Pickleball Tips: Third Shot Drives & Drops


Each pickleball point generally follows a particular sequence, which goes as follows: (1) a player serves the pickleball for the first shot; (2) an opponent returns the serve for the second shot; and (3) the serving team either drives the pickleball or drops the pickleball for the third shot. A drive will be a fast, hard shot, while a drop will be a soft shot—kind of like a long dink—that is designed to land in your opponents’ side of the Kitchen. The goal with the third shot is to neutralize your opponents and help you and your partner get from the baseline all the way to the Kitchen line, as most points are won there.

The decision on your shot selection—whether to hit a third shot drive or a third shot drop—may come down to your individual style of pickleball play, your strengths as a pickleball player, and the effectiveness of the shot against your particular opponents. However, there are a few scenarios where one is likely more effective than the other. For instance, if your opponents hit a short return that has a high bounce, or you are off balance, consider driving the third shot at your opponents. Also, if you are more comfortable with your drive, consider hitting a drive as a third shot, which will oftentimes set you up for an easier drop on your fifth shot. But, if your opponents hit a return that stays low or keeps you back in the pickleball court, consider hitting a third shot drop, as your drive may be less effective in those circumstances.

Whether you are hitting a third shot drive or third shot drop, there are a few keys to success:

1. Stay back after you serve. Remember, the sport of pickleball has a two-bounce rule, meaning that the serve and the return of serve must bounce. So, it is important to stay back at the baseline and allow the return of serve to bounce.

Plus, to hit the best shot possible, you want to hit any shot out in front of your body. By staying back at the baseline, you will follow the rules, as well as prepare yourself for the best shot possible.

2. Split step right before your opponents hit the return. This will help you get into your ready position, in a compressed, athletic stance, with your paddle out in front of your body.

3. Move your feet into your shot and stay low. You can’t expect the pickleball to come to you, so it is important that you take a lot of little steps toward the pickleball and position yourself so that you make contact out in front of your body.

Also, most players have better forehands than backhands, so you may want to try hitting more forehand third shots than backhand third shots. But, with that said, it is important to be able to hit both effectively.

4. Pickleball is a compact game, so it is important to be compact yourself. This means taking short backswings. But, that does not mean you stop at contact. It is important to hit through the pickleball at the point of contact and finish your paddle swing. So, remember to take short backswings, hit through contact, and finish your paddle swing.

5. After you finish your paddle swing, move in to the Kitchen line as much as possible. Remember, most points are won there, so it is important to take ground when you hit a quality third shot. If not, hang tight and be ready to play defense, and hopefully your fifth shot will help you get to the Kitchen line.

When it comes to placement of your third shot drive or third shot drop, consider targeting:

1. Your opponents’ backhands (which are usually their weaker sides);

2. The middle of the pickleball court (which gives you margin for error); and

3. The person that hit the return of serve (as that person is on the move making it more difficult for him/her to hit your shot).

Also, if you decide to hit a drop as your third shot, consider going crosscourt, which will give you the most margin for error, as your shot will go over the lowest part of the pickleball net in the middle of the court.

The third shot is one of the most important, yet one of the most difficult shots, to master in the game of pickleball. One of the best things you can do to help your pickleball game is to go out there and practice your third shot. If you can master the third shot, you will certainly put you and your partner in a position to get the Kitchen line and win more points.

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