The significance of the Pickleball third shot
Let’s first talk about why the pickleball third shot should be part of a comprehensive pickleball strategy. A point starts out with a serve (first shot) and the receiving team’s return (second shot). At this point, the serving team is still back at the baseline and the returning team should be at the kitchen line (or non-volley zone).
The receiving team has the initial advantage in a point. They’re at a position of strength at the kitchen line and are looking to capitalize on their advantageous court position. At the third shot, the serving team is still back at the baseline and should be looking to get to the kitchen line themselves to “even out” the court position advantage.
Why a third shot drop?
How do they best do this?
Well, you want a shot that will both
- give you & your partner time to get up to the kitchen line and
- not give your opponents something to attack and keep you in a bad spot (or even lose the point!)
That shot is the third shot drop.
This is a soft, high-arcing shot that peaks in height around your kitchen and lands in your opponents’ kitchen. Where the shot is hit (into the opponents’ kitchen) means the bounce of the ball will be low enough that your opponents cannot attack it aggressively. How the shot is hit (softly and with a high arc) will give you and your partner time to get to the kitchen line and negate the opponents’ position advantage.
Check and check!
Other options for the third shot
Third shot drive
Sometimes a drop may not be the best option for your third shot. In those cases, and aggressive drive will be a better option. Some examples where this might be the case are
- Your opponent’s return is hit short into your court rather than deep. You are already moving up to hit the short shot, so there’s not a need to buy more time as there would be if the return was deep. In this case, you can be moving toward the kitchen line and striking the ball aggressively down the middle (between your opponents) or at the shoulder of their hitting arm.
- If your opponent stays back rather that comes forward to the kitchen line after hitting their return. If they make this mistake, there’s no reason to bring them forward with a drop shot into the kitchen. Keep them back with an aggressive drive at their feet.
Third shot lob
A lob is another option for your third shot, but hitting this shot should be avoided in favor of a drop or drive. A defensive lob from your baseline is difficult to hit for the majority of players. Hit it too hard and the ball will sail long giving your opponents a free point. Hit it too short/low and you’re likely to be on the receiving end of and aggressive overhead from your opponent that could win them the point.
Common mistakes players make
The first mistake we should cover is not attempting the shot to begin with. The pickleball third shot drop’s perceived difficulty can be intimidating to many players, especially beginners. So instead they’ll hit a drive every time. The more skilled the opponent is, the less likely this is to be successful, especially if they’ve established themselves, as they should, at the kitchen line.
When attempting the third shot drop, players might hit the ball too softly and into the net, losing the point. Alternatively, they might hit the ball too hard and give their opponents a volley they can hit aggressively.
Neither is ideal, but if you’re going to make a mistake, hit it too hard vs. too soft. Too hard and there’s still a chance you can stay in the point. Too soft, and you definitely lose the point.
Improving your third shot drop
The key to hitting the third shot drop consistently is practice. Understanding that a drop is really just a long dink will help you drill as well as execute during your games. If you’re struggling with hitting your third shot drops, start practicing your drops at the kitchen line.
Once you feel comfortable and are seeing success from there, take a few steps back and practice your drop from this new spot. Progressively work your way back until you’re hitting your drops consistently from the baseline.
Getting comfortable with hitting all your third shot options consistently is critical in the journey to becoming a better, more competitive, pickleball player. And it’s especially important if you want to be successful in tournaments.