I don’t think there’s a single pickleball player out there, who doesn’t want to win more pickleball games. Winning starts with getting control of the rally and having the upper hand on the opposing team. The quickest way to get control is the third-shot drop strategy.
Check out other Strategies: 10 Essential Doubles Strategies
In this article, I’ll give you everything I know about the fabled 3rd shot drop. You will be an expert in knowing what it is and how to do it, but that doesn’t mean you can step on the court and pull it off first try.
I know advanced-level players that still have trouble from time to time with this. It takes practice, but once it is perfected, it can be an absolute weapon to have in your arsenal and a great shot strategy for doubles or singles.
What Is The Third Shot Drop?
The third shot drop occurs after your opponent has returned your serve. You should still be playing back since you have to hit the third shot off the bounce (Double bounce rule). Since you’re playing back, your opponent has the upper hand to get to the net first and keep you back.
Note: The third shot drop also works as a singles pickleball strategy.
A drop shot is when you hit a short, medium trajectory shot that lands softly in your opponent’s non-volley zone. I like to describe it as a “long-range dink shot.”
This is easy to explain, but it’s one of the most difficult shots to master in pickleball. It is essential to have this shot in your arsenal if you want to be an effective intermediate or advanced-level player.
The reason the third shot drop is one of the hardest shots in pickleball is cause there is so little room for error. If you hit the ball too hard, your opponents could hit a drive at your feet, and if you leave it short, it could go into the net which is a fault.
What Is The Purpose Of The Third Shot Drop In Pickleball?
The purpose of the 3rd shot strategy is to give you or your team (doubles) control of the rally right out of the gates. A perfectly executed third shot drop gives you and your partner time to get up to the kitchen as the serving team.
You have to remember that as the serving team you are at a disadvantage from the receiving team because they have the chance to get upfront to the non-volley line first and control the rally.
3 Drop Shot Mistakes To Avoid
Don’t Forget the Rules of Pickleball
I see a lot of players get too excited and forget fundamental pickleball rules such as the double-bounce rule. You must make a groundstroke (hit the ball off the bounce) on the third shot.
Too Much Power
If you hit a drop shot that goes too far it gives your opponent an amazing opportunity to drive one at your feet on into the corner and score a point. If you’re going to hit a drop shot you want it to land in the kitchen so they’re not allowed to volley it even if it’s a little too high. It’s okay if the ball goes a little past the kitchen line, but just try to keep in lower in that case.
Forgetting to Get to The Net
And finally, make sure that you make progress to the net. If you hit a beautiful third-shot drop in a pickleball match but you don’t use your forward momentum, then you’re giving your opponent the entire court to return that shot.
It’s hard enough to hit one drop shot, you don’t want to have to put yourself in a position to hit two in a row.
5 Steps To Hit The Third Shot Drop
- Get Low: Bend your knees and get low. Getting low helps you get under the ball
- Grip Pressure: Grip the paddle lose with a neutral grip. This lets you get a better feel of the contact and gives you more control
- Swing Path: Make sure your contact point is low-to-high (like a serve).
- Shorten Your Stroke: Keep your stroke short to help with feel and control.
- Follow Through: Follow through with your paddle pointing to where you want the ball to go.
Top Tips To Keep In Mind
Tip #1: You should be looking for a greater margin of error by taking the shot about 4 inches over the net.
Tip #2: Focus on the apex instead of the landing point. If you’re looking at your opponent’s kitchen line, odds are, you’re going to hit the ball long and land it there. Instead, pick a point in between you and the net and try to have the ape of the ball be there at about 6 feet high.
Tip#3: Make sure you’re confident with your dink game. If dinking is not a strength for you, hitting a third shot drop is probably not a good idea since you’re just putting yourself in a position to make an error
Tip#4: Use the drop shot intermittently in the round. Use a drop shot when your opponents least expect it.
Tip #5: Hit it to the moving person and force them to make a mistake. It’s a lot harder to return a good drop shot if you’re moving than if you’re posted at the net.
Tip #6: Play on the weaker side. This is usually a person’s backhand. If you play to their weaker side, they are more likely to make a mistake.
Tip #7: Hit it down the middle. A drop shot is hard enough as it is, if you try to paint the corners and land it on the line, you have a higher chance of messing it up. The middle is a safe bet and can cause confusion between your opponents.
Tip #8: Hit it to the weaker player. You have a much better chance of winning if you make the weaker player try to score.
- Adding backspin to your third shot drop is insurance. If you impart backspin you give yourself a little more room for error. You can hit the shot a little higher over the net, and the spin will ensure that the ball bounces low and lands softly. A high bounce gives your opponent the opportunity to hit a shot at your feet
When You DON’T Want to Hit The Third Shot Drop
- Your opponent hits the return short and forces you to get up to the net. Your mission is already complete, you’re up at the net and you can control the rally.
- Your opponent feeds you a juicy shot that you can put away at his feet. If you have the chance to get a point take the opportunity.
- If your opponents don’t move up to the net. Then you should just keep them playing back.
Third Shot Drop Drills
Like getting consistent at any shot, practicing RIGHT is the key. Obviously having a partner is more beneficial, but if not, there are still some great methods. Here are a few ways I like to practice my third shot drops.
Gradually Longer Dinks
The key to this drill is to be very hard on yourself. Don’t move back until you hit 10 PERFECT dinks. Practice with a goal or purpose in mind.
Phase 1: Start by hitting your normal dink shot right in the kitchen until you’ve hit 10 perfect dinks.
Phase 2: Now move back into the transition zone and do 10 more. This will take longer but focus and be patient.
Phase 3: Move to the baseline. Now you’re simulating a real third shot drop. This will take longer than phase 1 or 2, but this is where the real improvement happens.
Aim Small Miss Small
This drill can be used for perfecting really any shot and it’s one of my favorites. If you aim small your margin of error is smaller.
For this drill, you need something small. It can be a CD, a folded-up towel, a small cone, or your phone (Please use a phone case.)
The objective is to give yourself a goal (8/10, 5 in a row, etc.) and hit that small target until you reach your goal. It could take minutes or hours, but you will see a huge improvement from this drill.
Another amazing drill for great third-shot drops or really any shot for that matter is skinny singles.
Instructions This is a game where you play 1v1 and only half of the court is open. This means you have a lot less court to work with.
If you want to get good at hitting a drop in the corners, skinny singles is your drill.
Call The Drop Shot
This is another great drill that requires a partner. You’re going to have to make game-time decisions at random moments.
Instructions: You serve to your partner and they return it. Once you are about to hit the third shot, they point or yell to where they want you to hit it.
You get used to feeling what it’s like to make adjustments and act quickly. If you miss where they told you to hit it, you turn is over.
You’re rarely going to hit the shot in the same spot, so switching it up is essential.
This is a great drill if you are having trouble visualizing the apex. Get a piece of wood about 5 feet tall and dont worry about where the ball lands, just focus on feeling the apex.
After you get used to that, remove the board and now hit those shots, trying to land them in your opponent’s kitchen.
Your paddle can make a small (5% difference). Worry about mastering the fundamentals and the techniques FIRST, then look for a paddle that feels softer or fits your game.
I mentioned a few in the post. “Call Your Shot” and “aim small miss small” are my personal favorites, but it depends on what you have trouble with.
It really depends. If it’s a textbook third shot drop, then dinking to your opponent’s weaker side is the best way to make them make a mistake.
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