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If you are a lover of pickleball, there is a chance that you have heard of something called a third shot drop. Maybe you have watched professionals perform the third shot drop. Perhaps you are even interested in learning how to do it yourself. Mastering the third shot drop is crucial, so making this pickleball shot part of your strategy is ideal. Let’s discuss the pickleball third shot drop, including what it is and how to do it. Let’s get right to it.
What is a Third Shot Drop?
Essentially, the third shot drop is exactly as it sounds like: a drop shot that takes place right after the serve and return. Furthermore, the third shot drop happens from the baseline and is aimed at the opponent’s kitchen. This shot has a singular goal in mind: to drive your team forward to the net. Now, this is a drop shot, in essence. By definition, drop shots are soft shots that land in the kitchen and are meant to slow things down a bit. The difference between other drop shots and the third shot drop is the place where you perform it.
This quick video also defines the third shot drop:
Setting up your shot from the baseline to send it sailing through the air, up and over the net and into the kitchen sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it is a bit more complicated than you may believe. That is why you will be learning about the technique for getting this right a little later in this article.
Why Is the Third Shot Drop Important?
Here is a quick question: During rallies, which team has a greater advantage? If you said the serving team, you are correct. Serving teams have an incredible advantage, because you could potentially score points directly from the serve and win the whole game that way. But if you ignore that potential for a moment, you realize that the defending team has a more advantageous position.
Before, during, and after the serve, the defending team is most often near the kitchen. They can actively defend against whatever you throw at them. The serving team, on the other hand, is at the baseline, which gives you few options for how to proceed.
Okay, so you might be thinking the third shot drop does not sound like much. However, it is absolutely useful for winning rallies throughout the match. The third shot drop can help you gather points early on.
Why? Because the third shot drop makes your disadvantage at being at the back of the court a benefit. In pickleball, whichever team or player controls the net is the one who can control the pace of the entire game.
Therefore, you can use the third shot drop to even the odds and get you and your doubles partner closer to the net. That is why you need to polish your skill with executing a third shot drop, because it will give you a fighting chance during rallies. Third shot drops also increase the chance of you getting points throughout the match, not just from serves.
Executing The Pickleball Third Shot Drop
Knowing why the third shot drop is essential to pickleball is only half of it. You also need to know how to do it. Although the third shot drop sounds easy to execute in theory, the reality is that it takes a lot of practice. You will need a couple of months at least. This is not meant to dampen your spirits but to give you realistic expectations.
Here are some tips for learning how to execute the perfect pickleball third shot drop:
The first thing to keep in mind is the swing. Acing the swing will give you the setup required for mastery of this difficult shot.
Do not overthink it. You swing as you would any other time in the game. In fact, you should not want your setup for the third shot drop to be different. If you try to add a spin or make it more complex, you could be opening room for more error.
Instead, focus on your form and technique. Make sure you have a decent grip on the paddle. Too strong or tight a grip will make it harder to make contact with the ball. Keep a neutral grip on the handle.
This video describes different ways to hold your paddle:
Test a variety of grips, including the continental, eastern, and western styles. By finding which grip is best for you, you can start working in more advanced techniques with ease.
Footwork is essential in pickleball. Sometimes, in the midst of a pickleball game, the tension is high and you are thinking defensively. In other words, you move backwards. There is one problem with this. Moving backwards sends you away from where you are trying to go: the kitchen. When you are utilizing a third shot drop, you want to move forward.
Also, keep your movements tight. You will find yourself missing some of the better shots because you are stepping out too far or overreaching. Take fewer steps and focus on hitting the sweet spot of your paddle.
Once you have mastered the art of an effortless pickleball swing, it is time to focus on your aim. The third shot drop is challenging, because you cannot always see the kitchen from where you are standing on the court. The kitchen is about seven feet deep, but when you are at the baseline, it looks so small and far away. In doubles, you also have to contend with two opponents who get in the way of your shot.
How do you aim for the kitchen then? Consider physics. In pickleball, the flight of the ball follows the same rules of gravity as everything else. Leaving the paddle, the ball will fly on a more tight arc. Then, as air resistance slows the flight and gravity takes control, the ball begins to fall at a steeper rate. Understanding how the ball drops can help you aim more correctly.
Here is how: You aim for the apex of the flight path, not the kitchen itself.
If you ace the trajectory of the shot, you will sink it into the kitchen time and again. Use these tips the next time you practice landing a third shot drop:
- Visualize the halfway point between you and the opponent’s kitchen
- Put that halfway point about 5-6 feet high in the air—that is your apex
- Hit the ball at that point and let it sail
With these things in mind, check out this video that goes over the mechanics for hitting a perfect third shot drop every time:
Why Your Third Shot Drop Fails
The third shot drop is one of those plays in pickleball that requires the correct setup and follow-through. Drilling is going to be integral to your success with this technique. Until you master it, though, you can expect to encounter some common issues:
The Ball Goes Too High
One of the worst outcomes with the third shot drop is to pop your ball too high into the air. Your opponent not only has time to figure out where to stand, but they can also smash that ball right back at you. This is a bad scenario that will bite you on the hand.
One of the reasons for this is aiming at the kitchen. The kitchen is hard to spot, and that could make you swing too forcefully.
Remember, if you want the ball to fly then drop into the kitchen without issue, look to the apex. Keep practicing, and soon your third shot drops will be impeccable.
You Hit The Net, Not The Kitchen
For beginners, hitting the net with your third shot drop is a painful experience—but it will happen often. Even advanced players with loads of experience sometimes have to watch their third shot drops hit the net and roll away. Your shots are not going to be 100% accurate or clean all of the time, but if your third shot drops are consistently landing against the net, something is wrong.
There are a few reasons. The first one is that you are trying to hit your third shot drop and move at the same time. This is not the best plan of action. Moving while you attempt to hit the ball will diminish your control and power. Instead, get into a good position, ground yourself, and as the ball comes towards you, step forward. As the ball leaves your paddle, you can start running forward towards the net.
The second reason is that you hit the ball too gently. A softer swing means less power. Since you are at the back of the court when setting up a third shot drop, you need as much power as possible. Put some gusto into your swings. It is always better to hit a third shot drop a little too hard than too soft.
You Use The Shot At The Wrong Time
Many players see the third shot drop as something challenging to pull off and so they look at it as an ace up their sleeve. That said, the third shot drop is always an option when your opponent is at the kitchen line. In fact, the third shot drop is the only sound option at this point. However, if your opponent hits the ball too high on a return or sends the ball a bit short, you should not use a drop shot.
At this point, you have to drive the ball. Smack it back across the net.
Secondly, if your opponent is not at the kitchen line, you should not attempt the third shot drop. Using a drop shot encourages your opposition to run closer to the net to get the ball back into your court. Do whatever you can do to keep your opponent out of the kitchen if they are not there yet.
The Difference Between a Third Shot Drop vs Drive
Although the third shot drop is crucial to winning matches and giving you time to get closer to the net, it is often overlooked. That is because there is also something called a “third shot drive.” The goals of drops and drives are vastly different.
To remind you, a third shot drop is meant to limit your opponent’s ability to attack and go on the offensive. You also gain valuable time to reach the kitchen before getting the ball smashed across the net.
A drop is soft; drives are much faster and precise. A third shot drive is fast, low, and meant to overpower your opponent. With both, you are not aiming to get the ball past the opposition; you simply want to control where they go and increase the chance of them making errors. Drives work wonders, because they often get the opponent to pop the ball up or hit the net.
There are a couple of instances when you want to drive instead of drop the ball, including:
- Your opponent sends back a short return that bounces above knee height. High bouncing balls give you the chance to drive instead of drop the ball.
- Doubles opponents are not in the correct position. If you notice that your opposition is nowhere near the kitchen, you can drive the third shot in.
- The opposition is weak closer to the net.
When Should You Avoid Driving the Third Shot?
If you need an example of when to not drive the third shot, let’s set one up. Keep in mind that you should not drive the third shot when you stand behind the baseline or when you’re standing far into the backcourt. If you attempt to hit a drive when standing so far back, your opponents are not going to be taken by surprise. This instead gives your opponent far too much time. They will be able to react and drive you back once again from the net.
The more effective move for this predicament is a third shot drop.
Drills For Practicing The Third Shot Drop
Do you want to master the third short drop? Then you are going to need to drill it repeatedly. You can drill alone or with a partner, though partnering is recommended. The drill below is one of the best for learning how to make a third shot drop look effortless:
- Stand at the baseline of the court
- Have your partner stand at the opposite kitchen line and have them shoot a ball towards you
- Practice your third shot drop
- Your partner will not hit it back but instead tell you where the ball lands and how high it was coming over net
- Adjust if need be and repeat over and over
Another drill involves working both dinks and drops. Here is how you do it:
- Both players stand at the non-volley zone. Start off with a couple of dinks back and forth.
- One player will remain at the net while the other steps back towards the baseline each time the ball is returned into the non-volley zone.
- Once a player reaches the baseline, they attempt a third drop shot.
- You can also take cooperative shots by feeding third drop shots to the person at the baseline before switching sides.
If you are having trouble learning how to aim the ball, this drill will help you get a feel for both the trajectory and the power needed:
- Put your paddle aside. Instead, toss the ball underhanded over the net to your partner from the baseline, who is standing outside of the kitchen.
- Aim so that the ball falls ½ or ¾ deep into the kitchen.
- Your partner will gather the ball and attempt to do the same.
Acing That Shot
The third shot drop is often used by pickleball pros and is considered a default. Learning how to execute the third shot drop, as well as when to utilize it strategically, is important. You can truly upgrade your game when you learn the third shot drop. Keep in mind that you cannot use the third shot drop all the time, so practice up recognizing the timing!