The more you play pickleball, the more you’ll hear that the third shot drop is the most important shot in the game. It’s also probably the hardest shot in the game, especially for new players. As I began my journey in pickleball over six years ago, I started devouring any and all info around this shot I could get my hands on. I even asked coaches and players better than me for tips on improving my third shot drop.
The easiest way any beginner can improve their third shot drop in 5 simple steps is to take very little backswing, have proper footwork, hit the ball out in front of you, swing low to high, and keep the apex of the ball on your side of the net.
These may sound like generic tips but they are the absolute bare bones essentials to an effective drop shot in pickleball. So, if you’re a beginner, and you’re finding it challenging to get consistency on your third shot drop, then this article is for you!
I’ll break down each of these 5 tips in more detail below and also give you 3 additional tips on things to NOT do. “Do’s” and “don’ts” are sometimes the best way to learn proper technique.
Let’s break it down!
Before we get into the simple steps to improve your third shot drop, lets revisit what this shot is and what the goal of it is.
So, what is the third shot drop in pickleball?
The third shot drop in the game of pickleball is usually done by the serving team, after the serve and return of serve, and is meant to be a soft shot that forces your opponent to have to hit up on the ball and give the serving team time to get to the no-volley zone line.
Notice that I didn’t say that the drop shot is meant to land in the kitchen. This is a common misconception, especially for beginners.
The goal of the third shot drop is to not land exclusively in the kitchen but to force your opponent to have to get under the ball and hit up on it. This gives you the chance to attack their ball, and potentially win the point.
So, if your third shot drop doesn’t exactly land in kitchen, that’s ok. The goal is force a groundstroke that requires your opponent to have to pop it up. Giving you an “attackable ball.”
If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend the Prince Response Pro. This paddle has the biggest sweet spot I’ve ever experienced and really helped improve my accuracy both at the baseline and at the net. It’s worth every penny!
Now let’s get into my 5 tips that can quickly give you a better drop shot. These are easy tips, designed for beginners to be able to understand, implement and execute them immediately.
My first tip revolves around proper technique. Many beginners approach the drop shot like any other shot from the baseline and take a backswing. This is incorrect, and a common misunderstanding. Instead, picture it as more of a “block” type of shot and take little to no backswing.
Keep your paddle parallel with your hips, if you need to take the paddle slightly backward that is fine. But avoid taking your paddle hand too far back behind your hip.
Why this is important:
If you take an aggressive backswing, it becomes way more difficult to control the ball and get it to land where you want it. In short, with a backswing, your accuracy will suffer.
Instead, keep your paddle face slightly open, and use the speed of the ball coming at you to rebound it back over with just a little backswing. Remember, the more you treat this shot like a defensive “block” instead of an offensive “attack” type of shot, the more you’ll get control over the ball.
Footwork is especially important in any and all racquet or paddle sports. Pickleball is no exception. And in my opinon the two shots in the game of pickleball that require the most attention to footwork are the drop shot and the dink at the net.
In fact, many coaches teach the third shot drop as if it were a longer type of dink. And they’d be correct.
To hit a consistent drop shot start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart so that you can move laterally depending on where the ball is hit at you. Then, as the ball is coming at you begin to position yourself in front of the ball with one foot back and one foot forward so that you’re making contact with the ball in front of your paddle.
It’s also important to transfer your weight and momentum from your back foot to your front foot.
Why this is important:
You’re footwork is what allows you to be in a good position or a bad position to hit the third shot drop. If you’re hitting this shot off your back foot or even worse, backing up, then you’re out of position and your footwork setting you up for the shot was flawed.
That’s why staying wide at first is crucial. This is what allows you to quickly slide left or right so that you can stay in front of the ball and transtion into your “block” swing technique. If you’re falling back during the shot, it becomes really hard to get the precise amound of power behind it.
Additionally, if you’re reaching with your paddle to make contact with the ball, then you’re not in front of ball. And this will make dropping it back over the net softly, next to impossible.
If you’ve got proper footwork like I just outlined, then by default, you’ll be in the ideal position to hit the ball out in front of you.
Hitting the ball out in front of you means you’re making contact with the ball about 12 to 16 inches out in front of your body.
Why this is important:
Hitting the ball about 12 inches in front of you is so crucial for generating power and maintaining accuracy. If you’re hitting the ball parallel to your hips or behind you, both power and accuracy suffer considerably.
Try it with a partner. Hit the ball parallel with your waist or behind you a few times versus out in front of you. You’ll instantely see the difference in accuracy, I gaurantee it.
The type of swing path needed for the drop shot is one that should be low to high. Meaning that your paddle will start low towards the court and finish up above your waist line. This is what is required to give the ball that “low to high” trajectory that is needed.
Swing upward towards your target but be careful to not finish too high on your follow through. This will keep the ball up too long and give you’re opponent the chance to tee up on it before it comes down.
Why this is important:
When done properly, a low to high swing pattern will give the ball the necessary trajectory it needs to be high on your side but falling on your opponent’s side. A level swing just won’t get you enough height on the ball. This is a perfect segway to my final tip…
The perfect third shot drop is one where the ball is at its highest (the apex) on your side of the net, at about your kitchen line (give or take 8 inches) and then begins to decend quickly towards the court as it reachs the net.
From here, the ball should be over the net and quickly plummeting downwards towards either the opponent’s kitchen line or their feet.
Why this is important:
If you’ve got too much power behind it (again no backswing necessary), then the ball will still be rising up by the time if reach your opponent’s side. This is the worst scenario possible because you’ve just lobbed an attackable ball to them that they can put away.
But, if the ball is already significantly on its downward trajectory by the time it crosses over the net and lands in the opposite kitchen area, then your opponents have no way to attack it and consequently, must hit up on the ball giving you an attackable ball!
Before we go any further, let me give you a few examples of what not to do. Sometimes, avoiding minor techniqe errors can make all the difference in the world when trying to find consistency to your drop shot.
Many beginners try to hit drop shot with a little flick in their wrist. Don’t do this! This can be deadly for maintaining power and accuracy.
Instead, keep your wrist steady and let your shoulders do the work. This will allow you to accurately hit the sweet spot on your paddle (the center) and with just the right amount of power.
Having the proper grip tightness is absolutely critical for any finesse type of shot like this. Gripping it too tight will inhibit your ability to take pace off the ball and slow it down. Releasing your grip a little will give you more touch and feel for the shot.
Conversely, if you grip the paddle too lose, the ball will just die on your paddle instead of popping off of it. So, finding a happy medium when it comes to grip stength is important.
The third shot drop is the most important shot in the game of pickkeball because it gives the serving team time to advance to the net or kitchen line and it forces the return team to have to hit up on the ball, giving the serving team a ball they can then attack!
The third shot drop is so important in a game of pickleball because it gives the serving team time! Because the return team is allowed to get to the net sooner due to the two-bounce rule, when the third shot is a drop shot, it allows the serving team time to make progress and get to the net.
Sometimes, if executed properly, the third shot drop can give the serving team all the time they need to hustle up to the kitchen line.
Other times, it only allows the serving team to advance to the net slightly. But that’s ok.
In short, the third shot drop is the great equalizer shot for the serving team.
The third shot drop is also important because it forces the return team to have to hit up on the ball. Any good drop shot requires the other team to have to get under the ball and hit up.
If you can do this, you’re setting yourself up for an “attackable” ball. This is where the ball hit at you, is high, allowing you to come down on it. This is an attackable ball. And that’s what you want in pickleball.
The best time to attempt a third shot drop during a game of pickleball is after your opponent has hit a deep return of serve back at you and is charging towards the net.
Also, its called the “third shot drop” because it represents the third shot in the game. The serve is shot #1, and the return of serve is shot #2. Both shots must bounce.
A good drop shot at this point in the game will force a third groundstroke even when the rules don’t require it.
In reality, a drop shot is always a good shot during a game becasuse it sets you up for a ball you can get aggreseive on (aka an attackable ball). In fact, sometimes you’ll see the 5th shot be a drop shot or even the 7th shot be a drop shot.
Another advanced technique you’ll see pros use a drop shot for is when they see their opponent aggressivelty charging the net. This person becomes their target for a well times drop shot.
A player quickly moving forward towards the net, can be great target practice for a well timed drop shot, regardless of whether its shot #3 in the game or shot #7. This is because it forces the player who is charging towards the net to have to alter their course and or adapt to the ball that landed at their feet.
Chances are, their momentum from charging the net has them out of postion to hit a solid return or forces them to have to awkwardly hit the ball back with bad technique and form. Both scenarios can mean disaster for the team trying to hit the drop shot back.
The drop shot is not an aggressive shot. Its not fast, it doesnt have insane amounts of spin. Its boring. But deadly.
Like I mentioned above, most people think the goal of the third shot drop is to aim for the kitchen so that the ball lands in their opponent’s no-volley zone. Heck, some people think that the closer your drop shot lands to net, the better!
Trying to drop your third shot just beyond the net into the kitchen area can lead to many potential errors. Sure, dropping the shot just beyond the net so that it lands perfectly and dies, sounds amazing but it rarely happens. Even pros don’t attempt it.
This is not the ideal strategy. Trust me. Thee are just too many opportuities to mess up and commit an error like hitting it into the net or hitting it too high.
The best place to aim your third shot drop is always cross court, somewhere around the kitchen “line”. If it lands just beyond it, but requires a low to high groundstroke return, then you’ve successfully accomplished a third shot drop!
Aother great spot to aim for is at the feet of the opponent who is the furthest back. This strategy keeps them back, and gives you more time to advance to the net. If this players is also moving forward towards the net, all the better! Returning a well placed drop shot while running towards the net is difficult!
Forcing your opponent to have to hit difficult shots back over the net is always a great strategy in pickleball no matter where you’re at in the point.
As you get more proficient, other experts will say to hit it down the middle (instead of cross court) or down the sidelines. These types of drop shots will take more practrice however. So be patient.
My hope is that if you’re a beginner, and struggling to find consistentcy with your third shot drop, then this article has broken the shot down for you into simple, digstable parts to work on so you can see quick improvement.
The drop shot as a whole is the most important shot in the game of pickleball but its also the hardest shot to master. These 5 tips I outlined above as well as the 2 errors to avoid should help accelerate your development.
Grabbing a partner and drilling these techniques into your muscle memory is always a great idea! Good luck!