Early Season Fast Break Conditioning


Teaching a good Fast Break Attack is a matter of getting all players into a lane quickly and down the court before the opponents.  If any one of the offensive players beats his defender to the other end of the court, he has the potential to get an easy shot.  To teach this important reaction, you must coach proper Lane Running from Day One.

Early season practices or pre season conditioning is the time to master this skill.  As discussed in my previous blog, players need to sprint out on each change of possession.  A fast reaction with a quick start is key to getting a jump on the opponent’s defensive transition.  Next, is to recognize where you are running.  Outside lanes must be run wide, next to the sideline, to spread the defense and offer potential passing lanes for outlets to point guards.  Training players to get wide enough is a challenge that many coaches find very difficult, but is essential to a successful fast break.

Lane Running Drill

A pre season drill I like to use when teaching the Numbered Break (and for conditioning too), is Lane Running.  Have two wings and a post (4 / 5) stand in the defensive key under the basket in a rebounding position.  On the command “Go”, they immediately turn and sprint into their lanes, one wing left, one wing right, and post down the middle lane.  The outside lane runners must touch the sideline at mid court and turn their head and look back too.  The “Big” running the middle lane stays in the middle and also turns his head to look back as he crosses mid court.  All three continue running into the forecourt, but slow down to a stop as they near the far baseline.   This drill accomplishes two essential habits:

  1. Running hard and running wide.
  2. Looking back for a pass while sprinting down court.

Insist that the wide-lane runners touch the sideline at mid court.  Don’t use chairs, garbage cans, or cones to mark the spot.  Let the players learn to use the visual aids of Floor Markings that are always there, even on game night.  Besides, chairs, garbage cans, and cones are dangerous obstacles on the court.  If you find some players are still having a tough time finding the sideline at mid court after a couple of tries, stop them mid-drill and have them start over until they do touch the sideline at mid court.  I have found that immediate correction (attention to detail) is often the best way to break bad habits.  Running too close to the middle of the court when you are supposed to be wide is something that cannot be tolerated, if you want a successful fast break attack.

The Lane Running Drill is done in groups of 3, one group following another.  When all of the groups are at the far end, they repeat by coming back the other direction.  This drill can be repeated several times as a conditioner, or done once or twice in practices as a reminder of where and how to correctly run lanes.

When players are comfortable and successful with Lane Running, it is then time to add a ball to the drill.   If the Lane Running Drill can be repeated for several days during pre season conditioning, the players should be ready to add a ball the first day of regular practice.  If no preseason conditioning, I would suggest using Lane Running with no ball a couple of times the first day of regular practice, and then add a ball to see if  things are progressing.

3 Lane Rush Drill

The 3-Man Lane Running Drill with a ball is called 3-Lane Rush.  I learned this drill many years ago from Ralph Miller while working under him at Oregon State University.  Coach Miller had our team do the drill every single day we practiced.  It was the backbone of his running and passing fast break attack and it has been for me every since then too.  Here is how it’s done:

1.  Split your team into three groups on the baseline, one group near each sideline.  The first man in the middle lane has the ball, out of bounds, under the basket.

2.  The first wings should be 3-6 feet ahead of the line of the ball.  Start with a pass to either wing and then all three players begin sprinting their lanes.

3.  Next, pass back to the middle man, who then passes to the other wing.  (Diagram #1 below)

4.  Continue this passing through the middle man until he gets to the area around the top of the key at the far end.

5.  The middle man jump stops when he is around the top of the key and waits for a pass if he does not already have the ball.

6.  The wings should have been running wide and touched the sideline at mid court.

7.  When the wings get to the top of the key extended, they cut straight to the basket and look to receive a pass from the middle man for a lay up.  The shooter should be the wing who did not last pass to the middle man.  (Diagram #1.)

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The Return Trip:

  1.  As the lay up is taken, all players make sure the ball goes in the basket.  A missed lay up must be made before the drill proceeds.

2.  The wing not shooting gets the ball out of the net and becomes the new middle man as the drill returns back up court.

3.  The shooter swings through to the opposite wing and runs that lane back up court.  The original middle man (passer) follows the last pass and fills the wing on that side.  (Diagram #2 below.)

4.  The 3 players are now all in new lanes. The wings must again run wide and seek the sideline at mid court, as they continue to pass the ball through the middle man.

5.  The drill ends with a successful, second, made lay up shot off of a pass from the middle man.  This is an up and back, full speed drill.

6.  Sometimes, a wing will get a pass from the middle man and not be able to quite reach the basket without dribbling before shooting.  In this case, instead of passing back to the middle, he can “shoot it through” (pass across) to the opposite wing cutting to the basket.

7.  If an errant pass sails out of bounds, chase it down and continue the drill.  Don’t stop, don’t start over, don’t hang heads.

8.  Never allow dribbling or running with the ball (traveling).  Players must use the jump stop to control and time their execution of passes.

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The 3-Lane Rush Drill is a great fundamental tool as well as a conditioner.  It not only teaches passing and finishing skills, but also gets players to run wide and hard.  As they progress in their skills, I constantly shout “Run” as each new “Rush” up the court takes place.  If someone is failing to touch the sideline at mid court (or is obviously running to close to the middle man), I stop the drill and have that group start over and do it right.  “Get Wide and Go Hard” is the theme of this drill.  Passing, catching, and finishing are also important skills that will improve greatly with consistent use of 3-Lane Rush.

Key Teaching Points:

  • Insist that Wings sprint out and run wide.
  • Insist that Wings touch the sideline at mid court.
  • Teaching a Jump Stop is necessary for this drill.
  • Insist that all lay ups are made or rebounded and put back.
  • Allow no dribbles or travels.
  • Bounce passes are not used in this drill.

2 thoughts on “Early Season Fast Break Conditioning

  1. Coach, I love your blog and I’m a fast break junkie. I’m wondering what your opinion is on a numbered break where the same kids run the same lanes every time is vs. some of what I read from you where kids full the lanes they are closest to?


    1. Thanks for your kind words on the blog. I always teach running the same lanes (exception, 5 rebounds, 4 streaks) in the beginning. Later, someone seems to ask if they can just go to the closest lane (2s and 3s), so we discuss it and work out a system. (its always the same, but I let them think its their idea). We make a rule that 2 and 3 can run either lane, but first one there gets it and the other guy crosses and fills the other side. It really makes sense when you play man all the time because half the time your assignment is on the other side of your normal lane. Therefore, you get out quicker on the closer lane and that is what really matters. (Get someone down the sideline immediately). I would say young kids, don’t even mention changing, but high school kids can fairly quick. I coached my son’t 6th grade team and we ran assigned lanes only.


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