How to Hit a Drop in Pickleball: The Ultimate Guide

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In pickleball, every shot is important. But few techniques are as strategic as the pickleball drop shot. This shot helps you get to the kitchen, which is crucial in pickleball.

The drop requires touch and finesse, making it difficult to master.

In this guide, we’ll break down the drop shot in pickleball. We’ll explain what it is, when to use it, and how to hit it. Ready to add reliable drops to your game? Let’s dive in.

What is a drop in pickleball?

The pickleball drop shot (or just simply “drop”) is a soft, arcing shot that lands in your opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ).

This technique gives you and your partner time to move up to the kitchen line without giving your opponent an attackable ball.

You can almost think of the drop as a dink shot that you hit from further back in the pickleball court.

This shot requires precision and control. It’s one of the harder techniques for pickleball beginners to learn. But once mastered, the drop shot can unlock several singles and doubles strategies.

What is a third shot drop in pickleball?

A third shot drop in pickleball refers to a drop shot hit as the “third shot” of the point. The sequence goes like this:

  1. You or your partner serves.
  2. Your opponent returns serve.
  3. You hit a drop to advance to the kitchen.

The third shot drop has become a staple in pickleball, especially at the professional level. Getting to the kitchen gives you a much higher chance of winning the point. Because the returning team typically runs to the kitchen immediately after returning serve, the third shot drop is an effective way to gain strategic positioning after the two-bounce rule.

Male pickleball player wearing a black top hitting a forehand third shot drop shot while positioned inside the baseline.

Why is the drop shot important in pickleball?

Most points in pickleball are won at the kitchen, especially in doubles. When a player is at the kitchen line, they can be more aggressive and control the point.

The best way to counter an opponent at the kitchen is to get to the kitchen yourself. That’s where the drop shot comes in. The drop lets you advance to the NVZ and get on equal offensive footing.

What makes a good drop in pickleball?

A “good” drop shot in pickleball typically has these elements:

  • The shot lands in your opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ).
  • The ball is not hit too far or too high that your opponent can hit an aggressive volley.
  • You and your partner move up to the kitchen line immediately after the drop shot is struck.

When to hit a drop in pickleball

The most common time to hit a drop in pickleball is the third shot, after your opponent has returned serve (i.e., the “third shot drop”).

This technique allows you and your partner to safely advance to the kitchen line without giving your opponent (who’s likely already at the kitchen at this point) an offensive volley opportunity.

While the third shot is the most common time for a drop shot, there are many other scenarios when either team can hit a drop. Such situations include:

  • You hit a drive on your third shot instead of a drop that your opponent returns. Instead of driving the ball again, you hit a drop as your fifth shot.
  • The ball is lobbed over your head. Instead of driving the ball back at your opponent (which is a low-percentage shot), you opt for a drop shot to reset your position at the kitchen.
  • You pop the ball up and back up to defend an aggressive volley or overhead. Once you’re back in the point, you hit a drop to re-advance to the kitchen for continued dink rallies.

Basically, any time your opponent is at the kitchen and you want to advance to the kitchen yourself, a drop is the most effective option.

Female pickleball player wearing a red top hitting a forehand drop shot with her left hand during a game of doubles. Her opponents are positioned behind the kitchen line on the opposite side of the net.

Where to hit a drop in pickleball

The best place to hir or aim your drop in pickleball is right around the back of your opponent’s NVZ, close to the kitchen line.

If you try to hit the drop too short in the kitchen, you risk hitting the net and losing the point. If you hit it too far, your opponent can return it with an aggressive volley.

If your drop lands around the kitchen line, your opponent may have to step back to return it. That gives you plenty of time to get to the NVZ.

From there, you can exchange dinks with your opponent or put away any pop-ups your opponents give you.

What grip should I use for a drop shot in pickleball?

A continental grip is the best choice for hitting drop shots in pickleball. The continental grip opens the paddle face, which is perfect for gentle, arcing drops.

It’s also important to not grip the paddle too tightly when hitting a drop shot. After all, this shot requires touch and finesse. Generally speaking, holding the paddle with 30% of your grip strength is sufficient.

How to hit a pickleball drop: step-by-step

  1. Footwork: Take small, controlled steps to receive the ball.
  2. Stance: Turn your body slightly, adopting a semi-closed stance. Keep your knees bent.
  3. Grip technique: Hold the paddle laterally with a continental grip, rather than directly below your wrist.
  4. Paddle face: Keep the paddle face open, ready to hit the ball in a gentle arc over the net.
  5. Minimal backswing: Use a short backswing to increase control and reduce unforced errors, similar to dinks.
  6. Swing from shoulder: Utilize your entire arm when hitting a drop, not just your elbow or wrist.
  7. More of a push: A pickleball drop shot should feel more like pushing the ball, rather than striking it.
  8. Contact point: Contact the ball in front of your body for better control over the paddle face.
  9. Follow through: Finish the stroke with a small follow-through, granting better control over the path of the ball.
  10. Get to the kitchen: After hitting the drop, quickly advance to the kitchen and prepare for the next shot.

Check out our other pickleball guides!

Strategies and tactics for pickleball drops

As you refine your pickleball drop shot, here are some strategies and tactics to consider:

  • In doubles, mix up your drop shots with drives. While drops are more of a high-percentage play in doubles, if you only hit third shot drops, your opponent will learn to expect and counter them. Throwing in a drive or two will keep them on their toes.
  • Vary where you hit your drops. In doubles, see how both players respond to your shot and whether they try to speed it up, roll it back to the baseline, or a hit a safe dink. In singles, observe how well your opponent returns from their forehand versus backhand side.
  • When retrieving lobs, keep your composure and try to hit a controlled drop once you meet the ball at the baseline. It’s easy to try and drive the ball in this situation, thinking it’s the best play. In reality, dropping the ball and resetting the point is usually the more effective play.
Male pickleball player wearing a light top and white hat hitting a third shot drop shot during a game of doubles. His female doubles partner stands to his right, with both players positioned near the baseline.

Common mistakes with drops in pickleball

  • Overhitting the shot: Hitting the ball too high or too far, giving your opponent an easier ball to attack.
  • Incorrect paddle angle: Holding the paddle at the wrong angle, leading to a lack of control over the ball’s trajectory and placement.
  • Gripping too tightly: Holding the pickleball paddle too tightly, reducing your ability to finesse the ball over the net.
  • Poor footwork: Failing to position the body and feet correctly, which can affect balance and timing, leading to inaccurate shots.
  • Hitting too late: Striking the ball too late or too close to the body, resulting in loss of control and unforced errors.
  • Lack of patience: Rushing the shot or sacrificing form, decreasing the shot’s consistency and effectiveness.
  • Over-reliance on spin: Trying to hit with too much spin, increasing the difficulty of the shot and decreasing your consistency.
  • Neglecting shot variation: Relying too heavily on the drop (especially when it isn’t working), neglecting to attempt other shots like drives or passing shots.

Drills to improve your pickleball drop shot

Many drills can help you improve your drop shot in pickleball:

  • Static drop feed drill: Stand just inside the baseline (near the transition zone) while holding the pickleball. Drop the ball, then hit a controlled drop shot after it bounces. Focus on keeping your knees bent, your pickleball paddle face open, and pushing the ball instead of slapping at it. If you have a training partner or coach, they can also do soft underhand feeds that you can practice your drops.
  • Third shot drop drill: This drill requires a training partner. Serve the ball and have your partner return your serve to various positions on the court. With your next shot, regardless of where the ball lands, hit a forehand or backhand third shot drop. Focus on taking short, controlled steps to receive the ball and preparing your paddle early for the stroke.
  • Wall drill: If you have a hitting wall nearby, this drill may come in handy. While hitting against the wall, practice moving forwards and backwards. This will simulate offense and defense in pickleball games. Hit hard drives that rebound far in the imaginary “court.” Bend your knees and hit a soft drop that you follow to the “kitchen.” Hit a few forehand and backhand dinks, and repeat.

Frequently asked questions

How do you return a drop shot in pickleball?

How you return a drop in pickleball depends on how well your opponent hits the shot.

If your opponent’s drop lands in your non-volley zone and bounces low, drop your pickleball paddle and respond with a controlled dink.

If their shot travels higher or farther than they expected, return their drop with a more aggressive roll or drive to keep them behind the baseline.

Is the third shot a drop or drive in pickleball?

Both options are entirely viable in pickleball. The decision to drive or drop your third shot is completely up to you.

That said, you should vary your shot selection based on the strength of your opponent’s return, your opponent’s position on the court, and your comfort level with hitting both shots.

Some players are more comfortable dropping more balls than driving them, and vice versa.

How do you master the third shot drop?

The third shot drop is a difficult shot to master, but it can be a potent weapon in any pickleball player’s repertoire.

The key to mastering this shot lies in repetition and practice. Focus on maintaining good form, keeping your knees bent, and swinging from your shoulder.

Don’t be phased by the pace of your opponent’s return of serve. Prepare your paddle early and push the ball with an open paddle face.

What is the difference between a drop shot and a dink shot?

The difference between a drop shot and dink shot is where the ball is contacted on your side of the court.

A dink shot is struck at the kitchen line or in the NVZ. A drop shot is struck closer to the baseline or in the transition zone.

However, both shots aim to land in the opponent’s NVZ.

Key takeaways

  • The pickleball drop shot is a strategic, soft, arcing shot that lands in the opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ), allowing players to advance to the kitchen line.
  • Mastering the drop shot, which requires precision and control, can unlock several strategies in singles and doubles play.
  • The third shot drop is specifically hit as the third shot of the point, aiding in gaining strategic positioning and advancing to the kitchen.
  • Winning points in pickleball often occurs at the kitchen, where players can be more aggressive; the drop shot facilitates getting there.
  • A good drop shot lands in the opponent’s NVZ without being too high or too far, enabling the hitter and their partner to move up to the kitchen line.
  • The most common scenario for a drop shot is the third shot after the opponent’s serve return, but it can also be used in various other situations to regain or maintain strategic positioning.
  • Aim the drop shot around the back of the opponent’s NVZ, close to the kitchen line, to give yourself time to get to the NVZ and engage in advantageous play.
  • The continental grip is recommended for drop shots in pickleball, allowing for an open paddle face necessary for gentle, arcing drops.
  • The basics of hitting a drop include controlled footwork, a semi-closed stance, a continental grip, minimal backswing, swinging from the shoulder, and quickly advancing to the kitchen after the shot.
  • Common mistakes include overhitting, incorrect paddle angle, gripping too tightly, poor footwork, hitting too late, lack of patience, over-reliance on spin, and neglecting shot variation.
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