Third shot drop conditional game

Although the fashion for 3rd shot drives is on the increase (partly because the 3rd shot drop is difficult to master) the drop is still and will remain the default shot for the serving side’s 2nd shot (the 3rd shot in the rally of course). This conditioned game is designed to improve 3rd shot drops and to play points out after a game is neutralised and both pairs are dinking at the kitchen.

Normal prefered scoring (trad of rally), games to 11.

1. The service receiver returns long and immediately advances to the kitchen to join their partner.

2. The serving side plays a third shot drop into their opponent’s kitchen and advances to the kitchen. They should endeavour to get the ball over the net even if the drop is not a good one The idea is to get the rally going.

At this point all four players are at the kitchen

3.  The receiving side will not attack a weak 3rd shot drop but play a dink. This starts a dinking exchange.

4. The point is played out with winners coming either from a dink or a speed up

Scoring and server rotation continues as for a normal game.

There are a number of possible variations For instance, specify that the dinking battle must consist of at least 3 dinks per pair before a speedup or attack. Or, if a 3rd shot drop successfully lands in the kitchen the serving side get a bonus point regardless of who eventually wins the rally.

But is it pickleball?

The standard of play has improved significantly at Heaton since we started playing 18 months ago. However, the question comes up occasionally, “but is it really pickleball”. The question is always prompted by the observation that we rarely, if ever, find ourselves playing dinking rallies. The answer to the question is, yes, we are playing pickleball. We know the pickleball rules, our serves are usually legal, we know the two bounce rule, we respect the non volley zone. We are playing pickleball.

However, an important part of the game is missing – dinking. The main problem is that we rarely have all 4 players at the kitchen line at the same time. The service receiving pair have the easiest job to get there. One of them is already at the kitchen and a good return of serve gets the service receiver up there to join their partner. The problem lies with the serving pair, pinned to their baseline by the second bounce rule. Assuming the receiving pair are reasonably good players, from their dominant position they can keep their opponents pinned at the back or hit the ball at their opponents feet. The pair at the net won’t win all the points but should win most of them.

The usual tactic for the serving team to get to the kitchen is to play a third shot drop. A good one cannot be attacked as it has to be played from below net height and it allows the serving pair to advance to the kitchen and thus neutralise the advantage of the receiving pair. That’s the idea anyway but it’s a hard shot to master, to be able to play a drop shot into the kitchen from deep in your court. It is not surprising that many players hit a drive for the 3rd shot. As it happens, it seems that the 3rd shot drive is gaining popularity with high level ex tennis pickleball players. They still get into dinking rallies but often with a 5th shot drop from further up the court.

The upshot of this is to underline the importance of drills to play drops shots from deep in the court and while moving into the the transition zone.

Dink drill

Dinking is a very important part of the game, especially at the intermediate level and above. At the highest level it is not unusual to see dinking rallies of 10 or more, often many more, These are very tactical, The idea is that your opponent has to be hit the ball below net height, making it difficult to attack. Ideally your opponent will need to step into the kitchen to play the ball after the bounce. If they are able to reach in and volley, the lower the ball and closer to their feet the better.

Variation 1. The drill requires two players, the ‘coach’ and the ‘student’ The coach initiates the drill by dinking to the feet of the student. The student dinks the ball back to the coach. After playing the dink the student should stay in the same position. The coach will then play a dink to on to the student’s backhand. The student dinks back to the coach who has not moved. The coach then dinks to the student’s back hand for the second time.. Assuming a right-handed student this requires the student to move further to their left who then dinks back to the coach who has remained in their initial position. The coach then dinks again to the student’s backhand who, for the third time dinks back to the still unmoved coach.

At this point the coach is in their starting position and the student is 3 steps to their left. The coach’s next dink, their fourth, is played to the student’s forehand. The student dinks back to the coach.The coach’s fifth and sixth dink is again to the student’s forehand. The student continues to dink back to the coach. After the coach’s sixth dink  the student is back at the starting position directly opposite the coach who has not moved throughout the drill.

The drill can be repeated as often as required. It can be made competitive by a point being scored every time the rally breaks down. Note: the coach stays in the original position throughout. The student,after playing a return dink to the coach, should stay in that position in anticipation of where they know the next dink will be played to.

Variation 2. This drill is the same as above but this time the coach moves along the net to mirror the position of the student. Instead of staying in the same position as above, the coach will move along the net to be directly opposite the student as they return the dinks. The student plays a dink back to the coach who is now directly opposite them. This means the drill is comprised of the coach and student moving up and down the net together, 3 dinks to the student’s backhand and 3 dinks to the student’s forehands.

Video. How to dink consistently

Drop shot drill

The drop shot, where the ball dips over the net and lands in the kitchen or near the kitchen line, is one of the most important and powerful shots in pickleball. Your opponent has to play the ball below net height and lift the ball rather than try to attack it. The drop shot can be played from anywhere in the court and for a variety of purposes. It can be played against pairs that are slow to get to their kitchen. It can be used to reset a rally when you are being attacked and driven back. And, of course, a dink from your kitchen line is a drop shot. It is also a common shot played by experienced players when they are the serving team. Having served, they have to stay back to allow the bounce of the return of serve before they can play their second shot (which is the third shot of the rally). The so-called third shot drop.

This drill practices drop shots from different positions on court, specifically in order to advance from the back of the court, through the transition zone and up to the NVZ line. This requires 2 players. Player number 1 stands at their kitchen line and acts as the feeder. They feed player number 2, the ‘student’ who starts at their baseline.  These roles are reversed at some point, after so many feeds or so many minutes. This drill can be played down one half of a court so 2 pairs can drill on the court at the same time. It could make part of a good warmup for instance.

To start the drill the player 1 stands near their kitchen line and hits a friendly shot to player 2 who is at the back of the court. Player 2 plays the ball after the bounce and lifts the ball to fall short in or near player 1’s kitchen. The ball doesn’t have to land in the kitchen but ideally should be short enough to make player1 play the next feed from below net height. Player 2 should advance up the transition area to play the second feed that should be another friendly shot back to them. Player 2 then plays a second drop shot (which should be easier as they are closer to the net) and continues to move up to their kitchen line. Having arrived at the kitchen line the rally is completed with a dinking dual. It may take more than 2 drops to get to the kitchen line. Playing 2 drops is quite usual.

A couple of things to remember. When you have to play a shot in the transition zone, pause your forward movement so you are stable when you hit your shot. This is likely to be below knee height and around you feet. It is hard to control shots from there if you are moving. You should also keep your paddle low. Ideally you play a lifted shot that reaches its apex before the net so that it is dropping as it goes over. (See the diagram at the end of this post on controlling the apex of your shot).

Both player 1 (the feed) and player 2 (the drop shot) can volley if the opportunity arises but should keep to the pattern of the drill. Depending on your position on the court and the shot you are receiving you should be able to play drop shots from anywhere on the court. None of this is easy to begin with. That’s why drills like this are useful. Repartition and grooving are the key.

Notice that the further back in the court you aret, the higher the apex and the further from the net it has to be. It’s all about pace and height. For instance, playing drop shots from near your baseline, you need more height and the apex will be around your own kitchen line. When you are at your kitchen line, the apex is low and just above the net.

Note on the 3rd shot drop. The drop shot is the favoured 3rd shot in a rally, i.e. the serving team’s 2nd shot that is typically played from at or near their baseline while the opposing pair are already at their kitchen line. A good 3rd shot drop allows the serving team to get to their kitchen line or at least make progress towards it. However, it is a difficult shot to play reliably and can go very wrong! This is why it is rarely seen in beginner games and relatively infrequently in intermediate play where it is more usual to drive the 3rd shot.