Are You Spending Enough Time on 1-on-1 Defense?

By Joe Haefner

I hear so many coaches say, “My defensive help is great, but I can not seem to get my on-ball defenders to stay in front of their man.” I’m not going to lie. I’ve said this, too.

Think about it.  If your on-ball defense is below average that means your constantly playing the game 4 on 5. It doesn’t matter how good your help defense is, it’s going to eventually break down, because you can not play the game 4 on 5 and plan to be successful.

So why does this happen? It’s not like you don’t teach your players how to guard the ball.

1. It all goes back to what you emphasize.

Personally, I found myself drilling 1 on 1 defense, but never really emphasizing it during scrimmages and other drills. I was always concerned with the help defense. If the defender got beat off the dribble, my first reaction was “Where is the help?” In reality, I should’ve been holding the on-ball defender more accountable.

I also found that my 1 on 1 drills weren’t competitive enough. I would do some full court 1 on 1 stuff, but I never really applied drills with real game-like situations that would occur in the half court defense. I didn’t use any drills that would make the defender really stop the ball in a half court setting.

2. Players have a sloppy defensive stance and/or defensive slide.

A lot of coaches forget to spend time teaching and correcting a player’s defensive stance and/or slide. If you have kids off-balance and/or they don’t know how to move properly, your team defense will suffer as well.

The defensive stance is the starting point. Once the defensive stance looks good, you can focus on your players slide defensively. Make sure to spend some time every week breaking down the stance and the defensive slide until your players can recite everything back to you about the defensive stance and slide.

Besides, using your typical 1 on 1 defense half court and full court drills, you can use some of these competitive 1 on 1 drills.

One on One Moves Drill

Top 1 on 1

Wing 1 on 1

These drills were written with the emphasis on improving offense, but with a tweak here or there, you can make it defensive oriented. For example, allow the offensive player to take a few extra dribbles.

If you would like to learn how to build your defense from the ground up, check out our Man to Man Defense System.

It doesn’t matter if you have short and slow or tall and quick players. We break things down and will show you what type of defense is best for you.


  1. ray sundin — January 31, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    What perfect timing for this news letter. We have been struggling with man on man defence. I am gonna give these drill a try.

  2. david axford — February 8, 2009 @ 5:51 am

    i agree, too many times the player is not accountable enough and relies on help defense which we as coaches emphasize greatly. This puts pressure on players closer to the basket.

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