The drop shot is one of the most strategic and skillful shots in pickleball. But what exactly is a drop shot, and what are the rules governing its use? This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about executing this advanced technique.
What is a Drop Shot in Pickleball?
A drop shot in pickleball is a softly hit shot that arcs high over the net and then drops quickly into the non-volley zone (NVZ), preferably close to the net. It is intentionally hit short to catch the opponent off guard.
The objective of a drop shot is to make the ball land close to the net before the opponent can get to it. This forces the opponent to scramble forward and often results in a weak return or a miss. An effective drop shot will skim over the net and abruptly stop upon landing, essentially “dropping” down into the NVZ.
Why Use the Drop Shot?
There are several strategic reasons to hit a drop shot in pickleball:
- To catch the opponent off guard when they are positioned deep in their court
- To pull the opponent forward and open up the court behind them
- To exploit any weaknesses or lack of mobility in the opponent’s game
- To disrupt the opponent’s momentum and put them on the defensive
- To set up the serving team to take control of the net
So in essence, the drop shot is used to apply pressure, dictate play, and keep the opponent guessing. It is an offensive weapon when executed correctly.
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Rules and Restrictions for the Drop Shot
While the drop shot can be a very effective technique, there are specific rules and restrictions governing its use in pickleball. Understanding these regulations is key to legally incorporating drop shots into your game strategy.
The Drop Shot Must Land in the NVZ
The most fundamental rule is that a drop shot must land within the non-volley zone lines – the area from the net to 7 feet back on each side. If it lands beyond the NVZ line, it is an illegal shot and will result in a fault.
This restricted landing zone sets the drop shot apart from a regular groundstroke. With groundstrokes, players can hit anywhere on the opponent’s side of the court. But with the drop, they have just a 7-foot window in front of the net to land the ball. This is what makes it such a tactical shot.
Contact with the Ball Must Occur Before it Crosses the Plane of the Net
On any shot in pickleball, the player’s paddle must make contact with the ball before it crosses the plane of the net to the opponent’s side. This rule applies to the drop shot as well.
If the ball crosses the plane of the net before being hit, it is considered a fault and the point will be awarded to the opponent. Care must be taken on drop shots to ensure the ball is struck when it is still on the hitter’s side.
The Drop Shot Can Only be Hit Off the Bounce
Another restriction is that drop shots can only be hit after the ball bounces. So they cannot be hit directly off a serve or return, it must be played on the bounce first.
This prevents players from attempting to disguise drop shots too early in the rally. Only after the ball has bounced can drop shots come into play.
The Two-Bounce Rule Limits Consecutive Drop Shots
There is a restriction on hitting consecutive drop shots known as the “two-bounce rule”. Once the ball has bounced twice, no more drop shots may be played.
So if the serving team hits a drop after the return of serve, the receiving team can reply with one more drop. But after their second bounce, the ball must be hit deep and the rally continues as normal.
This prevents excessive dinking at the net and keeps the game moving. The two-bounce allowance still enables strategic use of the drop shot.
How to Hit a Drop Shot in Pickleball
Executing an effective drop shot takes practice and nuance. Here are some key techniques for hitting a drop:
Set Up Deep in the Court
Ideally, hit the drop shot from deep in the court, near the baseline. This allows the ball to arc higher over the net and descend rapidly into the NVZ. Drops hit too close to the net will lack height and power.
Use an Underhand Stroke
Disguise It as a Groundstroke
Do not telegraph the drop shot. Use the same swing motion as a groundstroke until the last second when you tilt the paddle underneath the ball. This disguises it from your opponent.
Focus on Touch and Feel
Use a soft touch and feel the ball onto your paddle. Do not swing hard. Control is more important than power on drop shots. Let the ball roll off the paddle for optimal finesse.
Aim Close to the Net
Ideally drop the ball 1-2 feet inside the NVZ line near the net. The closer you can land it to the net, the more effective the drop. Just avoid hitting into the net!
Follow the Shot to the Net
After hitting a drop, immediately move closer to the net to defend against the opponent’s reply. Be ready to volley the next return. Claiming the net is your objective after hitting a drop.
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Third Shot Drop: Key Strategy in Pickleball
One of the most common and strategic times to employ the drop shot is on the third shot of a rally.
Here is how it works:
1. The serve – The serving team hits a deep serve to start the point.
2. The return – The receiving team hits a return of serve, usually deep.
3. The third shot drop – The serving team hits a drop shot, allowing them to move up towards the non-volley zone.
This sequence enables the serving team to take control of the net on the third shot. That is why it is often called the “third shot drop”. When executed properly, it puts the serving team immediately on the offensive.
The third shot drop is effective because the returning team is often still near the baseline after their return. The drop shot catches them out of position and forces them to scramble to the net.
Even if the opponents manage to return the drop, the serving team should be able to easily put away a volley on the next shot from their strong net position.
The third shot drop is a primary offensive play for skilled pickleball teams. It is one of the best ways to pressure your opponents and gain an advantage in the rally after the serve.
Advanced Drop Shot Tips and Variations
Once you have mastered the fundamental drop shot technique, there are several advanced plays and variations to expand your skills:
The Sidespin Drop
This unique drop shot adds sidespin to make the ball curve sideways in the air. This can trick your opponent into thinking it will land wide before it curves back inbounds.
The Heavy Backspin Drop
Adding extra backspin will make the ball stop and reverse direction immediately upon bouncing. This often forces opponents to pop their return up for an easy volley.
The Fake Out
Disguise the drop shot by starting your swing as if hitting a groundstroke, then quickly turning it into a drop. This is effective versus opponents who like to rush the net.
The Low Knee-High Drop
Hitting a very low drop just a foot or two over the net forces opponents into an uncomfortable low volley. But it’s risky and difficult to execute consistently.
The Moving Drop Shot
Master hitting drop shots on the run when pulled wide or forced back. This advanced play requires you to change direction while disguising and placing your drop.
The Off-Hand Drop
For dramatic flair, try the showy behind-the-back or through-the-legs drop shot. Entertaining to fans but rarely strategically advised!
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The Importance of Drop Shots in Pickleball
While the drop shot may seem like a simple soft shot, it is in fact one of the most tactical and important strokes in pickleball when mastered.
Along with the serve, the drop shot is one of the main ways for skilled players to seize control of points. It is a go-to shot utilized by elite players in key moments to gain an edge.
Polishing your ability to integrate drop shots into your game can help unlock new competitive skills and strategies. With practice, the drop shot can transform from a basic beginner shot into an advanced technique that wins you points!
So take the time to understand the rules and restrictions for drop shots, and start working on your form. Before long, you’ll have opponents scrambling helplessly at the net and wondering how you suddenly took your pickleball game to the next level!