The third shot drop in pickleball is one of the most difficult shots for any level of player. It’s the putt in golf or the serve in tennis. And it’s not only your shot mechanics that go into a ball; it’s also the mental preparation for the shot that makes it successful.
When making the choice to hit a third shot drop versus a drive, there a few variables to consider.When the return of serve is short, this means the contact point on the court is much closer to the non-volley line for the player executing the shot. This allows you the opportunity to attack the ball in an offensive way rather than creating a drop shot from midcourt.
When the return of serve lands deeper on the court, this often means you’re going to need to hit a third shot drop so you can come forward with enough time to get to the non-volley line. What’s important is to get your weight transfer from your lower body under the ball, which will not only lift the ball over the net and keep it low but gets you forward behind the shot. Having more of a dynamic stability behind the ball allows for a better shot and preparation for the next shot.
However, if a player hits such a return that you’ll have trouble getting your weight from back foot to front foot, this will often make the third shot drop unsuccessful because you’re hitting off of your back foot, falling backward into the court, and will most likely hit a high ball instead of a low third shot over the net. This is an instance where a player could drive the ball, allowing him or her to stabilize in order to hit a fifth shot drop.
Another option is a lob shot, allowing a bit more time to hit the fifth shot drop over the third shot. This is also easier to execute indoors with the slower ball.
Preparation is key for a quality third shot. If you force the shot or rush through, it can create issues coming forward. Getting your weight behind the ball and your paddle in front of you allows for better opportunities to execute the shot. Taking the time to hit the ball and follow it forward will be worth it.
If you’re looking for a shorter return to allow a more offensive third shot drive, take the time to practice deep serves to set yourself up for the opportunity.
Five-time National Pickleball Champion Sarah Ansbouryis Education Consultant and Lead Clinician for Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) as well as a 5.5 tennis player and former NCAA women’s tennis coach. She is a two-time US Open Pickleball Champion and a sponsored HEAD Pro Player. Sarah is currently the Touring Professional and Director of Pickleball Instruction at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC.