Pickleball Third Shot Strategy: When To Drive And Drop

The pickleball third shot drop is the most challenging shot to pull off consistently in pickleball. It’s the foundation for extending the point, evening the playing field with the return team, and giving yourself a chance to win! The goal of the pickleball 3rd shot drop is simple: after your opponent has returned your serve, you want to hit a soft pickleball drop shot into the no-volley zone so you can get to the net.

The goal is simple, but the execution is complicated. I’ve been playing pickleball for nearly five years, and it still needs to be challenging to execute consistently. It’s such a difficult shot because the return of service usually comes back at you at a high rate of speed and is generally deep enough to keep you at the baseline.

What Is Pickleball Third Shot Drive and Drop?

Many top players drive their third shots. The reason for this is simply that it’s a great changeup instead of a drop. Additionally, there are situations where driving the third shot could be a good choice. I want to explain the difference between a third shot drive and a drop.

What Is the Third Shot Drive?

Sometimes a drop may not be the best option for your third shot. In those cases, an aggressive drive will be a better option. Some examples where this might be the case are:

Pickleball Third Shot Drive

Situation 1: Your opponent’s return is hit short into your court rather than deep. You are already moving up to hit the short shot, so there’s no need to buy more time as there would be if the return were deep. In this case, you can be moving toward the kitchen line and striking the ball aggressively down the middle (between your opponents) or at the shoulder of their hitting arm.

Situation 2: If your opponent stays back rather than come forward to the kitchen line after hitting their return. If they make this mistake, there’s no reason to bring them forward with a pickleball drop shot into the kitchen. Keep them back with an aggressive drive at their feet.

What Is Third Shot Drop?

Third-shot drops are balls that are struck softly and intended to bounce in the non-volley zone, making them unattackable for the opponent. As a result of the height of the ball, the serving team will have sufficient time to run to the non-volley line. This allows you to reach the non-volley line in time.  

Simone Jardim, a professional tennis player, describes the shot as a moonball and what is a drop shot in pickleball combined. Nevertheless, we all miss foul shots from time to time. The player should wait and read if the third shot drop will be low and unattackable before attempting it.

Pickleball Third Shot Drop

You should reach the line when the shot has a low trajectory below the net. Getting the ball low and eventually arriving at the non-volley line is the best course of action if the image is high. A player who hits the ball too high, but runs up anyway, will be icing bruises on their bodies later.

When a player hits the pickleball third shot drop, they should signal their teammates that the shot will be good by saying “yes” or “good” as soon as they hit the ball. The player hitting the ball knows when he or she is hitting a good shot right when they do.

When to Hit a Drive Or Drop as Your Pickleball Third Shot

In pickleball, it’s a good idea to mix it up. Don’t let your opponent guess what you’re doing. Hit a couple of third-shot drops, then drive the third shot. As a result, your opponents are always on their toes and guessing what you’re going to do next.

When to Hit a Drive as Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court?

You may want to consider using your drive as your preferred third shot if you have a strong drive. It is especially important if your opponent has difficulty with pace while playing pickleball.

Drives can also be effective if your opponent hits a short return of serve, especially one that bounces high. As a result, your third shot drive will be more effective since you’ll be closer to your opponents, resulting in a movement that feels faster and leaves less time for your opponent to respond. However, beware of sailing your dream out of bounds in this scenario.

You can easily do this since you are likely to be moving in on the pickleball court and will have a smaller distance to place your drive. You can keep pickleball on the court by hitting your drives with topspin and 70-80% power.

In these scenarios, you can put pressure on your opponents with the pace of the pickleball. Your third shot drive might win the industry, set up an easy fifth shot for you and your partner, or set up a “Shake and Bake.”

When you don’t hit a winner, you might do a drop as your fifth shot to get to the Kitchen line (since most points are scored there). An effective pattern is to drop a fifth shot followed by a third shot to gain access to the kitchen.

When you are unbalanced, take a drive for your third shot. Staying at the point and hitting a quality drop shot will be challenging if you are out of balance. Therefore, if you are off balance, you may be able to execute a drive more effectively. Consider hitting the drive between 70% and 80% to maintain more control.

Pickleball Third Shot

When to Hit a Drop as Your Third Shot on the Pickleball Court?

If you aren’t sure whether to hit a drop or a drive as your third shot, consider these situations:

  1. Drops (as opposed to drives) can be used by you and your partner to make your way toward the kitchen line, as your third shot. 
  2. On a pickleball court, the third shot drop is used when your opponent hits a return of serve with a slice or backspin that is low in height. When the pickleball is low, you need to hit it up in order to drive it. Use a drop when the pickleball remains low, therefore. 
  3. You may want to use your third shot drop in case you are pushed back (but in control) during a return of service from your opponents. If you are made back into the court (but still have your credit), generating pace and moving forward through the pickleball to hit a drive will be challenging. The result may be an easier third-shot drop. Be aware that your drop may be more defensive than offensive due to your position on the pickleball court. So, beware of aggressive fourth shots from your opponents, and be ready to drop a quality shot to move you both into the kitchen.

Other Third Shot Pickleball Tips

Communicate your strategy to your partner before the game or point begins, whether you drive or drop your third shot. Your partner will be able to better prepare for the next shot if you share what to expect with them.

To note, there is another option on the third shot… a third-shot lob. As a result, this shot should only be used sparingly and under certain conditions due to its low success rate.

Third Shot Tips

The third shot on a pickleball court is considered the most important. By moving the serving team from the baseline to the kitchen line, this shot puts the serving team in a position to score a point. Most topics in pickleball are won from the kitchen line, making it essential to get there quickly and stay there.

Due to the importance of this third shot, it is imperative to practice and improve your skills in executing third-shot drives, third-shot drops, and maybe even, from time to time, third-shot lobs. This is the shot you should spend the most time practicing on the pickleball court.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the third shot drop in pickleball?

It involves hitting a ball softly at a height where it bounces in the non-volley zone, thus making it unattackable for the opponent. This will allow the serving team sufficient time to reach the non-volley line due to the height of the ball.

Where does the 3rd shot drop go?

The third shot drop will be near the baseline, allowing you to take your third shot directly in front of you. If the return is short, deep, or directly at you, you MUST move your feet to be in the best position for the shot.

Does the third shot in pickleball have to bounce?

Consequently, the third shot is an important shot in pickleball. As a result, the third shot – usually a drive or a drop – is the first shot that does not bounce and is crucial for getting the serving team in the kitchen.

How do you play the third shot in pickleball?

In the Third Shot Drop, the opponent is served after returning the serve and the ball is dropped softly into the kitchen. To neutralize control of the court, your team must advance to the net and use the print to prevent your opponents from attacking.


Getting comfortable with consistently hitting all your third shot options is critical in the journey to becoming a better, more competitive pickleball player. In addition, it’s crucial to being successful in tournaments.

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