The third shot drop in pickleball is considered one of the most important strokes to learn, and the tool that separates beginners from more advanced players.
The shot is called the 3rd shot drop because it’s hit by the serving team from the baseline after the serve (first shot) and return of the serve (second shot) and it “drops” into the opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ), aka the kitchen.
The purpose of the third shot drop is to hit an unattackable ball that forces your opponents to hit up on it while giving you the time you need to get up to the kitchen line and into the point.
The reason the third shot drop is so important in pickleball is because, at this point, you and your partner are back at the baseline and the other team should be at the net.
There are really only two shots in pickleball: you can either hit up on the ball or down on the ball.
The first goal of the third shot drop is to get the other team to hit up on the ball, so you can hit down on the ball — because many times the team that hits down on the ball first with power wins the point. A lot of beginners will want to hit the ball hard, and that's not a bad tactic, but a lot of times that leaves the ball up high for the other team to attack again. The second goal of the third shot drop is a shot that can provide you time to get to the kitchen.
Here are a few tips that will help you master the third shot drop:
When you hit the ball, you should be on the balls of your feet to ensure consistency.
You will want a light to medium grip on your paddle, similar to a dink.
Limit your wrist movement.
Use your “big muscles” like your shoulders and legs, not your “small muscles” like your wrist.
A mistake beginners tend to make (especially if you come from tennis or other racket sports) is to take a big backswing. The pickleball court is 22 feet from the baseline to the net, which is a lot shorter than other racket sports. Because of this, you don't need that backswing.
Some of the best and most consistent third shot drops have a minimal and compact swing.
It’s important to train your body to always contact the ball in front of your body. Contacting the ball behind you can create popups and cause you to fall back away from the net.
Make sure that you are always hitting, and keeping that swing, right at your body or in front of your body.
When you're receiving that ball from the serve return, remember that the ball has to bounce. When the ball bounces, it's going to bounce up off the ground to its apex and then it's going to fall. If you can make contact with the ball when it's on its way down from the apex, the ball is decelerating and it will help you make better contact and be able to control where you hit that shot.
If you hit that ball after it bounces and it's on its way up, it becomes much more difficult to be consistent with your drop.
Your third drop shot follow-through and forward momentum are important pieces of your pickleball game.
Your follow-through should be toward the net. As you're hitting the ball, you will want to have your paddle pointed towards where your target is going. Then you will want to make sure your momentum is taking you forward, because you don't want to hit this shot on your back foot. If you're falling backward, then you're more likely to pop that ball up.
If your momentum is taking you towards the net, you're already on your way up to the kitchen line — which is one of the goals of the pickleball third shot drop.
The pickleball third shot drop may seem complex at first, but spending the time to learn the tricks of the play will bring you from a beginner to intermediate and beyond. There are a lot of intricacies to learning the game of pickleball, but the third shot drop will teach you about patience, timing, position, and strategy.
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