Third Shot Drop Strategy: When to Drop and When to Drive

To drive or to drop, that is the question.

Now that you know how and why to hit a drop... when should you use it instead of your beloved drive?

It's a question I get all the time, and the answer is completely based on your level and who you're playing. If you're comfortable hitting drops and have the reps under your belt, use it as much as possible, and not just as the third shot. You can use it as a fifth shot, seventh, etc. Anytime you and your partner are back at the baseline and your opponents are at the net, dropping 70%-80% of the time is a good target, and about what the pros do. Remember, the purpose of a drop is to give yourself time to move forward while making your opponents hit up on the ball.

Don't worry! You'll still use your drive when you're in perfect position and get a short, high bouncing sitter, or to keep your opponents guessing from time to time. Reminder: drops are slightly safer cross court or down the middle, and drives are better down the line, at your opponent. 

So, what if you're not as comfortable hitting drops yet? Start by wearing this hat. Just kidding! For better or worse, you'll still need to use drops about 20-30% of the time. This is because driving the wrong ball will almost always lose you the point. Here are three times it's important to try and use the drop, even if you're not confident in that shot yet:

  1. Super low returns or low bouncing volleys from your opponents. If you try to drive them, you'll be lifting the ball into your opponents strike zone.
  2. When you're pulled off the court with a tough angle, either from a return or during the point. Trying to drive this ball will most likely end in disaster as you're going to be hitting it from an off balance position and leaving a large part of the court open to your opponents to volley to. Dropping these shots will give you time to get back into position and out of trouble.
  3. In the mid court. Once you make it up to the mid court because of a good drop or drive, you'll need to hit another drop before you can move up to the kitchen. Trying to drive a ball from the mid court is okay occasionally to keep your opponents guessing, but will many times come back faster, and leave you at a disadvantage.

    The more you practice and drill your drops, the easier it will become to make the right choice in the moment. To drill this shot, stand at the baseline and have your hitting partner at the net on the other side. Work on your drop for a few minutes, and then try to win the point by moving forward on good drops, and driving the occasional high bouncing sitter. 

    To summarize how often you should drop, you'll go from 20%-30% drops in the early stages of your pickleball career, to about 50% drops as you get closer to a 4.0 level, and eventually work your way to 70%-80% drops as you become more confident in your skills. 

    - Kyle Lewis

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