The third shot in pickleball is a carefully placed dink shot that lands softly in the non-volley zone, preventing your opponents from attacking.
Pickleball is a fast-growing racquet sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It is played with a whiffle ball on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.
One unique aspect of pickleball is the existence of a “no-volley zone” – an area 7 feet from the net on each side of the court where volleying is prohibited. This creates interesting strategy around the third shot after the serve.
The Purpose and Execution of the Third Shot
The third shot in pickleball refers to the shot taken after the serve return that aims to land softly in the no-volley zone on the opponent’s side of the court.
The purpose of the third shot is to prevent your opponents from attacking or volleying the ball – putting you in control of the point early.
To execute the third shot properly:
- Use a soft touch – The ball should have enough arc so it barely clears the net and drops down into the no-volley zone. This is sometimes called a “dink” shot.
- Aim small – Precision is important. Place the ball in the back corners of the no-volley zone.
- Watch your opponents – Observe their positions and anticipate their movements so you can place the third shot where they aren’t.
Mastering the third shot is a hallmark of experienced pickleball players. It demonstrates control, finesse, and court vision.
Why the Third Shot Matters in Pickleball Strategy
The third shot sets the tone for the point and allows you to seize control of the rally if executed correctly. Here’s why it’s so important:
Limits Opponents’ Options
A properly placed third shot takes time away from your opponents and prevents them from attacking the ball out of the air. It forces them to make an awkward below-the-waist return from inside the no-volley zone.
Puts You in Position
Hitting a looping third shot drop gives you and your partner time to move closer to the non-volley zone in anticipation of your opponents’ weak return. This allows you to maintain control.
Creates Unforced Errors
The third shot drop often results in opponents hitting into the net or long as they scramble to return from inside the no-volley zone. These unforced errors can win you points.
Starts You Off Right
Nailing your third shot ensures the point starts off on your terms. You dictate play and put immediate pressure on your opponents.
A precisely placed third shot allows you to move forward and prepare for dink shots, drop shots, lobs, and volleys to win the point. Your opponents are stuck on the defensive.
How to Improve Your Third Shot
Here are some tips and drills to help refine your third shot technique:
- Practice control – Set up cones or targets in the no-volley zone and work on landing balls precisely. Start close to the net.
- Focus on footwork – Shuffle steps or grapevine footwork can help you align your body and prepare smoothly for the third shot.
- Place then move – After executing the third shot, immediately move 1-2 steps closer to the no-volley zone. Get used to recovering quickly.
- Third shot only – Rally cooperatively with a partner only hitting third shots. See how long you can sustain a rally to build consistency.
- Randomized drill – Have a partner randomly call “third” or “drive”. Hit appropriate third shots or drive volleys in response to work on recognizing opportunities for both.
- Backhand third shot – Work on angles and precision using backhand third shots. This arm is harder to control softly so takes more practice.
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Variations and Advanced Third Shots
Once you have the basics down, try incorporating some more advanced third shots to really keep opponents off balance:
Third Shot Roll
The pickleroll allows the ball to roll through the no-volley zone. Extend your arm more on contact to generate backspin.
Third Shot Sidespin
Slice the ball to impart sideways spin. This causes it to bounce left or right in the no-volley zone.
Lob Third Shot
Fake Drop Third
Disguise a high third shot as a drop. Let it land deep just past the no-volley zone instead.
The Third Shot and Your Overall Pickleball Strategy
Integrating the third shot effectively into your pickleball doubles strategy is key. Here are some strategic guidelines:
- Use third shots to start the point control. But mix in some drive volleys and drop shots occasionally too.
- Avoid being too predictable. Vary placement and spin on your third shots.
- If your partner is a strong volleyer, go for more third shot drives to allow them attack opportunities.
- Don’t let opponents recognize your third shot patterns. Adjust tactics as needed.
- When your opponents try to drop or drive volley, make sure you and your partner quickly fall back into the no-volley zone.
- Communicate constantly with your partner and coordinate your movements. Cover weaknesses and open spaces.
Mastering pickleball third shot technique provides a key strategic advantage and exemplifies your control and court craft. With practice, it will become a potent weapon in your pickleball doubles game.
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Common Third Shot Mistakes to Avoid
The third shot may seem easy at first, but it requires finesse. Be aware of these common mistakes recreational players make:
- Hitting the ball too firmly so it bounces high and allows opponents to attack.
- Failure to clear the net resulting in the ball going into the net.
- Not watching opponents and allowing them to poach and volley the third shot.
- Hitting too close to mid-court so opponents can return aggressively from outside the no-volley zone.
- Forgetting to move forward after the third shot and yielding control of the no-volley zone.
- Overusing repetitive shots down the middle instead of aiming crosscourt.
- Focusing too much on power instead of controlled touch and placement.
The third shot drop is a vital strategic shot in pickleball that can allow you to seize early control of points. Mastery of this controlled shot into the no-volley zone requires precision, focused practice, and court awareness. Integrate it into your game, but don’t become predictable. And be ready to move forward and defend after executing your third to maintain control of the point.
With a reliable pickleball third shot in your arsenal, you’ll find your doubles game improves dramatically. Just remember to keep practicing drop placement, shot disguise, timely positioning, and coordinated teamwork with your partner. Your improved touch, consistency, and court vision will soon have opponents scrambling as you dictate the flow of points with effective third shots.