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pickleball third drop shot

Pickleball Third Drop Shot - How to Get Better

If you’ve played pickleball before, you’ve probably heard of the third shot drop. Maybe you’ve tried to execute it in the past, with frustrating results. 

The Pickleball third shot drop is a must-know technique. Adding it to your repertoire will help you move on to more serious matches, and is especially important if you want to join tournaments. 

In this article, we’ll explain why the shot is so essential to learn, and how you can improve it to become a better player!

Note that this article is for players already familiar with pickleball and its terminology. Need a refresher on the rules of pickleball first? Check out our post that gives some background on pickleball and its rules here.

What exactly is the Pickleball 3rd Shot Drop?

Before we give you some tips on mastering this move, we should explain what it is. 

It’s actually exactly what it sounds like: It’s a drop shot that follows the serve and return serve, which is where the ‘third’ comes from.

With a third shot drop, your goal is to arch the ball up near the baseline, then gently land it in the opponent’s kitchen. 

In doing so, you’ll bring the game closer to the net and even out the odds of winning the rally.

While it may sound simple, performing the move can be a real challenge, especially for newer players. Let’s examine why it’s so critical to learn this particular shot. 

What Makes it Important?

Controlling the net is crucial in a game of pickleball; in doing so, you'll be able to control the pace of the game and have a higher chance of winning each rally.

If you’re on the serving team, a well-done third shot drop can quickly turn the tide of a rally. It’ll move your team closer to the net to meet the defending team.

Also, because the ball drops slowly, your opponent won’t have a chance to smash it over. They’ll be forced to dink it instead, letting you move closer to the net and get in a better position to control the rally. 

These two benefits will even out the chances of your team winning the rally. 

When Should You Use the Pickleball Third Shot Drop?

Like we mentioned earlier, the serving team is the one that initiates a third shot drop.  

But why does a third shot benefit you when you’re serving?

Well, in general, the defending team has a big advantage because they stand close to the kitchen line and are already positioned for anything.

But as the serving team, you sit at the back near the baseline and have fewer options to play. If you just lob the ball over the net, your opponents can just smash it back. They can also block a straight drive into the kitchen. 

When you need to shake things up a bit and even the odds, the third shot drop is a great option.

However, keep in mind that it’s not a move that should be used in every situation. It’s best to use it when the defending team is at the kitchen line. 

If the serve is short or too high, you’re better off smacking the ball back over instead.

How to Improve Your Third Shot Drop

This is arguably one of the most difficult shots to perform in pickleball, so it’s important to manage your expectations.

With enough practice and the right technique, you can master it, but it can take months and will be frustrating at times.

The first thing to remember is that a drop shot is intended to slow down the game by softly landing in the kitchen. A third shot drop is almost always done at/near the baseline. 

Let’s break down this shot into 5 steps to make things easier:

1. Your Position

Before executing the shot, bend your knees properly so you can swing upward, under the ball. You’ll also want to have a neutral grip on your paddle.

2.  Aiming

When you aim the shot, there’s one key thing to remember: You’re not aiming for the kitchen. Instead, you’ll want to aim for the apex of the ball’s flight path. If you do it right, the ball will land in the kitchen regardless.

To aim for the apex, imagine a target halfway between the landing spot (for the ball) and yourself. Then, picture that spot being 5-6 feet higher or lower (depending on your goal) and hit the ball in that direction.

To make it simple, you can imagine someone who’s six feet tall standing at the kitchen line; you’d be aiming for their head. 

3. Keep the Swing Short

Remember that a short swing will keep your timing in check, while a long swing will do the opposite. 

Don’t complicate it by changing your swing in any way – you can keep the same technique you use for any other swing.

Just make sure your grip is neutral, that you hit the ball about 3 inches above the net. Finish the swing with your paddle pointed toward your target landing spot. 

4. Perfecting the Shot

Third shot drops are challenging, sometimes even for advanced players. When you’re working on this shot, you’ll have to try and fail repeatedly before getting comfortable with it.

Here are a few simple tips to improve your third shot drop:

  • Don’t run to the kitchen while hitting the shot all at once. Hit the ball first, then move forward.
  • Don’t be afraid to hit the ball too hard; just make sure you get it over the net. 
  • If you’re hitting the ball too high, make sure you’re not aiming for the kitchen, but rather for the apex of the ball’s target flight path. 

5. Practice Makes Perfect

Just reading this article isn’t going to help you get the perfect 3rd shot drop. You need to practice it to get better.

To do so, have your partner stand at the kitchen line while you stay at the baseline. Have them hit a shot to you, then practice the move. Your partner will be able to tell you if the ball landed in the right spot, and if not, how to adjust.

The 3rd Shot Drop in a Nutshell

Knowing how to execute a third shot drop is crucial. It’s not easy to learn, but if you want to be taken seriously as a player or move onto higher levels, it’ll be worth it.

You can practice it as a dink. Start by dinking the ball close to the net, then slowly move back a few steps until you’re doing the move at the baseline. From here, the third shot drop is essentially a long-distance dink. 

Don’t forget to aim your shot to the high point of the ball’s arc! 

It’ll take time to master, but with enough practice and time, you’ll get the hang of it.

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