Should You Be Hitting a Third Shot Drive or Drop?


When I first stepped onto the pickleball court about a year ago, I thought power was everything. Little did I know, pickleball is not just a game of brute force, especially when playing against top-level players.

Luckily, I found myself in an incredible community of skilled players who generously shared their knowledge and expertise. It was during this time that I discovered the importance of the third shot drop. Watching the pros execute perfect third shot drops followed by powerful third shot drives, I became determined to master both shots in my own game.

The Third Shot Drop

The third shot drop is a shot or long dink performed near the baseline that softly lands in the opponent’s kitchen, also known as the non-volley zone. The primary objective of this shot is to buy your team time to reach or at least move towards the net.

The Third Shot Drive

On the other hand, the third shot drive is a more aggressive shot that aims to hit the ball harder, denying the opponent an easy drop shot. The goal is to force the opponent to hit a more challenging fourth shot, giving you a better opportunity to approach the kitchen safely.

Now, the question arises: which shot is better? Some players, often referred to as “bangers,” advocate for the drive, while others, known as “dinkers,” swear by the drop shot. From my personal experience, the answer depends on several factors:

1. Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When I first started playing pickleball, I lacked confidence in my ability to execute a reliable third shot drop. Rarely did I hit a drop shot that couldn’t be attacked by my opponents, often resulting in my shot landing in the net. In such cases, I played to my strengths and relied heavily on third shot drives.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, where your drop shot is weaker than your drive, it’s best to stick to your strengths while practicing and gradually build confidence in both shots.

However, once you become proficient in both shots, there are additional factors to consider.

2. Your Opponent’s Strengths and Weaknesses

This factor is quite self-explanatory, but allow me to illustrate with my own experience. When I first started playing, not only was I unfamiliar with anything other than the drive, but I also had improper paddle grip, zero backhand skills (relying solely on forehand shots), no knowledge of blocking or slowing down the ball, and a lack of understanding of how to play at the kitchen line. Essentially, I wanted every point to end with a baseline drive.

Now, if you were playing against me, would you hit a drive or a drop shot? I’ll give you a hint: drive it to my backhand! By observing your opponent, you can quickly identify their major strengths and weaknesses. However, there are also several subtle details to consider that can help you make the decision between a drive or a drop shot:

  • Which side of the court are they positioned on?
  • Are their dominant hands in the middle or on the sideline?
  • How quickly do they move up to the kitchen?
  • What is their paddle position or ready position?
  • What is their arm length and reach into the kitchen?

3. The Return

The return of your opponent can provide valuable insights into whether you should hit a drive or a drop shot for your third shot. Different scenarios call for different strategies, depending on both your and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses, it’s important to note that the third shot drop is a more challenging shot, especially when executed from a greater distance away from the net. Therefore, if your opponent’s returns consistently hit the baseline, it may be wise to opt for a third shot drive to position yourself better for a drop shot on the fifth shot.

Here are a few key takeaways for those new to pickleball or looking to elevate their game:

  • Set a goal to consistently execute and place both third shot drops and drives.
  • Play to your strengths while actively working on improving your weaknesses through drills and practice.
  • Be aware of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to make informed decisions during the game.
  • Pay attention to how the return (placement, spin, etc.) affects the ease or difficulty of executing a third shot drive or drop.

By considering these factors and continuously honing your skills, you’ll be well-equipped to make the right decision between a third shot drive or drop in any given situation on the pickleball court. Good luck and enjoy the game!

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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