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When to use the third shot drive in pickleball


By Dominic Catalano

on Jan 24, 2024

Dominic Catalano explains when to use the third shot drive

Many new pickleball players, particularly those coming from tennis, like to hit the ball hard. Groundstrokes, passing shots, and third-shot drives, in particular, are used often. 

And while all these shots have merit, there is a certain time and situation in which to use them. Overuse or using them at the wrong time can lead to lost points and matches. 

In his latest high-level pickleball lesson, Dominic Catalano explains the reason to hit a third shot drive and how to improve them. 

What is a third shot drive? 

A third shot drive is an alternative to the third shot drop. Rather than dropping the ball into the kitchen, you hit the ball with pace. 

This shot is used for a variety of reasons, including to catch your opponent off guard, to punish your opponent for poor positioning, or to set up an easier fifth shot. 

How to hit a third shot drive

The number one key to hitting a successful third shot drive is proper balance. When executing this shot, you must ensure that you are in a stable, equal position. 

If you attempt to hit a drive when you’re off-balance, lunging to one side, or even leaning backward, you often hit an improper third shot drive. This enables your opponent to dictate the point because you’ll be scrambling to recover throughout the entire point. 

Next, you need to position yourself so that you’re able to step into the ball as you hit it, swinging from low to high to create topspin. Ensure you follow through with your swing to finish with your paddle above your opposite shoulder. 

Mastering the third shot drive isn’t about hitting the ball as hard as you can — you simply want to change the pace. Hit the ball hard enough to catch your opponents off guard, but not so hard that it flies off the court.

The strategy of a third shot drive

One common misconception about the third shot drive is that it is a point-ender. Too often, players hit a third shot drive and expect that to be the end of the point or enough to move to the kitchen line. 

But that’s not true. The true goal of the third shot drive is to set yourself up for a better fifth shot. 

So, once you hit your third shot drive, you can usually gain one or two steps forward. Then, you want to perform a split step and gauge how your opponent will react. 

If your opponent blocks or punches the ball back to you, you’ve given yourself an easier and shorter drop shot. If you cause your opponent to pop the ball up, you can charge forward to hit a put-away shot. 

As you hit the third shot drive, remember that it’s about gaining ground and control of a point, not hitting an immediate winner. 

How to improve your third shot drive

We all know the truth — the best way to improve a skill is through repetition. In your next pickleball session, take some time away from the games to work on your third shot drive. 

Have your partner stand at the kitchen line and feed a ball to you at the baseline. Hit a third shot drive toward your partner. Your partner should then hit the ball back toward you. 

Based on the type of shot you receive, perform a drop, drive, or put-away shot. Keep hitting the ball back and forth until you reach the kitchen line. Once you do, reset and start over. 

Take note of which drives were more successful in advancing you to the kitchen line. Which combinations help you reach the kitchen line faster? Which combinations cause more pop-ups from your opponent? Did you hit any off-balance shots that caused errors? 

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