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How to Hit a Third Shot Drop in Pickleball in 5 Easy Steps

Written by Adam (HV)

January 9, 2022

The 3rd shot drop is one of the most essential shots in pickleball but it can also be one of the most frustrating and difficult to hit. If you’ve ever been frustrated with this shot, you’re not alone. 

But you should also know that if you can dink, you can hit the third shot drop.

Today we’re going to look at how to hit this shot, take it step by step, and I’ll share some practical tips to help you implement it quickly and compete at a higher level.

If you want to see the full video, you can do that here.

What is the third shot drop? 

This shot is a soft drop shot hit further away from the net that lands in your opponent’s kitchen. This is the third shot hit in a point, hence the name, third shot drop. The mechanics are almost identical to the dink.

Why is the third shot drop so important? 

  1. This shot is important because it neutralizes your opponent and it gives you time to move from the baseline to the kitchen. That is the goal of this shot. When this shot is hit effectively, your opponent can’t attack the ball and hit it down at you with pace.
  2. Another reason it’s important is when a third shot drop is hit well, it can force your opponent to pop the ball up and give you a chance to hit a 5th shot attack.  

How to Hit a Successful Third Shot Drop

If you’re just starting out with this shot, don’t start at the baseline. Start at the kitchen with dinks. It’s much easier to dink and back up a few steps until you’re comfortable hitting this shot from further away. Also, today we’re looking primarily at the forehand of this shot and focusing on what you can do to hit a third shot drop consistently.

1. Get Into Position

The first step for hitting the third shot drop is getting into position.

This means your feet are in position before you swing, your knees are bent, and your head and shoulders are slightly forward. 

You can also lead with your nondominant foot and you should feel some of your weight shifting fo rward. This can help you from standing back on your heels. Remember the focus here is to hit a consistent drop that neutralizes your opponent and gives you time to get to the kitchen. 

AVOID

  • Don’t lean back or step back when hitting this shot. When you do this, you lose control, consistency, and balance. 
  • If you hear your footsteps when you’re hitting the third shot drop, then that’s a sign you’re running through the ball.

2. Hit the Ball Out Front, from Low to High

The next step is you want to hit the ball out front from low to high.

Now that you’re in position, you’re focused on the ball and you should see it bounce in front of you. You want to hit it either at its peak or as it slowly descends. 

When you swing, you want to swing from low to high in the same way you would with a dink. There is no big back swing but a slow, smooth, relaxed “push” or brush with your paddle. 

If you’ve ever played cornhole, you can think of it like a cornhole toss. In fact, it’s a good idea to try tossing the ball like a cornhole over the net to get a feel for the mechanics of the shot.

REMEMBER:

  • In a game, it’s better to hit the third shot drop high rather than hitting it into the net. By hitting it high, you at least keep it in play.
  • Also, it’s important to know that your first drop in a point won’t always be the shot that neutralizes your opponent. Sometimes you have to wait until your 5th, 7th, or 9th before you can get to the kitchen.

3. Adjust Your Grip Pressure

The third shot drop is essentially a long dink, so your grip pressure should be the same as a dink. 

On a scale from 0-10 (10 being super tight), your grip pressure should be 3-4 when you are hitting a drop shot or long dink.

Tension in your hand and arm is the enemy of effective third shot drops. If your grip pressure is too tight, you lose control and the ball will likely go up or out. 

If you’d like to learn more about grip pressure and how to get a feel for it, check out the deep dive video I did on mechanics. I’ll include the link in the description.

If your grip pressure is too tight when you hit a TSD, the ball will likely bounce high off of your paddle, setting up a kill shot for your opponent. If you’re popping up shots at the kitchen or hitting balls out of bounds more than average, it’s likely due to an overly tight grip pressure. You will constantly need to adjust your grip depending on where you are on the court and how hard it is being hit. 

4. Apex on Your Side

Step 4, the third shot drop should apex on YOUR side of the court and begin descending before it crosses the net. 

When you’re just starting out with this shot and practicing, don’t worry if the ball is higher than normal over the net. As long as it hits the apex, descends on your side, and lands in your opponent’s kitchen, you can adjust the height of the shot later by fine tuning your stance, grip, and swing.

As the ball travels over the net, you should be watching your shot and your opponent and either transitioning to the kitchen or preparing for a 5th shot. 

  • Keep a close eye on your shot and watch your opponent. Are they going to attack down at the ball or did you neutralize your opponent? Don’t rush the kitchen if your third shot is attackable. 

REMEMBER

  • TIP: Do NOT run to the kitchen after a bad third shot drop and do NOT run to the halfway point of the court (also known as “no man’s land.”) If you are caught in the middle of the court, there are more opportunities for your opponent to hit an attack that you cannot defend. Wait until you can hit a successful drop and neutralize your opponent’s defense before running to the kitchen. 
  • If you can’t get the drop you need in the third shot, just wait. It can be the fifth, seventh, and ninth shot, too! 

    5. Hit Intentional Drops

    Now that you’ve got the mechanics down and you have some consistency with your shot, it’s important to focus on hitting intentional drops. 

    One way you can be intentional is with placement. A few areas in the kitchen you can aim for are: 

    • The corners of the kitchen – this will make your opponent shift to return the ball
    • Your opponent’s backhand 
    • The middle – this forces your opponents to decide who will return it
    • You can also drop it to the person in motion if he or she is still transitioning from the baseline  

    Another great way to be intentional with your drops is to make them unattackable:

    An unattackable drop is a shot that your opponent can’t hit down on with pace back to your side of the court. They can try and attack your shot, but if it’s unattackable, the ball will go into the net or go out.

    Conclusion – Drilling the Third Shot Drop in Pickleball

    A great way to put all of this together is called the INSIDE OUT drill.

    • Start at the kitchen with a few dinks over the net from a partner 
    • Hit 2-4 dinks, then take 2 steps back 
    • Hit 2-4 dinks, then take 2 steps back 
    • Continue this until you make it to the baseline 
    • Once you’ve hit enough, do it again, but you’re taking steps back to the kitchen

    If you want to practice on transitioning to the kitchen, you can modify the drill into a game. Once you get to the baseline, focus on transitioning to the kitchen. If you can get to the kitchen without an error you score a point. The first person to 5 wins. 

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