First off, let’s just say that this is obviously NOT the only commandment to live your life by (unless Pickleball truly is your only religion). But when it comes to pickleball, this is a biggie.
In this article, I’m going to clear up a misconception about the “third shot” (a.k.a. the return of the return of serve, a.k.a. the first shot your team hits after you serve the ball). On my teaching tours, I have found this misconception to run rampant in the pickleball world. Players from coast to coast, north to south, and newbies to long-time ambassadors all believe that the best shot they could ever hit for the third shot is a drop shot. National champ, Enrique Ruiz says “The drop shot is overrated” and that’s because there’s a big problem with how most people hit a third shot drop shot, and this is what it is:
They are using the drop shot at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.
Now, if you saw my webinar “7 Steps to Playing Advanced Pickleball”, you probably heard me talk about this and have already been set straight, like this former ambassador who sent me this message after the webinar. After some glowing feedback and much appreciation for what Wendy and I do to contribute to the sport, she said:
“I am horrified to learn that for years I’ve been using the drop shot at the wrong time, and apparently for the wrong reason. I thought that the correct time to use the drop shot is when your opponents are back, because then they have to run to get to the net. I listened very carefully (I think) to the encouragement to use the drop shot when one’s opponents are at the net, but I confess that I don’t understand the rationale behind it. Would you please explain that? Thanks!”
First of all, let me say that it takes a true student of the game to be open and willing to learn new tactics and change long-time habits, so if you find yourself in the same boat as the commenter above, don’t waste a minute berating yourself for being naive or uninformed thus far. Instead, congratulate yourself on being a true student of the game, get up to speed on the right thing to do (and why) and then get down to practicing your new techniques.
Now, for those of you earnest students who weren’t on the webinar or weren’t clear on the rationale for WHY I recommend this, let’s delve in. (In case you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, check out this article about getting up to the net where I talk about WHY this shot is so important. Or, if you’re looking to improve your drop shot technique, check out this article on HOW to hit a good drop shot.)
Today, we are going to talk about WHEN to hit a third shot drop shot–and when not to.
When to Hit a Third Shot Drop
As mentioned in the comment above, I teach in my book, my clinics and bootcamps that the third shot drop is the best shot to play when your opponents are at the net.
It is NOT the best shot to play when your opponents are NOT at the net.
Now, it’s true that if you are playing against less mobile players who are staying back, you can often get a point by hitting a drop shot that they are too slow to get to and return. But even if they are slow, if they Play Smart, they will learn to anticipate that shot as best they can and it will become less effective. But the real problem here is that you are learning to rely on a strategy that only works against weaker players.
MY mission is to teach you the strategies that work against even the BEST players, which brings us to…
The First Commandment of the Third Shot
If even one your opponents is deep, keep them deep.
Don’t hit a drop shot on the third shot if your opponents are NOT at the net.
The strategic use of the drop shot is NOT to make your opponent run forward.
It is NOT to lure your opponent up to the net. (That’s about the worst thing you could do.)
In fact, you should NEVER use the third shot drop unless your opponents force you to (in which case it is, by far, the best shot to use).
Remember, your goal is ALWAYS to #1) Keep Your Opponents Back when Possible and #2) Get Up to the Net ASAP.
If your opponents are at the back of the court, then the best third shot you could hit is a deep shot to the feet of the person is farthest back (or if they are both back, then to the person who is on the move). This will keep them back and give you time to move up to the net.
The Rational FOR Hitting the Third Shot Drop
You Didn’t/Couldn’t Keep Your Opponents Back, so The Only Thing Left to Do is Focus on Getting Up to the Net
If you are playing against strong opponents, they will hit the second shot (the return of serve) and immediately rush up to the net.
If your opponents have moved up to the net, then you obviously didn’t/couldn’t keep them back. (This doesn’t mean you aren’t playing smart, it just means that they ARE playing smart, too.)
When they are both at the net, and you are still back because you had to wait to let the return of serve bounce (Remember that pesky double bounce rule?) then, they are effectively forcing you to hit a third shot drop.
Because there are really only 3 possible shots you could hit in this scenario, of which the third shot drop is the best. Let’s review your options:
#1) Hit a hard line drive/passing shot low over the net
If you are playing against someone who has NOT taken one of my clinics or bootcamps, you may get a point by hitting this shot, but once you play against someone who has their paddle up and is in the right position, they will eat up this shot like a kid eating a popsicle on a summer day, and it will come smashing back at your feet before you know what happened.
The faster you hit this shot, the faster it will come back at you, so this is not your best strategy because it doesn’t help you get up to the net.
#2) Hit a Lob Shot Over Their Heads
Again, this is rarely an effective strategy. For one thing, it’s very difficult to hit a lob that is both shallow enough to land IN bounds and high enough to keep your opponents from smashing the ball back at your feet. Second, even if you do manage to do that consistently, because you are at the back of your court when you hit your lob, your opponents have plenty of notice and therefore time to get to the back and return the lob deep, which only keeps you back.
This shot, if implemented perfectly, could buy you time to get up to the net, but given the level of difficulty, and the fact that it usually puts your opponents in an offensive position, it’s not one I recommend.
#3) Hit a Drop Shot
When your opponents are at the net and virtually force you to hit a third shot drop, you, in turn, buy yourself time to approach the net because by hitting a drop shot, you force THEM to wait until the ball bounces in the non-volley zone before returning it.
This shot, followed by a couple more drop shots if necessary, will buy you time to get up to the net, which is an absolute MUST in order to win against better players.
Does that all make sense?
So, in summary, DON’T hit a third shot drop if one of your opponents is NOT at the net– hit the ball deep to them instead. When your opponents ARE both up at the net, then make sure to try for a third shot drop (or a series of them) to move up to the net.
Now, side out. Over to you.
Was that helpful? Were you one of the many who were misusing the third shot drop? Got more questions? Scroll down and post your comment below or head on over to facebook and post your comment there.