1 on 1: More than Just a Game

I can’t tell you how many times I got my butt whooped playing 1 on 1. While training with Jeremy Russotti (@JeremyRussotti), we’d play 1 on 1 at the end of every workout. Since Jeremy always recruits top tier talent to his workouts, I often ended up playing elite division 1 athletes and professional players.

At first, I was hopelessly out of my league with those guys. Offensively, I was bullied and pushed off my spot. A clean look at the basket was less likely than Kobe passing at the end of the shot clock. Defensively, I was a like a baby giraffe wearing roller skates. It was ugly.

It was in these games of 1 on 1--where I was absolutely annihilated--that I improved the most. It was mentally challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Not only did it make me recognize how far I needed to go, but I was thrown in the fire and forced to fend for myself. Being able to play against top level players in an extremely competitive situation served as a great measuring stick for me. I attribute a large chunk of my development as a player to these 1 on 1 games.

But even 1 on 1 games against equally skilled players will produce similar effects. Here are 5 reasons why you should regularly play 1 on 1.


1) It’s a risk-free chance to practice new moves

Although 1 on 1 may put your pride on the line, the consequences of losing--relative to game and practice--are far less. As a result, you can freely practice new moves, shots and strategies.

One specific skill you can focus on is footwork. A few summers ago, I realized that I was only using my left pivot foot--the natural one for a right hander--in all my triple threat moves. For two weeks during the summer I decided to play every series of 1 on 1 using my right pivot foot. It felt really awkward at first, but gradually I became more comfortable and was able to perform the same moves equally well each way.

2) It’s intensely competitive

Nothing stimulates competitive fire more than a me vs. you situation where one person clearly wins and the other clearly loses. Trash talking abounds in these situations as athletes’ competitive spirit comes to the forefront. Although I’m not much of a trash talker, some players are and it can make the atmosphere much more exciting.

When you practice at such a high level of competition, each rep is magnified in importance. Subsequently, your rate of improvement will increase.

3) It’s infinitely flexible

1 on 1 is such a simple game, but it can be easily customized to work on certain skills. Here’s a list of a few changes I have made.

  • Impose a dribble limit
  • Play exclusively out of the triple threat
  • Play exclusively off the dribble
  • Limit the width of the available court
  • Simulate a fast break situation by starting the defender at the free throw line and the other player at half court.

It’s important to make changes intentionally. That is, customize your 1 on 1 rules to target certain aspects of your game.

4) It reveals weaknesses in your game

Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.
— Morihei Ueshiba


Failure occurs over and over again in 1 on 1. This is the part I love and hate the most. It’s a harsh teacher but it instills the strongest lessons and provides the greatest returns. If you play 1 on 1, you will quickly discover the weakest parts of your game whether you're ready or not. If you are willing to recognize your weaknesses and devote yourself to improving them, it can be extremely valuable to you.

5) It's an opportunity to challenge yourself against better players

While you won’t always be able to play 1 on 1 with elite players--I certainly don’t always play against professional players--you should take advantage of every opportunity to do so. Since practices and games are usually against players of similar skill level, playing 1 on 1 provides an opportunity to challenge yourself in a unique way.

Everyone has a story about an epic 1 on 1 game they’ve played, what’s yours?