Third shot drop…..or not

Lets talk about the third shot drop.  There’s no doubt that practice makes perfect, and this shot definitely requires practice.   Hitting ten or twelve third shot drops in warm up is helpful, but can’t really be considered practice.  To become proficient at this shot you have to work on it outside of a game situation, over and over.  Not just today, but often.

You have to get the feel for how hard to hit the ball so that it actually starts dropping before it clears the net and descends into the opposite kitchen.  All this, while not hitting it too high, thus allowing your opponent to attack it as volley .  There are so many variables to this shot and only repetition will make it one you are comfortable using.

But first, lets answer a few questions.  Who? 

WHO hits the third shot drop?  Answer:  The serving team.  The third shot is the first return shot the serving team gets to hit once it is returned by the receivers.

WHY hit a third shot drop in the first place?  Answer:  To limit what your opponent can do with their next shot and to help you get to the kitchen line.

Picture yourself as the serving team.  You have served the ball and your opponent has returned it deep into your back court.  You have to let the ball bounce before hitting it (two bounce rule), while your opponents are charging up to the kitchen line.  You are still in the back court, but you want to get up to the kitchen line as well.

Is your first reaction to hit a blistering drive shot, hoping to blow it right past them?  This might work if you’re playing weaker opponents and catch them off guard or if your opponent has left a huge hole for you to hit through, but better players will be in their best offensive position at the kitchen line and will be ready to easily block a hard shot.  There’s a good chance that your opponent’s next shot will immediately put you on the defense, keeping you in the back court or hitting an angle that you cannot react to fast enough.  Remember, the harder you hit the ball at them, the faster it comes back at you.  Also remember your original goal…..to get to the kitchen line!

SOMETHING TO REMEMBER:  Not every shot should be hit with the intention of winning the rally.  A majority of your shots should be hit with the intention of setting up the winning shot.

Instead, try the “third shot drop shot.”  This shot is a soft, arcing shot that should be descending as it passes over the net, landing in the kitchen.  It takes a lot of practice, but a well placed third shot drop shot could give you a few extra seconds to get to the kitchen line, especially if your opponent has to let the ball bounce before they can hit it.  It might even cause them to have to reach for the ball, striking it from below the net, and therefore limiting their ability to hit an offensive or hard shot back at you.

WHY NOT hit a third shot drop?  The number one reason NOT to hit a drop shot is because one of your opponents is still at the baseline!  Hitting a drop shot will force your opponent to run forward in order to return your shot!  If they are back, keep them back!  A drive shot to the player in the back court will keep them from getting to the kitchen line, and will force them into a defensive position while you move up into your best offensive position, at the kitchen line!  Also remember, the non-receiving player  is usually already at the kitchen line when you serve.  So hitting your third shot deep to the player in the back court will cause your opponents to become split (one up and one back) which will create a significant gap for you to hit the winner through.

SOMETHING ELSE TO REMEMBER:  A majority of your shots should be hit with the intention of setting up the winning shot.

Practice for a third shot drop shot –

In order to hit a soft shot that crosses the net as it descends into the kitchen, you need to be able to hit it in an upwards direction to start. To do that, you must get your paddle under the ball.  We all know that the pickleball doesn’t bounce very high so that means you need to bend your knees to get lower.  Position yourself at the baseline with your practice partner standing across the net at the kitchen line.  Have your partner hit (or throw) balls that you can easily strike after one bounce.  Bend your knees, get your paddle under the ball and hit it as if you were lifting it.  The ball should rise with a gentle arc, then descend just over the net into the kitchen.  It will take some time to get the feel for how hard you have to hit the ball, but with lots of practice you will become better, and ultimately begin using it in your games.

Take this drill one step further.  Practice both the deep service return AND the third shot drop shot at the same time.  Start by serving the ball to your practice partner who will hit a deep return back to you.  Now you hit a third shot drop shot, and move quickly to the kitchen line.  If you can get there before your opponent strikes the ball again, you have hit a successful third shot drop shot!

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