Defensive Transition – How to Stop the Fast Break


As a Speed Game type Coach, I was always interested in how other coaches attempted to slow my teams down.  And long before I really understood how to run an effective Speed Game, I was concerned about not having my teams get run off the court by quicker opponents.  Early in my career I learned that my two guards needed to be responsible for getting back early and stopping our opponent’s running game.  But I still faced the problem of trying to run with my slower, bigger teams vs shorter, quicker squads.  Could we stay with them, or was it just going to be a losing battle?

I discussed this problem with various coaches and asked, “How do you stop the Opponent’s Fast Break?”  Here are some of the comments I received concerning Defensive Transition:

  1. We have to shoot well from 3 to stop the opponent’s running game.
  2. We don’t go to the Offensive Boards because we have to get back to stop the opponent’s fast break.
  3. We have to play “slowdown” to stop the opponent’s offensive transition game.

I disagreed with all three of those conclusions and did just the opposite with all of my teams and survived.  In the first case, while your guy is holding up three fingers to the crowd after making a “3”, we would take it out quickly and fill three lanes going the other way hard.  So making a “3” didn’t slow us down much.  

In the second case, I would never give up offensive rebounding to stop someone’s fast break.  Two guards get back on the shot and the frontline 3 “always” hit the offensive boards, then sprint back on defense.  

In the third case, we would never play “slowdown” because someone wants to run.  We welcomed the pace and challenged you to run transition both directions better than we did.  That’s my Transition Philosophy because I like coaching the Running Game.  

In my opinion, the best way to stop an opponent’s fast break (as I mentioned earlier) is to assign your guards to rotate back as soon as your team shoots. (Diagram #1)  If one of your guards is driving to the basket and shoots, at least the other one will have “back” responsibility covered until help arrives.  The driving shooter, if a guard, should get back as fast as he can after his inside shot attempt.  The three frontline players will always crash the Offensive Boards (Diagram #1), but they too must get back into the defensive key as fast as they can when the opponent gets possession. (Diagram #2)  So basically, on any change of possession, all five players must transition back into the key as quickly as they can.  Anyone who does not get back immediately on Defensive Transition should be taken out of the game.  They are evidently too tired to continue playing because Defensive Transition is an absolute must for all of my players.  I want a running team and if someone is too tired to sprint back on defense, they obviously are too tired to run their lane hard on an offensive fast break.

page-001   page-002

When a player feels he is getting too tired to continue running back on defense or running a fast break lane, he can signal for a sub and a short rest.  With my teams, we used a sign of a closed fist over the heart.  The player looks to the bench and catches the coach’s eye, then gives the sign.  He is replaced at the next whistle and can return as soon as he feels he is recovered and ready to go hard again.  If the action continues for several more possessions after a player has given the “tired sign,” we tell him to rest on the offensive break, but never on defensive transition.  I’ve even gone so far as to tell the team that if they think they are going to pass out from exhaustion, just make it to the defensive end before doing so.  That way the opponents have to at least step around your poor, defenseless body before they can score.  Some players look at me with surprise and shock, but most know it is just my sense of humor kicking in to explain the importance of Defensive Transition.

The path to a good Transition Defense is to get all players back into the opponent’s key  as quickly as possible.  I teach my players to sprint to mid court, then look over their shoulder to locate the ball.  This gives a picture of where a fast break attack is headed.  Maybe there is none.  The opponent may choose to slow it down and not push the pace.  In that case, our defenders can cruise back to the key from mid court and locate their assigned man.  But if a “push” is on and the opponent is “on the run,” our defenders need to continue sprinting hard into the key and plug up any potential drive down the middle.  While retreating, our defenders also size up where their assigned man is in relation to the attacking end of the court.  Is he on the left wing, right wing, low post, or trailing the action?  We do not want to give up a layup, but we also want to find our assigned man eventually to prevent open outside shots.

The drills I use to train players on Defensive Transition are discussed in earlier Blog Posts.  (O.D.O. – December 4, 2016 and Cycles – November 17, 2016)  Please look those up if you want further information.  Other things I do in practice to reinforce the importance of Defensive Transition include:

  1. Insist the “1” and “2” always rotate back even during half court 5 on 0 reviews.
  2. Watch to make sure all retreat hard on every change of possession during scrimmages or full court drills.
  3. Rewind (backup) a successful fast break to see where a defender let us down with less than his best effort.  Then replay it correctly.

Good habits are established in practice every day with careful observation and correction by the coaching staff.  The more you can practice good transition, the better your team will become with it.  Never allow fatigue or laziness to cause your team to be “less than the best” on Defensive Transition.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Assign two players to get back on every shot attempt by your team.

2. Insist on quick Defensive Transition on every change of possession.

3. Sub out any player who does not get back immediately on defense.

4. Allow players to sub themselves out when tired, but return when rested.

5. Require frontline players hit the offensive boards, then get back quickly.


If you would like to read more on my thoughts about Offensive and Defensive Transition, you can check out my book You Can Run With Anyone.  It’s available in ebook or paperback.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s