3 pickleball mistakes killing your 3rd shot drop

Learn how to fix the mistakes that are killing your pickleball third shot drop.

Danea & Barrett Bass

pickleball drills


May 16, 2024



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The drop shot is one of the most important shots in pickleball because it allows you go from the baseline to the kitchen line, which is the best and most advantageous to play. Learn about the mistakes that are killing your pickleball third shot drop, including which partner should hit this shot, planting your feet on the return of serve, and how to know if it’s time to make your way to the kitchen line. Plus, learn about the “Traffic Light” system to tell you how to hit the 3rd shot and practice a pickleball drill to improve your drop shots during your next pickleball game.

Mistake #1: Which partner should hit the third shot drop?

So many teams lose points on their third shot drop because there's confusion about who is taking the shot. For example: A ball is returned down the middle of the court and neither player knows whether to take it or not, and either 1. the ball ends up not being taken at all or 2. someone hits it last minute.

The secret to hitting a consistent and accurate shots in pickleball comes down to early preparation, and something that can help your third shot drop is communication about who is taking the middle ball. So if you know you're going to hit that shot, you have the time to prep early for it and hit a better shot. So it's important during play that you say “me” or “you” or there's some type of communication about who hits that middle ball.

Mistake #2: How to stop running through your 3rd shot drop in pickleball

The next mistake players can make during a drop shot is running through their shot. A lot of players want to race from the baseline to the kitchen line because they're uncomfortable in the transition zone. But they end up running and hitting the shots at the same time, which can cause them to be off-balance which can affect your accuracy. 

To fix this, you will want to split step when you see the ball is about to hit your opponent's paddle. This will give you enough time to either react to where the ball is going or it will help you stabilize and stop your momentum.

Mistake #3: When to make your way to the pickleball kitchen line

This next mistake a lot of players make is either taking way too much ground or not enough ground.

When you're hitting a drop shot a lot, players tend to either 1. race to the kitchen line and take too much ground, or 2. hit a good drop but don't make their way to the kitchen line. The whole goal of hitting a drop shot is to get to the kitchen line, because that's the best and most advantageous place to play.

Traffic light system

A system that will help you understand when to move up and when to stay back is called “The Traffic Light.” The Traffic Light has to do with studying your opponents when you're hitting a drop shot, with the goal of moving up — based on what they're doing: not reacting to your drop but responding to their body language. 

Traffic Light #1: Red Light

A “red light” in the Traffic Light system is when you hit a third shot drop or drive and you notice that your opponent's paddle comes up to a high position. In this situation, you should stop and stay back because this usually means that your opponent is going to hit that ball high to low — that's an attacking shot.

Traffic Light #2: Yellow Light

A “yellow light” is when your opponent hits the ball from between their hips to their chest level. This says “Proceed With Caution.” If you're going to move forward, be prepared to split step and stop and be prepared to hit a couple of resets on your way in. You can attack from the yellow zone but it's not going to be as dangerous as the paddle in the red zone.

Traffic Light #3: Green Light

A “green light” is the area between your opponent's toes to their mid-thigh. If you see the paddle tip drop into the green zone, it's a green light for you that says “come on in, we can't do anything scary to you.” The green light zone gives you the green light to rush into the kitchen because there's very little chance that they're going to be able to attack this ball, and if they try to attack it the ball is usually going out.

Pickleball drill: Seven-Eleven

Watch the video above for a drill (the 7-Eleven Drill) that will help you practice avoiding these mistakes so you can utilize your third shop drop to get to the kitchen in the easiest and most consistent way.

Your partner will feed you the ball, and you're going to hit a drop shot. You will then work your way up to the kitchen and then play the point out. If you lose the rally, your partner gets the point.

Here are the steps to the Seven Eleven Drill:

  • Start by lining up at the baseline, with your partner lined up at the opposite kitchen line.

  • Your partner will feed you a ball, simulating the return.

  • The goal is to get from baseline to kitchen.

  • Pay attention to the paddle angle of your opponent and determine whether to move up or not.

  • You're going to play out the point, and if you win the rally you get a point.

  • If you're the person that's practicing your drops and moving up, your goal is to get to seven points. The person that is stationary at the kitchen has get to 11 points to win.

The main purpose of the drill is to avoid making the drop shot mistakes many players make. Make sure you're split stepping and make sure that you're making the right decisions on how far to move up and when to stay back.