In this blog we’re going to talk about the modern third shot – drops, drives and beyond.
This is a remix of my presentation from day one of the virtual pickleball summit hosted by CJ Johnson at Better Pickleball where we presented alongside ten other pickleball experts and influencers.
Please see the description below for links to all three days of the summit. Thanks to CJ at Better Pickleball for this footage.
What is the modern third shot?
Basically, the way we think about the modern third shot is that it’s not just about the drop. We think that this has come around in the last year.
People are starting to understand that you don’t have to drop the third shot every time. There are certainly times when you don’t want to.
For example, if you are already going to have the offensive advantage of someone hitting a return that is high and short that is just sitting up there, you can already take advantage of that high ball opportunity.
That’s what you’re striving for the whole time you’re playing pickleball. You want to get that high sitting shot that you can attack and hit kind of flat through the court or as much of a downward trajectory as you can possibly get out of that ball. You want to do this regardless if you’re up at the kitchen or further back).
This is what we’ve heard a lot about this last year.
But, that’s not the only time you want to do something other than drop.
Keep in mind the drop is actually a very technically advanced shot. People are getting better and better at it.
Let’s describe a scenario. You serve, and then here comes this return which may be relatively flat and somewhat deep. It’s got some pace on it and you’re taking the shot with medium or high pace. You’re trying to take all the pace off and finesse that thing and hit it with precision with a particular arc, at a particular speed, with a little bit of backspin on it so that it doesn’t bounce too high. Let’s be honest, this is no small feat.
When you see the pros do it they make it look super easy but it’s really not.
So, you have to work your way up to that.
Yes, you want to be able to get locked in at a drop that’s medium pace, not super deep in the court, and lock that in on both sides (forehand and backhand).
We know people are getting really comfortable on their forehand but you want to work that backhand too.
We say this because if you’re really trying to hit everything with your forehand and someone hits it way over to your backhand side and you’re on the even side of the court, you’re going to put your body into your partner’s side of the court. By doing this your side is somewhat exposed for the next shot and you will have to hustle over there to cover it.
You want to be maintaining your position as best you can.
If it comes to your body then sure, you can take those with the forehead. But keep in mind, people are going to start picking apart your backhand as you get up to the higher levels.
The precision those players can get with their shots is going to be better and better. They’re going to be able to find your backhand no matter where you’re at.
So yes, certainly lock in that forehand but once you’re feeling really good with that then you have to definitely work equally, maybe even more, on your backhand.
If the ball does comes short and high, rip that thing.
Work on pressing your comfort zone as far as your drops. When you’re drilling, hit that drop from wherever you possibly can.
Make sure that you get well behind that ball so that you can kind of step in.
We see a lot of people just barely getting back to it in time. They’re taking their time and they’re hitting it late.
You really need to hustle back there. Back peddle real quick, turn and side shuffle back if needed. You should always kind be trying to step into that ball with your forward momentum on both sides (forehand and backhand).
There are definitely times you don’t want to drop if you’re on the run. If your stretching and your contact point is going to be way out there. Or, someone ripped it at you and you’re going to be jammed.
What we would suggest you do at that point is not drop it and just hit a flat ball, tight to the net.
But, that’s another thing skill you’re going to have to work on.
If you’re back, you want to be trying to keep that ball low and work your way to get that ball that is droppable.
The drive is not just for that high sitter that you can be aggressive with.
You also want to hit a drive when you’re pressed and that precision drop is just not going to be there for you because you’re going to float it or you’re going to hit it into the net. So, rip that low.
Your goal with that one is to try to keep it low so they have to volley, half volley or dink volley that ball up.
Then, you’re going to try to generate an easier ball for yourself that you can then drop on the fifth.
Maybe they had a great shot again and you have to rip that fifth again and then maybe you can drop on the seventh.
You have to think about it in a much different way other than just always drop the third because you’re trying to get to the net.
You’re definitely trying to get to the net but that opportunity might not come on the third because they hit such a good shot so you might have to set up that opportunity for the fifth or the seventh.
Or, you did have that that third shot drop but it just didn’t quite make it or you do make it and it bounces but if you advance it’s sitting up too high and they’re gonna rip it at you while you’re still on your way into the net. That’s not good either.
You’re going to want to maybe hang back at the baseline for that next ball if you see it’s not going to quite be there and then drop the next. Or, if you get a great shot, drive the next.
You have to think about it in these combinations depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Yes, you’re trying to advance through that so that’s your first goal.
So if you ask yourself “Can I drop in and advance on this one?”, if the answer is “yes”, by all means do that. That’s the first thing you want to do.
If that drop is going to be tough, your next best option we would say is to rip that thing with a low drive. Try to get them to hit that next ball up so that you can then drop.
That’s kind of the way that we’re teaching it and that you should be thinking about it. Nothing on the pickleball court happens in isolation. There’s no “always do this, always do that”. There’s so many moving parts.
There’s your skills individually, there’s your partner’s skills individually, there’s your opponents and what they can do individually.
You might want to always drop it to a particular person whether they’re cross court or down the line from you.
Typically a drop is easiest cross court because you have the lowest amount of space, it’s the lowest part of the net, you don’t have to get it up and down so quickly as if you do down the line. You can kind of hit a little bit of a flatter arc on it than you do down the line.
The modern 3rd shot is really to get yourself thinking about these things that are not in absolutes.
Like I said, all we typically heard is either drop the third shot or if it’s high and short then rip it. Yes, we agree with those things 100% but there’s more beyond that and that’s the MODERN 3rd shot.