defensive strategy. Don’t yell EVEN too early, only doing so when the 6th defender is in the crease area.

Don’t worry about matchups at that point. Just mark up on an offensive player closest to you. When a shot goes out of bounds, or there’s a timeout, you can RESET and get your defensive matchups setup properly.

Strategy to Defend the Slow Break

Slow break defense mimics lacrosse zone defensive strategy in many ways in that we’re doing our best to share responsibility and “splitting 2” (covering 2 defenders) where possible.

Starting with the 5v4 situation. If the offense is in an open set, i.e. no crease attack, our general strategy is this:

  1. Stop the Ball
  2. Rotate entire box when necessary
  3. Split 2 with players who are lowest threat to score
  4. If the ball goes to X, don’t chase. Maintain box and defend ball carrier as he approaches GLE. Rest of the box ROTATES to support.

When the offense has a 5v4 with a crease player the general strategy is nearly the same except now we’re really asking the back side defense to pinch in to be able to lay a check on the crease player’s hands when the feed arrives. Coach Rienzo calls this “folding the corner” but I always used the “pinch in” terminology.


The 6v5 slow break is very similar in defensive strategy except now we have a full-time crease defense. The other 4 players should play a 4 man box zone, splitting responsibility and than rotating adjacent when the situation calls for it.

Again, if the defense is not aware that a slow break is occurying a 2×1 can happen really quickly for the offensive leading to a near wide open shot.

Force Extra Passes and Buy Time

Remember that as a defense when dealing with a slow break, same as a fast break, our objective is to simply buy time to allow our teammates to get back so we’re all even.

Slow breaks typically only last about 5-10 seconds so every second killed or wasted is very precious.

Thus if the offense is content to work the ball around the perimeter and not attack when there is a slow break situation the defense should be fine with that.

This isn’t the time for the defense to get aggresive and over extend themselves. While in the box or dice formation make sure that everyone is staying as compact as possible only giving up an outside shot that the goalie is comfortable saving.

We want to force as many extra passes as possible. Extra passes take more time and plus create the opportunity for an error and a turnover.

Practice Defending Slow Breaks in Practice

Lots of teams practice 4 on 3 fast breaks but fewer teams work the slow break reps into their practice routine. If you’re a coach you definitely should.

We see the slow break transition happening so often yet are we devoting the time to really understand the underlying principles and basics to properly defend it.

If you’re a coach or team captain, encourage the team to one review the basic strategy of how to defend a slow break and then get out on the field and put it into action with reps.

Slow Break Defense Videos

Here is Coach Matt Rienzo from BTB Lax describing how he coaches his team to stop the slow break.


Part of goalie increasing their lacrosse IQ is to understand how to defend different situation that occur on the lacrosse field.

The slow break is a pretty common scenario in the up and down game of lacrosse. Whether its a 6v5 situation or a 5v4 situation, knowing the general defensive strategy will help ensure your team doesn’t give up an easy goal in this offensive advantage situation.

Luckily defending the slow break is very similar to zone or man-down defense so the concepts shouldn’t be terribly different for the team and the goalie to learn.

Until next time! Coach Damon

Anything else you want to know about how to defend the slow break? Leave me a comment down below. 

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2 thoughts on “Defending the Slow Break: 6v5 or 5v4

  1. This was a great description of how to defend slow breaks. I feel like the box call is well known but I will be using the Dice call soon. Easy for our d and keeper to remember.



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