As newer players work to develop their pickleball skills, they quickly learn the importance of the third shot drop. While one of the most important shots to learn, it is also among the most difficult.
Importance of Third Shot Drop
As you progress from the intermediate to advanced level it is important to master a third shot drop. Because it requires good technique and lots of practice, some players will give up on learning this all important shot. They may be able to win by banging the ball at weaker players, but will never find this is a winning strategy against stronger players that are set and can block the ball easily.
The reason this shot is so important is that pickleball is won or lost at the non-volley zone line. The team that is able to capture the line will typically control the point. An effective third shot drop hit by the serving team, (a shot that softly floats over the net landing in the non-volley zone) gives this team the opportunity to come to the net, neutralizing the advantage the receiving team has gained.
However, Not Your Only Option
While I certainly don’t want to discourage you from taking the time to learn and practice a reliable third shot drop, it is not your only option. Remember, the goal of the third shot drop is to give you and your partner time to get to the non-volley zone when the other team is already there. However, if your opponents are not yet all the way to the net your best bet is to keep them back. Hitting a hard, flat ball to the deeper player is always a good option. In fact, dropping it into the non-volley zone will actually give them time to come forward. When you can capture the net before your opponents, you have the advantage. Don’t invite them to join you! Keep them back.
Off a Short Return of Serve
The other time you might consider not hitting a third shot drop is off a shorter return of serve. First, as you dash forward to retrieve the short return your forward momentum makes it difficult to hit a soft ball that lands into the non-volley zone. Your tendency will be to pop the ball up or hit it past the baseline. In this case, driving the ball provides a change a pace your opponent may not expect and offers you an easier shot to execute.
If you play outdoors, you know that hitting a consistent third shot drop can be particularly challenging on a windy day. Again, it might be easier to drive the ball low and to the middle. While I prefer to drive to the center of the court I tend to hit a third shot drop more toward the sideline. While dropping in the corner limits the shot options of my opponent and may allow my partner to poach the next shot…this may be too risky on a windy day. You always need to play the percentages based on what is before you that day.
Hitting a Quality Shot
It is important to try to hit a quality shot each and every time. Often we rush through shots, trying to get ready for the next shot. If, instead, we had focused on hitting the best shot at that moment, we would have set ourselves up for a better next shot. If I am not in a good position to hit a quality third shot drop, I will drive the ball and work on getting into position for the next time it comes back over the net.
Always remember there is never a shot your have to hit every time you go out there… you always have options.