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Pickleball Third Shot Strategy – How to Dominate the Competition

Pickleball Third Shot Strategy

Your pickleball third shot strategy is so important because it sets up the remainder of the point.  It's the foundation to extending the point, evening the playing field with the serving team, and giving yourself a chance to win!

Good players always play the percentages, which means they hit a shot that is under control, and will keep them in the point. The third shot may be a drive, a lob, or a soft drop shot that usually lands in the kitchen. It is a “goldilocks shot” as in not too hard, and not too soft. It keeps you alive in the point, which is the main purpose of the third shot.

Remember, the objective in pickleball is to Get To The Net!  It is relatively easy for the returning team to get to the net, because their shot must bounce, and one player is already at the net.

The serving team must serve, let the return bounce, then hit the critical “Third Shot” and hopefully get to the net. Every shot “arcs” through a window in which the top of the net is the bottom ledge (of the window) and the upper point of the arc is the top of the window. Unforced errors are usually hit too hard and too flat...through a small window, with little room for error. Think about this until you can dominate at the net.  Essentially, the high point of a good third shot drop should be on your side of the net, so by the time it gets over the net, it's coming back down.  It should never still be going up when coming over to your opponent.  If it is, get ready for the ball to be blasted back at you!  This skill is not easy, and takes lots of practice!

Video Source: Pickleball Channel

The Four Phases to Winning a Point in Pickleball

Good players know that most points go through four phases:


Phase 1 - The Serve and The Return - 

Never ever miss a serve or a return of serve.  Never.  It's that simple.  If you loose one of those parts of the point, the match never get's off the ground and you're stuck rotating from one loosing round to another.


Phase 2 - The Third Shot - 

The serving team is playing catch up so to speak and must get to the net and keep the point alive.  How you hit this shot, will essentially dictate where the point goes from here.  You either even the playing field or are stuck playing from behind.  That's why the third shot is so important.  A well placed third shot dink allows you to get into phase 3 and phase 4.


Phase 3 - The Dink Game - 

The Dink Game begins when the serving team lands a good third shot. This effectively initiatites a game of patience and finesse.  Four players at the net (if you're playing doubles), all trying to dink the opponent out of position.  Let the fast and furious begin!


Phase 4 - The Fast & Furious Game - 

The final phase to a point in pickleball is the "Fast Game."  This is where the action at the net is at a frantic pace.  All four players (if playing doubles) are dinking and dunking with soft (or hard) shots hanging low over the net, and landing in the kitchen.  It all comes to a crashing halt when one player hits it a little too high, effectively ending the round of low finesse shots and basically invites the opposing team to tee up on the ball - ending the point.

That's why the third shot is so important. A well placed third shot dink allows you to get into phase 3 and phase 4.

pickleball third shot strategy

Why Your Pickleball Third Shot Strategy is so Crucial

Most points in pickleball are lost - as in the ball is hit out of bounds, or dies in the net etc.  Basically, what we're saying is "mistakes" are the main reason why a point is made.  Rarely do we see an offensive shot so unstoppable that it's earning points left and right.  That's for the movies.  This is pickleball.  A game where the fate of each point generally lies in the strategy used during the third shot. That's why it's so important to hit the third shot well, keep it in play, don't screw up and set yourself up for the "dink" game.  Keep it in play, be consistent, and let your opponent make the mistake.  The best players use this strategy, stay steady, and they win a lot of points.

Newer players tend to make mistakes.  4.0 and 5.0 players consistently do the following during their third shot:

  • Extend the Point
  • Get to the Net
  • Dink patiently until their opponent makes an error
  • Take advantage of that error until they can secure and end the point

What Does a Good Third Shot Look Like?

Most players hit hard when they should soft, and soft when they should hit hard!     -Joe Baker Pickleball Pro

Pickleball Third Shot Strategy can take many forms.  However, we've put together a simple list of what to incorporate and practice when looking to improve your third shot and win more points:

  • Most points are lost due to a misuse of power
  • You have power and control...choose wisely
  • ​Hit soft if you are hitting up on the ball
  • It's ​ok to hit hard if you are hitting down on the ball
  • ​Always get into the "ready" position
  • Hit to your opponent's backhand as often as you can
  • ​Play the percentages - hit a shot you can control and make over and over again
  • ​Practice the dinking game, so you have the skill and patience to stay with it
  • Remember to ARC your shot so that the high point of it’s arc is on your side of the net - This is the "Third Shot Drop"
  • Practice the Third Shot Drop so that the ball lands perfectly in the kitchen - Practice makes perfect

Breaking Down the Third Shot Drop

Video Source: Pickleball Channel

​We put the last two bullet points above in bold for a reason.  The Third Shot Drop can be a devastating third shot strategy - if you can pull it off properly.  It's an advanced shot that take hours and hours of practice.  In it's most basic form, the third shot drop is a "soft" shot that is intended to land in the kitchen and ideally, stay there.  Spin is not necessary for the third shot drop to be effective. However, it must have proper arc.  When done correctly, the apex of your shot's arc must be on YOUR SIDE OF THE NET!  This means, when the ball is traveling over the net, it is on it's way down from it's high to low position.  This is crucial. Here's why: if the ball is hit too high or too hard and the apex of the arc is on your opponent's side, they'll tee off on you.  You basically lobbed them a softball and are asking for it to be smashed back at you.  This is why the game of pickleball for advanced players becomes more of a game of finesse versus a game of power. It becomes a chess match of who can out-finesse who.  Keep that drop shot low, so it creeps over the net and dies!  Your opponent's chances to smash it back at you will die with it!

Video Source: Third Shot Sports

The next time you're out on the court, keep track of your unforced errors.  Once you begin to recognize them and reduce them, you'll probably find yourself making fewer of them!

Thanks for reading our post on pickleball third shot strategy and what it takes to execute at the net.  We hope this article has helped you in some way shape or form.  Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments section below.  We'd love to hear about how your latest round went.  What went well? What did you struggle with?​  

For more tips and strategies, check out our 25 Pickleball Strategies for Beginners.​

Check out more of strategy related articles here on our Strategy Page.

For more resources for mastering the third short drop, check these sites out these sites:

​Third Shot Sports

Pickleball Channel​

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