3 Ball Pickleball Drill: 1-2-3 Drill

In recent weeks we have reviewed the serve and the return of serve.  Today we add the third shot, bringing it all together with the 3 ball or 1-2-3 drill.

keys to better pickleball


With your practice partner, you are going to practice the 1-2-3 drill hitting cross court shots.  Partner A will begin by hitting a deep serve to the spot or target they have chosen.  Partner B returns the serve, again attempting to hit the ball deep to a target on the side occupied by the server.  To get the most out of this drill, be mindful and intentional with each shot.  Just as when you are playing a game your full attention should be on the shot you are currently executing.

After Partner B returns the serve, he or she should move quickly to the non-volley zone, just as they would in a game.  Partner A now has two options, drop (cross court) or drive.  Regardless of the shot chosen, attempt to hit a specific target.

Drop or Drive

The third shot you choose to hit often is a result of the return of serve.  If the return of serve is very deep and penetrating, you may not feel you have enough confidence to hit a third shot drop drillin that situation.  So it may make more sense to hit a drive.  Your best option may be to hit directly at Partner A or down the center of the court.   The goal, in this case, is to hit a quality shot low over the net, which sets you up to hit an effective drop shot next.

If the return of serve is weaker and shorter, you would likely want to hit the third shot drop allowing you and your partner to proceed to the non-volley zone line.  But again, choose a specific target.  Perhaps place a towel on the court, and see how many times you can hit the ball so it bounces on the towel.


After hitting the third shot, you partner is going to catch the ball.  Then begin the 1-2-3 drill again, however, this time, Partner B will serve first, Partner A will return serve and Partner B will hit the third shot.  The important thing is to remain intentional on each and every shot.  As you hit each shot, try to be conscious of your balance and the proper weight transfer into the ball.  Remember: back foot…front foot…contact the ball.

1-2-3 Variation

A variation of the 1-2-3 drill is to continue for seven shots .  The goal is for you and your practice partner to hit 7 quality shots, starting with the serve, and then catch the ball and begin again.  It requires control to hit a ball so that it can be returned, yet offers your partner the opportunity to practice as if playing a real point.  Be intentional and pick a target each and every time you make contact with the ball.  Be conscious of the times you are able to hit a third shot drop, and the times when it makes more sense to drive.  As we have discussed before 20 minutes of mindful, purposeful practice is more beneficial than 120 minutes of simply whacking the ball about.


5 thoughts on “3 Ball Pickleball Drill: 1-2-3 Drill

  1. For targets I like to use a poly spot or maybe use some chalk to draw the targets. You can continue to play safely and the targets won’t interfere with your footwork.

  2. Thank you so much Sarah for all your valuable advice! You are my Hero! We met in Kelowna at Nationals and just never got to do it he photo. You did one with Dale Klaasen. I hope someday we can bring you to Vancouver Canada for your clinics. Happy Sunday!
    Adele Cloete.

  3. Thanks Sarah, such great stuff!! hey played my second tournament since your bootcamp in July. I have to say, there are so many things that are different about my play. All the great things you taught at bootcamp really made a difference. will keep working onthings, so appreciate your reminders. thanks a bunch

  4. Question on a different subject: how may I improve my mental focus, not feel empathy for opposing team, so that I may win more, if qualified?

    1. Have you read my Ebook on being a better partner. It is all about mental focus and learning to compete. Sorry about the shameless promotion, but it can’t be answered in a few sentences.

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