The pickleball drop shot – or third shot drop as it is frequently called – is perhaps the most important shot to add to your repertoire of shots on the pickleball courts if you are looking to improve and become a better player. It’s a very strategic shot that, when attempted and executed consistently, will differentiate lower-level players from the more advanced players. The lower-level players will rarely even attempt this shot – in part because, while it’s a critical shot, it’s also arguably the most difficult shot to master.
What is the Drop Shot in Pickleball?
A drop shot in pickleball is simply a soft, delicate shot executed from essentially anywhere on the court – but most frequently from around the baseline – that goes over the net and lands “harmlessly” in your opponent’s non-volley zone where they cannot “attack.”
When Would You Use a Drop Shot in Pickleball?
This scenario – with one team positioned at the non-volley line and one team back near the baseline – plays out virtually every time after the serve (1st shot) and return-of-serve (2nd shot). The serving team inevitably stays back because they have to let the ball bounce. The return-of-serve team comes to the non-volley line, because that’s, strategically, the best place to be. Now the serving team is preparing to hit their next shot from deeper in the court – the 3rd shot in the rally. It’s for this reason that you will hear the term “third shot drop” used interchangeably with the term, “drop shot.”
It’s important to reiterate, however, that the drop shot can be used “anytime” you or your partner are not at the non-volley line, but your opponents are. While this scenario presents itself frequently on the 3rd shot, it could also occur on the 5th shot, 6th shot, or 23rd shot of the rally. Execution of the drop shot simply depends on the court positioning of each of the players.
Why Would You Use a Drop Shot?
A drop shot accomplishes two primary objectives. First, a successful drop shot, because it’s typically hit softly and gently, will give you and your partner time to advance to your own non-volley line, thereby negating the advantage previously held by your opponents who were already there. Remember, one of the overarching strategies in pickleball is to get to the non-volley line because it is so much easier to win points there than from further back in the court.
The second objective a successful drop shot accomplishes is that it forces your opponents to hit their next shot “up” to clear the net. The last thing you want to do is give your opponent’s a ball that they can attack – one that they can hit hard with a descending blow. By landing the ball in the non-volley zone – and because the ball will not bounce very high – your opponent will not be able to attack the ball without it likely flying beyond the baseline or going into the net if they try. They will likely respond to your successful drop shot with a softer dink shot. And that you can easily handle.
What Makes a Good Drop Shot?
A good drop shot in pickleball is a shot that lands in your opponent’s non-volley zone without your opponent being able to lean in and smack it with a descending blow. You want to hit a shot that lands “gently” and “harmlessly” in front of your opponents. You also want to make sure that you don’t hit your drop shot so high that it bounces high and lets your opponents attack the ball after the bounce. There’s a fine line – which makes this shot the most difficult shot to perfect.
If the Opponents Volley the Drop Shot Does that Mean it Wasn’t a Good Drop Shot?
No. Absolutely not. As long as you forced your opponent to hit “up” on the volley (and not attack the volley), then it was a successful drop shot. The drop shot is all about giving your opponent a shot that they cannot attack. As long as they cannot easily attack the next shot, it was a successful drop shot and accomplished your objectives of giving your team time to get to the non-volley line and forcing your opponents to hit “up” on their next shot.
What Grip Should I Use when hitting the Drop Shot?
Because a drop shot is most easily executed with an open paddle face at contact, the continental grip is recommended. Additionally, make sure that your grip pressure on the handle is relatively light as this is a soft, delicate shot to execute. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being an extraordinarily loose grip and 10 being a very tight grip, a grip pressure between 3 and 5 would be appropriate for drop shots.
How do I Hit the Drop Shot?
The technique for the drop shot (or third shot drop) is very similar to that of the dink shot:
- Bend your knees and stay low to the ball
- Shift your weight to your front foot
- Make contact (with open paddle face) in front of your body
- Use a low-to-high “lifting” motion (not a “softer” swing)
- Keep your head down
- Follow thru (slightly more than a dink)
- Start by giving yourself a comfortable margin for error.
The only noticeable difference in technique between a dink and a drop shot relates to a slightly more extended follow thru for the drop shot. The follow thru when hitting a drop shot is longer simply because a drop shot is a longer shot to hit because it’s executed further back in the court.
>>READ MORE: 15 Pickleball Shots to Add to Your Arsenal<<
Hit the Drop Shot as the Ball is Descending & Getting Ready to Bounce a Second Time
If you are having a difficult time successfully landing the drop shot softly in your opponent’s non-volley zone you may want to consider your contact point. Try letting the ball bounce almost a 2nd time before striking it as this will help you “lift” the ball. In other words, the ball bounces once on your side… now, as the ball is descending and getting ready to bounce a second time – make that your contact point. Wherever that contact point is most successful for you, make sure that you consistently hit from this same point as often as possible – which may very well require you moving your feet!
Drills for Drop Shots
Because the drop shot is, arguably, the most difficult shot to implement into one’s pickleball game, it requires a lot of practice, drilling, and muscle-memory.
Start by having someone stand at their non-volley line and feed you balls while you’re across the net at your own non-volley line. Get the feel for the shot. Make sure your grip pressure is loose. Practice hitting balls that land in the opponent’s non-volley zone. As you successfully execute these “easier” shots, begin moving progressively further back until you’re ultimately standing near the baseline. Set up cones and targets. Make it a competition and see how many targets you can hit in a row or in a certain amount of time.
Make sure the feeder varies depths to the feeds – some sending you further back behind the baseline and some bringing you up into the transition area (no-man’s land). You want to be able to hit this shot from literally anywhere on the court.
The above drill was for two players. If you have 3 players, you can still practice this skill with various 3-person drills. Similarly, if you have nobody with whom to drill, you can still practice drop shots using a wall and a shoebox.
Ahhhh. The drop shot. So difficult to master. Yet so important. Don’t give up if it doesn’t come naturally and quickly. Don’t be stubborn and play like you always have. Keep trying to hit this shot. It will make you a much better pickleball player. I promise.
Ruth J Snyder says
Great reading! Helpful information for executing the 3rd shot in pickleball.
Thank you, Ruth, for your kind words. See you on the courts!
Gary Marcellus says
Great advice and great drills. I would suggest an addition about placing your feet square to the ball and how to place your feet so the drop shot goes toward the side of the opponents NVZ.
Hi Gary, I appreciate that feedback. That’s a great idea. Footwork is so important during the execution of the pickleball drop shot.