At this point, it’s easier to choose between Messi and Ronaldo, but when the ball bounced the second time on the court–anxiety, stress, and indecisiveness–all hit the mind with full pressure, asking you just one question: Third Shot Drop or Drive? And guess what? None of them seems easier at first. This is where 70% of the team’s lost their matches.
A well-executed third shot secures a win and puts you in a better position to carry out the rally. This is, for the right reason, called the most crucial shots of pickleball, for which you need the right mindset, work out the strategy, and practice. All of it follows a long list of questions, i.e., if drops, then why? If drive, then why? Which one is important, and how to utilize your third shot appropriately? It’s not luck that you’ll find all your answers in this article. Let’s dive.
Pickleball 3rd Shot: Drop or Drive? Which one is better?
Drop shot. Hands down. Pickleball’s third shot drop has a 77% winning percentage, and drive is nowhere close to the lethality and effectiveness that the drop shot has. In fact, Wayne Dollard, Founder of Level-Up Pickleball Camps, regards the term as a third shot to third shot drop, inheriting the drop shot its permanent third place.
However, there are situations where the drop shot doesn’t serve the purpose well, or the situation isn’t favorable, i.e., the opponents send a short return, you’re on a shake-and-bake strategy, and so forth. In these circumstances, you can better position yourself with a drive shot. However, these are significantly less likely in pickleball. Almost 90 percent of the time, the return is a long serve because the ball needs to be bounced twice, so a player usually aims a longer distance.
- Drop serve: slow down the game.
- Drive serve: fasten the game.
Conclusively, it’s your choice to go with either. If utilized correctly, both third-shot drop and drive will empower you against your opponent. Despite that, you don’t want to risk your position with a hard drive. So, apparently, you got a Drop shot as your winner for the third shot. So, before climbing to the top, let’s start from scratch for a clear understanding.
What is 3rd shot drop?
It may sound spooky, but a third-shot drop is exactly what it says: drop shots on the third shot. Here’s a little reminder of a drop shot. A drop shot is a soft shot hit at the arc from the baseline to the kitchen on the opposite side of the court. Simply put, the shot dropped in the kitchen is the drop shot.
Seems easy, right? It does, but a drop shot and a “THIRD” shot drop are different, and that’s where the trouble begins. The third shot is dropped from the baseline to the opponent’s kitchen. Now, that distance from the baseline to the NVZ is a real challenger, which makes most of the players actually drop the drop shot from their arsenal.
This is because the distance from the baseline to the kitchen on the other side is approx 28-30 feet. Plus, you need to pass the ball over the net, and all of it requires a slow pace. Very tricky and an absolute nightmare.
I’ve spoken to Prem Carnot, one of the best coaches of pickleball in the USA, and he told me he consulted why players don’t hit a drop shot on the third, and they say to him: We’re afraid we might end up hitting the ball in the nets or not cover the required distance”.
Why is the third shot drop so significant?
The more complex the third shot drop is, the more crucial it has become in pickleball. Why? Well, everything that has worth doesn’t come easy, and the same applies here. In return, the technicalities of a third shot drop provide a secure position to the serving team.
Let’s picture the game.
You’re playing doubles with 4 of the players at their baseline, and you’re the serving team.
- Your team: serve the ball with a bounce and stay at the baseline.
- Opponents: return the serve with a basic bounce and no topspin.
“Now, your third shot should be one that takes you from baseline to the NVZ line.”
Let’s put three shots:
- Drive: a high-paced ball that will give the opponent an opportunity to drive you back harder or play a volley that you’ll probably miss. This is because you won’t have much time to march toward the NVZ and have the ball live in play.
- Dink: the ball requires enough pace to land in the opponent’s court. However, the chances of faults are higher because of the distance. Plus, the opponent will still have room to send you a lob or a topspin that you couldn’t return effectively. All in all, dink on the third shot is a feeble shot selection and instantly gives off your position to your opponent.
- Lob: only helpful if your opponents are in the transition area, and almost 95% time, they’d not. Because a lob reaches them exactly in their best position, they can dominate the court with their strategies and limit your options to play defensively.
Now comes the “Drop Shot.”
You’ll hit the shot soft, which goes over the net and lands in the kitchen. The benefits it’ll give you are:
- Spare you the time to march towards the NVZ.
- Doesn’t allow your opponent to send you anything else other than a dink.
- Once the opponent sends you dink, and you’re at the non-volley line, you can execute the 5th shot more competent. And that’s where you start to dominate the game.
These were the front-faced benefits. A third drop shot has a lot more to offer if you dig deeper. In pickleball, scoring isn’t what wins you the rally. It’s “not making faults.” Now, when you’re the serving team, the opponents will try their best to take that from you by making you commit a fault. A drop shot is a defensive shot that will balance your position on the NVZ and make the game predictable for you. Besides, it also slows down the speed, making you the one who can either fasten or slow down the rally, depending on your own playing style. And this is how you’ll win.
Amid the importance of a third shot drop, let’s not forget…
How to execute the third shot drop properly?
You can decide you want the third shot to execute after the double bounce and still not make it. Reason? There’s a lot of pressure, and the odds are scary. Let beginners aside. I saw the intermediate struggle to place a fine third-shot drop and get frustrated.
Let me teach you.
Focus on three things: aim high, swing the ball, and hit softly.
- Taking the first: swing. Just as simple as you can. There’s no need to put a spin or roll on the ball, which most players tend to do to make the shot more lethal. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’ll only make your shot worst for you.
- Second: adopt an easier grip. Don’t hold the paddle too tight or too loose. You’ll be out of balance otherwise. And remember, balance is the most important thing. Your legs should be shoulder-feet apart, and your body should be relaxed.
- Third, aim high. And I bet this could have been your missing element. You need to lift the ball up and then let it drop. This phenomenon takes your mind focus on the opponent’s kitchen as this is your destination. Erase this. Don’t even look at the kitchen. Instead, make an imagination.
Suppose you’re on the basketball court, and the goal is 6ft high. The odds are the same, but you’re 15ft away from the net post, and instead of the basketball, you have a pickleball paddle and a whiffle ball. Now, give your shot.
Work on your 15 feet distance from baseline to the net, and gravity will take care of the rest. The ball, as intended, will go high to the net and then drop down near the net.
Possible mistakes you can make:
Things will go wrong at the start often, but you’ll get it once your approach is correct. The most common mistake you’d be making when executing the drop shot is either hitting the ball in the balls or too high that it doesn’t land in the kitchen.
Both mistakes happen when you aim at the kitchen instead of the ball’s flight. You either hit the ball too soft or too hard. I get it, and you don’t need to be perfect at the start. In fact, I still hit the ball beyond the NVZ and bore my opponent’s hard drive. Mistakes are a part of the game, but when they become your regular pattern, it becomes a wrong approach. This is the point when you need to do some work and overcome the mistake.
When you focus on the height, you’ll work on the distance and speed, which will help you place the ball at a regular speed, pass the nets, and be in the kitchen. If you can’t decide the pace, hit the ball hard. Never, I repeat, never settle for an extremely low speed. The ball will go in the nets. Whereas, if there’s speed and pressure, the worst that will happen is the opponent sending you a drive—still safer than committing a fault straight away.
Last and most important, don’t run toward the net while executing the third shot drop. You’ll lose the balance, and it won’t turn out well. The ball will go in an intended direction, i.,e., either end up in your court or in the No Man’s Land of the opponent’s court. Play the shot first, and then march towards the nets.
When to play the third shot drop?
What’s the best time to play the third shot drop? Honestly, there isn’t any. It’s not about being the best. It’s about when to execute a drop shot.
A third shot is an ideal shot if you’re best in your dink rallies. A dink shot is similar to a drop shot at a longer distance, so if your dink game is strong, you can quickly nail the drop shot.
The second best situation to play the drop shot is when you’re at your baseline. Of course, I already spoke much about it above. And lastly, if you receive a backspin or a long serve, live your hero moment. Drop the shot and sign your win.
Practicing third shot drop with drills & tips:
The best way to practice third-shot drop is to practice dink. Start from the NVZ line and take steps back. Practice until you hit a perfect dink from the baseline and the ball lands in the NVZ. Stay consistent and work on your distance and speed.
You can also do dink drills and drop shot drills before the match to synchronize your mind and body with this specific shot. I suggest having a partner with you. The machine and manual practice get tedious and hectic, respectively. Remember, the nearer the ball lands to the net, the more effective it is.
It’s essential to master pickleball 3rd shot drop and execute it the right way, for the way it has become crucial. Be mentally prepared, study your situation, and plan a set of shots wisely. Your mind should be more active than your body. Only then you’ll head toward tournaments and improve your rankings while staying consistent at securing a spot among high-level pickleball players.
I hope you enjoyed the articles. For any comments and questions, use the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you. See ya!
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