If you’ve played Pickleball for any length of time, then you’ve heard of the third shot drop. This is the key shot for the serving team to be able to move up near the non-volley zone. The normal progression is to hit a serve, then your opponent returns the ball, and then the serving team hits the third shot. You don’t always need to hit a third shot drop but it is effective to neutralize your opponents advantage of being at the net.
Where to Hit the Third Shot Drop
When I first started playing Pickleball, the third shot drop was one I wanted to master. I asked a local Pickleball Ambassador where the third shot drop should bounce. I was told it should land close to the net, preferably in the first half of the kitchen. This means the ball should have a high arc to get it to land near the net.
I worked on this shot and could hit it pretty well after a few months. However, I found that better players were able to be offensive against my third shot drop. The reason for this was twofold. First, if the ball bounces near the net, players can step into the kitchen after the ball bounces. This allows them to be offensive if the ball bounces high. The second problem with my third shot drop was that it bounced too high. Since I was trying to hit the ball close to the net, I had to hit a high arc to make the ball bounce in the first half of the kitchen. This means the ball bounces and goes above net level.
So, better players could take advantage of the high bounce.
Since I knew my third shot wasn’t as effective as I would like, I went back to the drawing board and watched a couple of televised professional matches I had on my DVR. I quickly learned that the pros don’t try to hit drop shots that land near the net. In fact, they did just the opposite. They tried to get the third shot drop to land near the feet of their opponent. This meant the ball was landing deep in the kitchen or at the kitchen line. This forces you to hit up on the ball as long as it does not bounce high.
How to Hit the Third Shot Drop
Hitting a third shot drop is a lot like hitting a dink shot except you are usually standing deeper in the court. The key is to make sure you bend your knees and get low. I found it is much easier to hit the third shot drop against my opponent’s serve return when the ball is on the way down. This is especially true if you play against someone who uses a lot of top spin. The ball speed slows on the downward arc so I’ve found I can hit the third shot drop more consistently.
I mentioned above that you should try to hit the third shot drop so it lands deep in the kitchen. To do this effectively, you will need to hit the ball one to three feet over the net. The highest point of the shot should be on your side of the net and the ball should be descending as it reaches the other side of the net. If you can add some backspin, this will also help keep the ball low and prevent your opponent from having an offensive shot.
If you find yourself hitting the ball in the net a lot, give the shot some more upward arc. Also, make sure you follow through and are stepping into the ball. It is very difficult to hit an effective third shot drop when you are backing up.
Should You be Hitting a Third Shot Drop?
Three situations exist where you do not want to hit a third shot: First, if your opponent stays at the base line after hitting the return, you don’t need to hit a third shot drop. You can but I would also mix this up with hitting the ball deep. Second, if your opponents return is short then you don’t need to hit a third shot drop. This is a good time to drive the ball as your opponent won’t have time to get all the way to the kitchen line. Third, if you are moving backward you don’t need to hit a third shot drop. As I mentioned above, this makes the third shot drop very difficult since you do not have forward momentum.
Drilling the Third Shot Drop
I’ve spent many hours practicing the third shot drop by using my Lobster Pickleball machine. If you don’t have one to use, the best thing to do is to get a partner who can help you. Then start at the net dinking back and forth. This is a good way to get down the technique of the third shot drop as the mechanics are similar to the dink. Then have one person start to move back a few steps from the kitchen line. So, one person is hitting a third shot drop. The other person is feeding you deeper balls. Continue to move back to the baseline while continuing to hit third shot drops. Then switch places.
The third shot drop is definitely one you need to have in your arsenal as it neutralizes your opponents’ advantage at the net. It is worth the time to master this shot and be sure to combine if with some third shot drives when the opportunity arises.