3rd shot drop or drive? Select the best pickleball shot for the scenario

When to choose the pickleball drop shot and when to choose the pickleball drive.

Danea Bass & Barrett Bass

pickleball lessons


March 4, 2024



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As the serving team in pickleball, you have a big decision to make after your opponents return your serve. The third shot drop is the shot that is hit by the serving team when their serve is returned to them. You can make a third shot drop to deliver a hard-to-attack ball into your opponent’s non-volley zone (or “kitchen”), or you can hit a hard drive to strategic spots on the court to help you get to the NVZ line and into the point

As you drop the ball into the kitchen, you want it to be an unattackable shot. However, you don't want to be married to the third shot drop — there are times when it might be more advantageous to drive the ball. Here are some of the scenarios where it's best to drop the pickleball ball and scenarios where it's best to drive the ball.

Importance of pickleball's 3rd shot drop

The third shot drop is so important because it separates beginners from more advanced players. The goal of the 3rd shot drop is to send a shot back to your opponent that will allow you to move up to the kitchen line.

When it's best to use the drop shot in pickleball

There are many situations where it will be advantageous to use the third shot drop in pickleball. Here are some tips for incorporating the third shot drop into your next pickleball game:

Baseline ball

The first situation where a drop shot would be advantageous is when the ball lands close to the baseline, especially if the ball is pushing you back. When the return is hit deep and the ball lands close to the baseline, it will be difficult for you to drive the ball, so it’s a great time to hit a third shot drop.

When the ball doesn’t have spin

When the ball doesn’t have any, or much, spin, it’s going to be much easier to drop it. As you start playing more and more, you will notice you can start to sense the amount of spin on the ball and how easy it will be to drop it or drive it.

When you’re not prepared for the shot

If you do not have time to get prepared for a shot, a drop shot might also be a good option. If the return is to the side or you are just barely getting there, a drop shot may not win you the point, but it also may give you a better chance of not losing the point.

When it's best to use the drive shot in pickleball

Although a drop shot is usually a safe return shot, there are many times when you want to be more aggressive. The pickleball drive shot will be a better option for this, but only if it’s in the right spot and safe for you to choose this shot. Here are some examples of when to drive your return shot back to your opponent.

When you have a shallow (and high) return

If the ball is returned closer to the net but takes a high bounce, a drive could be a perfect way to get the ball back to your opponent. It will give you the advantage to place it wherever you want and throw off your opponent.

When you have time to place your feet and plan your return

If you have time on the return to get in the correct area, place your feet, and plan what you are going to do, then a drive shot will be a good option. If you are off balance and try to hit a drive, there is a good chance you will hit it long or hit it into the net.

When the ball has spin

A drive shot could also be advantageous when the ball is returned to you with a lot of spin — especially if it has backspin. It’s going to be difficult to return a spinning ball with a drop shot.

If this happens on the serve return, you can use the drive shot and then on the fifth shot you should be able to drop shot it and advance to the net.

Pickleball shot selection drills

To see some specific drills on when to drive your pickleball ball or when to drop it, watch the video above.

Pickleball shot selection

As you start playing more and more, you will notice the different types of returns, especially on the third shot. Start to test out your drive shots and drop shots, and learn what is working and what is not. You will soon find your own pickleball personality, as well as how you can master the drop and drive shots to make you the best pickleball player you can be.