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7 Strategies to Master the Pickleball Third Shot Drop: Communication, Placement, and Execution

1. Practice Placement

The key to a successful third shot drop is accuracy. By focusing on precise ball placement, you can effectively execute this shot and regain control of the game. Here are some key considerations for practicing placement:

Aim for the Kitchen or “No-Volley” Zone:

The kitchen, also known as the “no-volley” zone, is the area close to the net where players are not allowed to hit volleys. When executing a third shot drop, your goal should be to land the ball in this zone. By doing so, you limit your opponents‘ options and increase the difficulty for them to counterattack.

Target the Opponent’s Backhand Side:

When aiming for placement, it’s often advantageous to target your opponent’s backhand side. Most players tend to have a weaker backhand, so directing the ball towards this side can put them at a disadvantage and reduce their ability to make powerful returns.

Consider the Center of the Court:

Another effective strategy is to aim for the center of the court with your third shot drop. This placement forces your opponents to move laterally and creates a more challenging situation for them. It also reduces the angle they can use to attack, increasing your chances of maintaining control of the point.

By practicing and refining your ability to place the ball accurately in the kitchen or “no-volley” zone, targeting the opponent’s backhand side, and considering the center of the court, you’ll significantly improve your third shot drop and gain an edge in your pickleball matches.

2. Practice Placement

The key to a successful third shot drop is accurate ball placement. By placing the ball strategically, you can control the game and make it harder for your opponent to attack. When practicing your third shot drop, focus on hitting the ball to the kitchen or “no-volley” zone. This area is located just beyond the net and is crucial for maintaining control of the point.

To improve your placement, aim for specific areas of the court. Targeting your opponent’s backhand side can put them at a disadvantage since most players are less comfortable hitting backhand shots. Alternatively, aiming for the center of the court can make it harder for your opponent to anticipate the direction of the ball.

3. Use Topspin

Adding topspin to your third shot drop can be highly beneficial for controlling the ball’s trajectory and creating a sharper angle. It makes it more challenging for your opponent to launch aggressive attacks. Topspin is a technique that involves imparting forward rotation to the ball as it moves towards your opponent. By generating topspin, you increase the ball’s downward momentum, causing it to bounce higher on your opponent’s side of the court.

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Practice Generating Topspin:

To effectively add topspin to your third shot drop, it’s important to develop the proper technique. Here’s how you can practice generating topspin:

  1. Brushing the Ball Upward: Start by positioning yourself properly for the shot, with your weight balanced and your paddle face slightly closed. This means angling the paddle face slightly downward.
  2. Contact Point: As the ball approaches, focus on making contact with the ball slightly below its center. This contact point allows you to brush upward on the ball, creating the desired topspin.
  3. Smooth Follow-Through: After making contact, ensure a smooth follow-through. The paddle should continue its upward motion, finishing over your opposite shoulder.
  4. Consistent Practice: Generating topspin requires repetition and practice. Spend time hitting practice shots, gradually increasing the speed and intensity. Work on finding the right balance between power and control while maintaining the topspin effect.

4. Vary Your Shots

To improve your pickleball third shot drop, it’s essential to avoid being predictable. By incorporating different types of shots, you can keep your opponents guessing and off-balance. Here are some key strategies to vary your shots effectively:

  1. Experiment with Angles: Instead of always hitting your third shot drop straight ahead, try different angles. Aim towards the sidelines or the middle of the court to create confusion and force your opponents to move quickly. Changing the angle of your shot can make it harder for them to anticipate and respond effectively.
  2. Vary Speeds: Mix up the pace of your third shot drops. Sometimes hit a slow, soft drop shot that forces your opponents to move forward, while other times use a faster, more aggressive shot. Changing speeds can disrupt their rhythm and make it challenging for them to time their return.
  3. Play with Spin: Spinning the ball can add an extra layer of difficulty for your opponents. Experiment with topspin, which causes the ball to bounce higher and can make it challenging to control. Alternatively, try using underspin or a slice, which will make the ball skid and stay low, making it harder for your opponents to generate power in their return.
  4. Mix Up Shot Selection: Don’t always rely on the same type of third shot drop. Incorporate a variety of shots into your game. For example, you can alternate between a straight drop shot, a cross-court drop shot, or even a lob to keep your opponents guessing. The element of surprise will make it harder for them to anticipate your next move.
  5. Assess Your Opponent: Pay attention to your opponent’s weaknesses and preferences. If you notice they struggle with low balls, focus on hitting lower and flatter third shot drops. If they have difficulty with higher shots, use more topspin to keep the ball above their comfort zone. Adapting your shots to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses can give you a significant advantage.

5. Master the Slice

Incorporating a slice or underspin into your third shot drop can be a game-changer in pickleball. This technique adds spin to the ball, causing it to stay low and skid upon landing. By utilizing the slice, you can make it difficult for your opponent to return the shot with power or accuracy.

Benefits of the Slice: The slice is a versatile shot that offers several advantages when used in the third shot drop:

  1. Ball Control: The slice allows you to have better control over the ball’s trajectory and bounce. By imparting underspin, you can keep the ball low and make it stay closer to the net, reducing your opponent’s options for an aggressive return.
  2. Disruptive Effect: The slice adds an element of unpredictability to your third shot drop. The skidding motion of the ball can catch your opponent off guard, making it harder for them to time their shot properly and increasing the chances of an error.
  3. Defensive Advantage: By utilizing underspin, you create a shot that is more difficult for your opponent to attack aggressively. The low bounce and reduced pace make it challenging for them to generate power, forcing them into a defensive position and giving you an opportunity to gain control of the point.
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Technique for Executing the Slice:

To master the slice in your third shot drop, follow these steps:

  1. Grip: Maintain a firm but relaxed grip on your paddle, ensuring good control and feel.
  2. Paddle Angle: Slightly close the paddle face to create the desired underspin. Experiment with different angles to find what works best for you.
  3. Brushing Motion: Instead of hitting the ball flatly, use a brushing motion to create the underspin. Brush the paddle face upward and across the back of the ball at the point of contact.
  4. Follow-Through: Allow your paddle to continue moving upward after contact, ensuring a smooth and consistent motion. This follow-through helps generate the desired slice spin.

Practice and Application:

To become proficient in incorporating the slice into your third shot drop, it’s important to practice regularly. Start by practicing the technique in a controlled environment, focusing on the correct grip, paddle angle, and brushing motion. Gradually incorporate the slice into game situations, working on placement and accuracy.

Remember, the slice is just one tool in your arsenal. Vary your shots and adapt to different situations. Sometimes a flat shot may be more appropriate, while other times the slice can be highly effective. Developing a well-rounded game with different shot options will make you a more formidable player on the pickleball court.

6. Work on Quickness

Improving your footwork and reaction time is crucial to getting into position quickly for the third shot drop. When you receive a shot from your opponents, you need to anticipate the ball’s trajectory and move swiftly to set yourself up for a successful third shot drop. Here’s why working on quickness is important:

  1. Effective Shot Execution: Being in the right position allows you to execute the third shot drop effectively. By quickly adjusting your position, you can position yourself closer to the net, enabling you to hit the ball at the optimal height and angle for a successful drop shot. This ensures that your shot lands in the kitchen or “no-volley” zone, making it difficult for your opponents to attack.
  2. Preventing Opponent Control: Quick footwork and reaction time help prevent your opponents from taking control of the point. By getting into position swiftly, you minimize the time and opportunity for your opponents to attack aggressively or exploit any openings in your defense. This puts you in a better position to maintain control of the rally and dictate the pace of the game.
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To improve your quickness on the court, consider the following tips:

  • Footwork Drills: Engage in footwork drills that focus on agility, speed, and direction changes. Practice moving quickly in various directions, such as forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally. Incorporate ladder drills, cone drills, and shuttle runs into your training routine to enhance your footwork.
  • Reaction Training: Improve your reaction time by practicing drills that simulate game situations. Use a ball machine or have a practice partner feed you shots randomly, forcing you to react quickly and get into position for the third shot drop.
  • Fitness and Conditioning: Maintain a good level of overall fitness and conditioning to support your quickness on the court. Incorporate cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and agility workouts into your fitness regimen. This will enhance your speed, explosiveness, and endurance, allowing you to sustain quick movements throughout a match.

Remember to focus on your footwork and reaction time during practice sessions and actively incorporate these skills into your gameplay. With consistent training and practice, you will improve your quickness on the court, enabling you to execute the third shot drop effectively and maintain control of the game.

7. Communication with Your Partner:

In doubles play, effective communication is crucial to ensure smooth coordination and maximize your chances of executing a successful third shot drop. Here’s why communication matters and how to make it work:

Importance of Communication

In pickleball doubles, both partners need to be on the same page regarding who will take the third shot drop.

Communication helps avoid confusion and prevents both players from attempting the same shot, leading to errors and missed opportunities.

It allows you and your partner to make quick decisions and adjust strategies based on the game’s flow and the opponents’ positioning.

Coordinate Roles:

Before the match or during timeouts, discuss and establish a clear understanding of each player’s roles and responsibilities, including who takes the third shot drop.

Determine if it will be the player at the net or the player at the baseline who will execute the shot.

Factors such as player strengths, positioning, and preferences can influence this decision.

Verbal Cues:

During the game, use verbal cues to communicate your intentions and ensure both partners are aware of the plan for the third shot drop.

For example, you can use simple phrases like “I’ve got it,” “You take it,” or “Drop shot,” to convey your intentions to your partner.

Be clear and concise with your communication to avoid misunderstandings.

Non-Verbal Communication:

In addition to verbal cues, non-verbal communication can be equally important.

Use eye contact, hand signals, or specific body language to indicate your readiness to take the third shot drop or to let your partner know that they should take it.

Develop an understanding of each other’s signals through practice and familiarity.


Communication should be flexible and adaptable based on the game’s dynamics.

Be open to adjusting the plan based on the opponents’ positioning, shot selection, or any unforeseen circumstances.

Maintain ongoing communication throughout the match, constantly assessing the situation and making quick decisions as needed.

By prioritizing clear and effective communication with your partner, you can enhance your doubles gameplay, improve decision-making, and increase your chances of executing successful third shot drops. Remember to establish a plan, use verbal and non-verbal cues, and remain adaptable to optimize your performance as a team.

Dustin DeTorres

Dustin has been a Pickleball enthusiast for years and dedicated this blog to providing the best information out there about this fun game.

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