Cycles – A Fast Break Drill


I have always liked Fast Break Drills that require players to sprint three times, up and back at full speed.  This “six lengths of the court” running, filling lanes and handling passes, is the kind of challenge that prepares players for a fast paced game and then some.  Most games never have a sequence of three possessions by one team without a whistle stopping the action for one reason or another.  I found that if my players were conditioned mentally and physically, everyday, to go full speed for six lengths of the court,  they would probably not have an opponent out-hustle or out-run them in a game.  Consistency and good habits are key, so I like my players to practice that daily in my drills.

A great conditioning drill that I used quite often is one I call Cycles.  One version  involves all 3 Options of the Fast Break – Sideline, Middle, and Cross using 5 players at a time.  This is an extension of the 5 on 0 Drill mentioned in an earlier post, only now we add the Cross Option. It is a conditioning drill but it also requires six shots to be made, all layups or post moves.  If a pass is mishandled or thrown out of bounds, the drill does not stop.  The nearest player just recovers the ball and passes ahead to the originally intended receiver and the drill continues.  We didn’t stop and start over.  I didn’t criticize during the action, but I sometimes commented or corrected a flaw at the end of the drill.  The goal was to go hard the whole time and seek to be perfect, but not stress over mistakes.  Keep playing.

Cycles should be taught in segments, building up to the 3 – Cycle, 6 lengths of the court final product.  Start with one break option to the opposite end.  Leave that team there and have a second 5 player group follow them down, repeating the assigned option.  Then you can advance to an “up and back cycle”, and another day add the second cycle.  When the players seem to have it figured out, add the third cycle option.  In about a week, your team should be able to do all three.

Here is the setup for Cycles:  Start with 5 players, (each knowing their number for their position), inside the key (paint), in a rebounding position.  As in my previous 5 on 0 Drill, start with the (4) tossing the ball off the rim/glass and have (5) rebound.  This allows (4) to be the Streaker once and get his chance for an Over the Top pass down the middle..  The group runs a Middle cycle on the right (5-1-4), then 4 takes the ball out and they run Middle coming back on the left side (4-1-5).  (See Diagrams 1-2 below)

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The return trips are all now Secondary Breaks, because the ball must always go into the basket before anyone breaks the other direction.  Therefore, (4) will continue to take the ball out on each end. The wings (2 and 3) swing through underneath the basket on each end after the layup is made.  This gets them back into their correct lanes for the return trip and allows the point guard (1) to change sides on each end for his next option.

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The second cycle starts with Sideline and a left side outlet (4-1-3) for a layup.  The return trip is an outlet on the right side for Sideline (4-1-2).  (See above Diagrams 3-4)

The third cycle up court is Cross with an outlet on the right side, cross pass to the left side and a wing feed to the post. (4-1-3-5).  Then we end with Cross coming back (4-1-2-5).  (See Diagrams 5-6 below)  On certain teams, when my (4) and (5) were both decent inside and outside players, I let them trade off on this drill as the person who takes the ball out of bounds.  This is usually when I had only a three post man rotation and both starting posts had to fill in at the (4) because their backup was young or a non perimeter player and only played (5).  

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This 3 Cycle Drill requires players to run hard, think about which option is next, and then successfully complete it.  They often talked out and reminded each other what the next option was, and that type of communication in practice is always welcomed.  The three cycles up and back require the top three options that are sought in a game; Wing layup, Middle over the top dunk or layup, and Post Up on a pass from the wing.  These options encourage the wings to run their lanes hard, but also conditions and encourages the Bigs (4) and (5) to run the middle hard too.  We did not beat the perimeter defenders back too often, but we would put pressure on their post defender to get back and stop our Bigs from easy scores.  Getting the Bigs to run is a key to a good fast break attack.  As Hall of Fame Coach Ralph Miller once told me at Oregon State University, “If you can’t get your Bigs to run, then give up coaching and go sell insurance.  You’ll make more money and have a lot less stress.”  I have always remembered those words and tried to find ways to stay out of the insurance business.

Another Version of Cycles I liked to run includes Defensive Transition.  Five players run a Cycle of 3 fast break options and conclude with a transition back on defense.  This Drill allows the group to end up where they started also, because it involves two trips up and back.  It trains players to not only run hard on their fast break, but to transition back on defense just as hard.  Getting a layup and then giving up a layup is not something that I considered worth all the effort; thus, we worked hard at both Offensive and Defensive Transition.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Don’t allow players to leak out before a rebound is secured.

2. Don’t allow bounce passes.  They lead to turnovers.

3. Don’t allow players to leak out before a shot is made on each end.

4. Don’t stress over bad or mishandled passes.  Keep playing on.

5. Remember: Teach in segments, one cycle up & back at a time.


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