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Third Shot Drop

The third shot drop is perhaps the hardest shot in pickleball to master but is a crucial technique in pickleball that players use to set up the rally and gain control of the net. It refers to the shot following the serve and return of the serve, and it is often executed with a soft, controlled touch to initiate the game's strategic aspects. Here's more information about the third shot drop in pickleball:

third shot drop


  • The primary purpose of the third shot drop is to transition from the serve to the net game effectively. It allows players to avoid hitting the ball hard (as they might do with the serve) and instead places it softly in the opponent's non-volley zone (NVZ), a.k.a. The Kitchen.

Avoiding Volley:

  • The third shot drop is typically hit with a low trajectory to prevent the opponent from volleying the ball aggressively while they are at the NVZ/Kitchen line. By keeping the ball low, the offensive players aim to minimize the opponent's opportunities for an attacking shot.

Creating Time:

  • A well-executed third shot drop creates time for the player and their partner to move upwards toward the net. This movement is essential for establishing a strong position at the NVZ/Kitchen line.

Soft Hands:

  • Successful execution of the third shot drop requires "soft hands," meaning that the player absorbs the pace of the ball with a gentle touch rather than hitting it hard. Soft hands contribute to better control and placement of the third shot drop.


  • While the standard third shot drop is hit with an underhand motion, players can vary the spin, speed, and angle of the shot based on the specific situation. Some players incorporate a slight topspin or sidespin for added control.

Depth and Placement:

  • The depth and placement of the third shot drop are crucial. Ideally, the shot should land just beyond the net and inside the NVZ/Kitchen, making it challenging or impossible for opponents to attack out of the air.


  • Practicing the third shot drop is essential for developing consistency. Players often spend crucial hours honing this shot during drills and practice sessions to ensure they can execute it reliably in a game.

Strategic Element:

  • The third shot drop is not just a technical shot; it's a strategic move. Players use this shot to control the pace of the game, force opponents into defensive positions, take court position advantage, and set the tone for the point.

Team Communication:

  • In doubles play, effective communication between partners is crucial for coordinating the movement after the third shot drop. Players must be aware of each other's positioning and intentions.

Counter to Hard Shots:

  • When facing hard serves or returns, the third shot drop acts as a countermeasure. It allows players to respond with finesse rather than trying to match power with power.

Transition to Net Play:

  • The third shot drop is often a transition to net play. Once the shot is executed, players move forward into the transition zone, aiming to control the kitchen and dictate the flow of the point.

In summary, the third shot drop is a fundamental skill in pickleball, emphasizing finesse, control, and strategic thinking. Mastering this shot is crucial for players looking to gain an advantage in the game and establish dominance at the net.

The most important things to do while using the third shot drop:

  • Hit the third shot drop low over the net and into the opponent's NVZ/Kitchen (never miss it into the net)

  • Land third shot drops on the backhand side of opponents (to make it hardest for them to take out of the air)

  • Add topspin or sidespin to make it more difficult for opponents to handle

  • Use effective third shot drops to move into the transition zone and up to the NVZ/Kitchen

Are you interested in learning more about this pickleball shot? Or taking lessons to help you improve + master it? Click the link below to schedule time for your personalized lesson with our certified pickleball instructors! 

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