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When to Drive or Drop Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court

Strategy & Technique Stacie Townsend 01-10-2022

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. On the other hand, 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 more effective than the other.

When to Hit a Drive as Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court

As noted above, if you have a strong drive, you may want to consider using the drive as your preferred third shot. This is especially true if your opponents have trouble with pace on the pickleball court.

A drive is also effective if your opponents hit a short return of serve—especially a short return of serve that has a high bounce. In this scenario, your third shot drive will be more effective because you will be closer to your opponents—leading to a drive that feels even faster to your opponents with even less time to react to the pickleball. However, beware of sailing your drive out of bounds in this scenario. It is easy to do so, as you will likely be moving in on the pickleball court and have less length on the pickleball court to place your drive. As a result, hitting your drive with top spin and/or 70% to 80% of your power will help keep the pickleball in the court.

When to Drive or Drop Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court | Pickler Pickleball

In these scenarios, you will be able to put pressure on your opponents with the pace on the pickleball. Your third shot drive will lead to a winner on the drive, set up a “Shake and Bake,” or lead to an easier fifth shot for you and your partner. If you do not hit a winner or set up the “Shake and Bake,” you will likely want to hit a drop as the fifth shot, which will help you complete the goal of getting from the baseline to the Kitchen line (because, as a reminder, most points are won there). In fact, this pattern of a third shot drive, followed by a fifth shot drop, is a common and effective pattern to move in to the Kitchen line.

Lastly, consider using a drive as your third shot if you are off balance. If you are off balance, it will be difficult to hit a quality drop shot and stay in the point. As a result, if you are off balance, it may be easier to execute a drive. However, consider hitting the drive at 70% to 80% to help you retain more control.

When to Hit a Drop as Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court

When deciding whether to hit a drop or drive as your third shot on the pickleball court, consider using a drop in the following circumstances:

  1. If you have a strong drop (as opposed to a drive), then use your drop as your third shot to move you and your partner into the Kitchen line. 
  1. Use a third shot drop if your opponents hit a return that stays low in terms of height on the pickleball court—for instance, when your opponents hit a return of serve with slice or backspin. It is difficult to drive a pickleball that is low because you need to hit up on the pickleball. As a result, consider using a drop when the pickleball stays low. 

When to Drive or Drop Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court | Pickler Pickleball

  1. Consider using a third shot drop if you are pushed back (but still have your balance) in the pickleball court on the return of serve from your opponents. If you are pushed back into the court (but you still have your balance), it will be difficult to generate pace and move forward through the pickleball in order to hit a drive. As a result, it may be easier to hit a third shot drop. But, beware that your drop may be more defensive (than offensive) because you will be so far back in the pickleball court. As a result, be wary of an aggressive fourth shot from your opponents and be prepared to hit a quality drop as a fifth shot in order to move you and your partner into the Kitchen line.

Other Third Shot Pickleball Tips

Whether you hit a third shot drive or third shot drop, try to communicate with your partner before the game or point starts on what your strategy is. This will help give your partner a heads up on what to expect, which will help him or her better prepare for the next shot.

To note, there is one other option on the third shot… a third shot lob. However, this shot has a much lower percentage of success and should be used sparingly and only under certain circumstances.

When to Drive or Drop Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court | Pickler Pickleball

Lastly, the third shot is considered the most important shot on the pickleball court. This is because this shot is critical in putting the serving team in a position to score a point by helping the serving team move from the baseline to the Kitchen line. Most points on the pickleball court are won from the Kitchen line, so it is important to get there quickly and then stay there. Since this third shot is so critical, it is important to practice and improve your skills in executing third shot drives, third shot drops, and maybe even from time to time, third shot lobs. If you spend time drilling just one shot on the pickleball court, make it this one.

When to Drive or Drop Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court | Pickler Pickleball

WANT MORE PICKLEBALL TIPS AND STRATEGIES?

Once you decide to hit a third shot drive or third shot drop, where should you hit your third shot? Learn the best places to hit your third shot.

Best Places to Hit Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court | Pickler Pickleball

Plus, if you want more pickleball tips and strategies on every aspect of your pickleball game, check out Pickler’s online video lesson collection called My Pro Pickleball Coach. My Pro Pickleball Coach is a fraction of the price of one clinic or even one lesson, and features over 140 video lessons (over 7 hours of instruction!), as well as a corresponding e-book. These online video lessons are available on demand 24/7 and breakdown every aspect of the sport of pickleball, including pickleball drills, strategy, and advanced concepts, so you will play your best pickleball.

Online Pickleball Video Lessons | Pickler Pickleball

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