How to Develop a First-Class Third Shot Drop

How to Develop a First-Class Third Shot Drop

In a recent PCKL 11 newsletter, 49% of voters said if they could master one skill, it would be the third shot drop. Second place was dinking, with only 19%. It makes sense. Because if you can’t execute a third shot drop, you’ll rarely find yourself at the kitchen dinking. You’ll also rarely find yourself winning games. 

Fun fact: In 2022, professional J.W. Johnson succeeded on 55/56 third shot drop attempts in one match. 

The third shot drop is the most important shot in pickleball because it neutralizes your opponents’ advantage. Here’s what that means.

In a game of doubles, the serving team starts at a disadvantage. Because one of your opponents starts at the kitchen. And when the other opponent returns the ball, they can rush to the kitchen, knowing you can’t take the ball out of the air. Now both of your opponents are at the kitchen while you and your teammate are still on the baseline. You’re at a disadvantage. That’s where the third shot drop comes to the rescue.

A successful third shot drop will land in the kitchen and accomplish two things:

  1. Gives your opponent a more difficult ball to return
  2. Gives you more time to make your way to the kitchen

The third shot drop is rewarding, but it’s also the most difficult fundamental of the game. 

Your drop has to travel 22 feet (the distance from the baseline to the net), but at the perfect arc that allows the ball to bounce in your opponents’ 7-foot-long kitchen. If you miss too high, your opponent can do whatever he or she wants to do with the ball — often smashing it. And if you miss too low, the ball hits the net and the point ends before you can say “third shot drops suck.”

Here are six tips to help you develop a first-class third shot drop. 

Watch your step after the serve

Newer players fail at their third shot drop before they even take a swing. You’ll be tempted to step in front of your baseline when your team serves. But a quality competitor knows to hit the return deep, making your third shot more difficult. 

To hit a successful third shot drop, you need to be moving forward to the ball, not backtracking. A third shot drop is a difficult shot on your own. Don’t let poor footwork make it more difficult. 

Drop your butt

To create that 22-foot-long arc on the ball, you need to get low. Real low. 

A third shot drop should start from the ground up. Bend your knees, drop your butt, get under the ball, and lift your body with the shot. You shouldn’t have a massive arm swing on a third shot drop. Your body should be more responsible for moving the ball than your arm. 

Hit the ball when it’s low

Hitting the return while it’s dropping will also help you create the arc you need to land your third shot drop in the kitchen. Generally, you should try to drive balls as they rise and drop them as they fall. 

Miss high

If you’re going to miss a third shot drop, miss it high rather than low. A low shot that puts the ball in the net ends the point without putting any pressure on your opponent. A high third shot drop at least puts the ball in play. It forces your opponents to make a play on the ball. When you know you’re missing high, stay back on the baseline, and try again with a fifth shot drop.

Use your shoulder, not your wrist

Like we’ve mentioned when sharing tips for dinking, you should rely on your shoulder more than your wrist when dropping. Use your shoulder as the hinge behind your third shot drop. Rather than trying to finesse a third shot drop with your wrist, let your shoulder guide it. 

Follow through

While your third shot drop shouldn’t have a backswing, it should have a follow through. Again, you’ll need to generate enough power for the ball to travel 22 feet. Your bending and lifting of the knees will let you get under the ball for the arc. But for distance, you need to provide some umph with a follow through. A backswing will usually create a shot that is too high or hard. And not following though usually creates a shot that goes into the net. The follow through provides you with the perfect amount of power to softly send the ball to the opposing kitchen. 

If you want more tips like this, be sure to follow us on social. Here’s a video guide for third shot drops.