3-person pickleball drills
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3-Person Pickleball Drills

We’ve all been there. You’ve got a much-anticipated pickleball doubles match scheduled for the afternoon and when you get to the courts, there are only three players — one person in the foursome had to unexpectedly bail. What do you do with only 3 pickleball players?

Instead of going back to the house — where your wife’s honey-do list is undoubtedly waiting — how ’bout trying a couple of these three-person drills?  The drills — adapted from when I played tennis — will help to keep your game sharp, will get your competitive juices flowing and, perhaps,  will help you avoid — or at least postpone — spending the rest-of-the-afternoon working on something that’s not nearly as fun as pickleball.

King of the Court — 3 Person Pickleball Drill

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The game begins with a “King” of the court (Player B) returning serve from Player A.  Player C is sitting out the point(s) while Player A and Player B play singles points.  Player A serves to Player B and the point is played out.  The server must win 2 points in a row to replace the King.  If the server commits a fault he will rotate out with Player C and Player C will start the point on his serve, attempting to win 2 points in a row to replace the King.  The King remains King of the Court until the server (Player A or C) can win two points in a row.  See who can be King most often and for the longest period of time.

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Pin ’em to the Baseline — 3 Person Pickleball Drill

It’s no secret that the team controlling the net in pickleball typically controls the point.  Therefore, when you are hitting a volley while your opponents are back at their baseline, one of the most effective pickleball strategies is to keep them pinned to the baseline so that you continue to control the point — and put away the volley when the opportunity arises.  The team at the baseline, however, desires to hit a drop shot (landing it in the NVZ) so that they have time to get to the net and negate the advantage you once had.

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(1)  Player A serves to player C.
(2)  Player C hits a deep return of serve up the line to Player B and follows this return of serve to the net.
(3)  Player B then executes the 3rd shot drop shot into the NVZ or at the feet of Player C.
(4)  Player C hits volleys or half-volleys back to Player B — attempting to keep the ball deep in the opponent’s court (or “pinning” the opponent (Player B) to the baseline).

The drill continues as Player B continues to attempt drop shots in the NVZ in front of player C, while Player C responds with deep volleys or half-volleys back to Player B.  For this drill (so that player B can work on drop shots and Player C can work on pinning the opponents to the baseline with deep volleys) Player B will stay back at the baseline after all shots and continue to practice the drop shot.  Player C works on hitting the volleys / half-volleys deep and pinning Player C to the baseline.

Keep rallying until someone misses.  This will help with control and patience on the part of the volleyer.  It will also help perfect the drop shot for the player at the baseline.  Do this ten times and then rotate — the server (Player A) will become the returner (Player C) and the returner will become the server’s partner (Player B).

Looking for more drills? Check out our pickleball wall drills.

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Please comment below and describe any additional 3-person pickleball drills that help us all avoid the weekend honey-do lists.

See you on the courts!

>>READ NEXT: Pickleball Wall Drills<<

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Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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  1. Rather sexist assumption that the players are male and that their wives are not players and are impatiently awaiting the return of their mates to work on Honey-Do Lists.

    1. Hi Kathleen, I tend to write a lot about my personal experiences on the pickleball court — and on this particular day — it was simply three guys playing without a fourth. And, no, my wife was not impatiently awaiting my return. She actually very rarely plays because of her health challenges. My guess is that within this blog post, you also had an issue with me calling the drill “King” of the Court. Perhaps, in this politically-correct climate, I should have said King or Queen of the Court. At any rate, you gave me a good chuckle. See you on the courts!

  2. I like the King of the Court idea. You could score it by counting how many challengers the king defeats. The server gets two serves, but they are not for points, they are for becoming King. Becoming King does not earn a point. Only defeating challengers once you are King. The first player to 11 wins. Do you see any problems with that?

      1. I’m not sure if 1) a challenger serves until he is either beat twice in a row or wins twice in a row, or 2) a challenger gets two serves, and must win one to become king. I’m leaning toward 1, though.

        1. The King remains King of the Court until the server (the challenger) can win two points in a row. For example, if the challenger loses the first point, then the next person challenges the King. If the challenger wins the first point and loses the second point, the next person challenges the King. If the challenger wins both the 1st and 2nd point, they now become King of the Court. At least that’s how I’ve always played.

  3. The three player game you talk about is something we use often. The one player side almost always wins no matter their skill level. It is hard to remember to hit to the one side of the court. It is lots of fun…

      1. We play cut throat. Player 1 serves to Player 2 on right side and tries to score versus player 2 and 3. If he/she does, get a point. If not, rotate. Now player 3 serves to player 1 and player two moves to the left. Player 3 tries to score against players 1 and 2. When player 3 is stopped, player 2 then rotates and serves to player 3 and player 1 shifts to the left side of court. Player 2 tries to score versus 1 and 3. First to 11 wins.

  4. Thanks for the drills. What I’m trying to find out is can you actually play pickle ball with 3 people and how would the scoring look? In tennis we used to play what they called Austrailan Doubles. Is there anything created like this for pickle ball?

    1. Hi Lillian,

      Seems like you could do 2 versus 1 — where the 2 players on the team have to hit the ball to just 1 side of the court (splitting the court down the middle) and the singles player, however, can utilize the entire court. Assuming A is the singles player — and B & C are the doubles players, the serving rotation should go A-B-A-C-A-B-A-C, etc… I would play a standard game to 11, win by two. Hope that helps.

    2. Hello! My pickleball buddies and I play an interesting variation of a three person game in which we all keep our own individual score. We start out with two versus one with the one serving and the other two always hitting it in their half of the court. If they do not, it is a receiver fault, and the server serves again until he/she commits a fault. Then they go to the other side of the net and one of the other two replaces them. As with usual pickleball, only the server can score. When the server calls out the score, he/she says everyone’s scores going clockwise around the court.

      If we are not evenly matched, we play what I call “one-and-a-halfles”–basically the best player covers both halves of the court.

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