Your Go-To Guide For The Third Shot Drop In Pickleball

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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.

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.

I still have trouble with it, so to get better I decided to partner with QuickPickle.com. They have an amazing drop-shot course that drastically improved my game. 

Here is everything you need to know to master the third shop drop.

I remember when I started to feel pretty confident playing pickleball after a few months as a beginner. 

My confidence was absolutely shattered when I played this local legend. Like clockwork, would hit a perfect drop shot, and set me up to hit him one, that, again like clockwork, he would hit at my feet. 

This was my first taste at how debilitating a good drop shot can be, but also how this is a very important shot in pickleball.

your go to guide for the third shot drop overlay on a a pickleball court

What Is The Purpose Of The Third Shot Drop In Pickleball?

The third shot drop is one of the first strategies that most people learn in Pickleball. 

It can be used in both singles and doubles pickleball games.

The purpose of this 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.

They already have one player up at the net and if they keep you back then they will be the first to get to the net and pin you in the back court. 

it’s a trade off. Obviously the 3rd shot drop is a difficult shot, but you are risking that for a spot at the net.

What Is The Third Shot Drop?

After your opponent has returned the serve, you place a perfect, soft, drop shot right over the net. Next, using your forward momentum, you run-up to the edge of the kitchen where you have control of the net. 

You know you’ve done it right when the shot drops right in your opponent’s kitchen nice and low. Now their only move is to dink it back, or hit one high and set you up.

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 3.5 level player or higher.  

The reason the third shot drop is one of the hardest shots in pickleball, is cause there is so little room for error. You don’t want to hit it too high and give your opponent to hit a drive at your feet. Most Importantly YOU REALLY don’t want to leave it short in the net and just hand the opposing team the point.

It can be a lethal weapon since it’s done as a third shot strategy, right out of the gates.

The third shot drop in prickleball is supposed to benefit you, not hurt you.

Things To Keep In Mind

When thinking about the this shot, don’t forget about the basic rules, such as the two-bounce rule, or how to properly hit a serve.

Don’t get too excited and volley the return which violates the double bounce rule, or serve it out of bounds. 

You have to make it to the third shot in order to pull this strategy off. That’s rule number one!

Another thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to hit the ball too high since it gives the opponent a 

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. 

example of how to hit a third shot drop in pickleball

How To Hit The Third Shot Drop

Let’s start with the beginning. Obviously, the serving team is going to be the one to execute the third shot drop since the third shot goes to them. Normally the serving team is at a disadvantage and has less time to get to the net. This is where the third shot drop comes in. 

After THE BALL BOUNCES on the serving teams side, you want to hit what could be described as a “long dink.”

Since your forward momentum is already taking you to the net, drop shots let you safely get to the net instead of your opponents keeping you in the back court.  In Duke’s course, he goes through 5 tips to think about when hitting your third shot drop.

Mechanics of The Third Shot Drop

  • Bending your knees and getting low helps you get under the ball. Remember to have your contract point be low-to-high (like a serve) and never high-to-low. 
  • Shortening up your swing helps you stay consistent and feel the shot. You’re going for placement not power
  • Follow through with your paddle pointing to where you want the ball to go. Always follow through.
  • You should be looking for a greater margin of error by taking the shot about 4 inches over the net. 
  • Momentum is key, make sure you play back so you can step forward when hitting your drop shot and let that momentum carry you to the net.

My tendency was to stop my stroke after I made contact which lead to pop-ups or the ball landing short of the net.

Once I started following through, keeping my paddle pointed to where I wanted the ball to land, I was able to get more consistent. 

Now I know we’ve been talking about the THIRD SHOT being a drop shot, but one thing to keep in mind that Duke really brought to light for me was that it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE THIRD SHOT. It can be anytime you see fit. 

Another big third shot drop mistake I was guilty of, was hitting it too high. It’s called a drop shot but that doesn’t mean it should be a lob.

It should actually be closer to a drive. If you can hit a low drive, the chance of the opposing team feeding you a juicy shot you can put away, are high. 

If you feel like your opponents are keeping you back, you can use this shot to make a move forward. 

Using drop shots intermittently in the round can bring the element of surprise to your opponents, so don’t just use this on the third shot. 

Pro Tip:

  • 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 DONT Want to Hit The Third Shot Drop

The third shot drop is an amazing tool. But let’s remember the purpose of it. 

To give you a chance to get to the net before your opponents, so they can’t keep you at the baseline. 

Here are some circumstances where you DONT WANT TO USE IT:

  • Your opponent hits the return short and forces you to get up to the net. 
  • Your opponent feeds you a juicy shot that you can put away at his feet. 
  • You have a lazy opponent who is not getting up to the net. Then you shold just keep them back while you move up.

Third Shot Drop Placement

As I’ve mentioned before, the third shot drop is 100% about placement. Placement is the difference between a good drop shot and a complete mistake. 

Here are some of the main tips I got from the Quick Pickle course, Duke goes a lot deeper into how to practice but here is a general idea of placement for a drop shot. 

Pickleball Third Shot Strategy

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hit it to the weaker player. You have a much better chance of winning if you make the weaker player try to score.

You only have about one second to react and think all this through which is why especially for thre third shot drop, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. 

You have to be aware of everything going on during the game, and on top of that execute the drop shot with no error. 

Luckily, there are some amazing drills you can do to really get your third shot drop on point

Third Shot Drop Tips

Consistantly leaving it short or hitting it too high can be extremely frustrating. I still do it from time to time and I’m an advanced player. 

If this is the case for you here are some tips that make just make your third shot drop a little bit better.

Tip #1: Grip the paddle loose with a neutral grip. This lets you get a better feel of the contact and gives you more control

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. You don’t want that. 

Instead, pick a point in between you and the net and try to have the ape of the ball be there at about 6 ft high. 

Try to visualize that shot before you even hit it. 

Tip#3:Make sure you are intermediate with your dink game. If dinking is not a strength for you, hitting a shot that encourages dinks (Like the thirs shot drop), is probably not a good idea since you’re just putting yourself in a position to make an error. 

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.

cones set up on court for third shot drop

Partner Drills

You need to practice if you’re going to master the third shot drop.

Having a partner can make things easier if they want to get better at it too and they’re willing to put in the work.

You can do any of the following drills with a partner and just trade-off, or you can act out the third shot drop in real-time. You serve to them, they return serve and you drop it. I’m very competitive and my partner and I would bet lunch of who gets the most drop shots in 10 “rallies.”

It mimics the pressure of a real game and keeps it interesting so you can stay out there longer.

  • Skinny Singles

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 quick. 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.

Apex Drill

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. 

If You’re Serious About Improving Your Third Shot Drop

As I mentioned in the article. Many of the tips and tricks I learned were from the Drop Shot Course by quickpickle.com. It was extremely helpful and gave me the confidence that what I was practicing was correct and going to get me to the level I needed to be.

Duke knows what he is doing as a level 5.0 player. I can’t say enough. He is really a master at the third shot drop.

Check out this testimony.

The Drop Shot Domination course is tought by amazing professionals. Hearing a professional talk about certain pickleball shots is like warthing an artist paint a picture.

It’s so seamless and they just have an incredible understanding of the game. 

You’ll enjoy how they describe things in a way where you’ll be able to remember them. 

You’ll leave with a lot more knowledge of Pickleball’s more important shots to master.

FAQ

Does My Paddle Make A Difference in a third shot drop?

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.

What are some drills for the third shot drop?

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.

How do I return a Third shot drop?

It really depends. If it’s a textbook third shot drop, then dinking to your opponents weaker side is the best way to make them make a mistake.

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