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Up Your Game

A Pickleball Drill to Combine Practice and Play

by andrew gilman on

The third shot drop in pickleball is like a muscle It needs to be worked on repeatedly to become stronger. It needs to be exercised to maintain its strength. Improve your third shot drop with a fun variation that will look forward to every week. Unlike leg day.

Use Rec Play to Improve Your Game

Let’s face it, there aren’t many people out there who want to drill, yet almost everyone reading these posts and visiting The Dink wants to get better.

So, what do we do about that?

Play more? Well, that’s always fun, but it doesn’t necessarily help you progress, especially if you’re playing the same people on a regular basis.

Practice more? Well, that is definitely a way to improve, but it can often become stale and boring. In addition, most people don’t have enough focus to drill and drill and drill for an entire session. Totally understandable, too.

But what about combining pickleball drills and games?

Here’s a great exercise that is equal parts drill and equal parts game:

The serving team’s goal is to get its third shot to bounce over the net - anywhere will do, but obviously in the non-volley zone is preferable. The receiving team’s goal is to not let that ball from the third shot bounce.

Easy enough? Should be.

OK, so you’re the serving team. If you’re able to get the ball over the net and to bounce on the third shot, the rally is over and you, the serving team, gets one point. Done. If the third shot “drops,” pick up the ball and move on. That’s a point.

However, if the receiving team is able to get that third shot out of the air and volley it back, the play continues. Finish out the rally as if it was any other rally. Play it to completion, whether it be a dink, drive, smash, whatever. Just play it out.

Score it like a regular game. Play to 11.

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How it Helps

What this game does is two things - it forces the serving team, from wherever it hits the ball on the third shot, to slow the game down. Obviously, beginners, and lower-level players need to work on this skill. Higher-level players will also benefit, as they will be using this third shot to try and drop the ball into the NVZ. It’s a great drill to work on the always tough third-shot drop from anywhere on the court, even places where you would normally drive the ball.

Meanwhile, it’s a great drill for the defense, too. Not only will the receiving team put a premium on returning the serve deep, as it will make the third shot that much tougher for the serving team, it also emphasizes moving swiftly up to the NVZ. It’s not uncommon for beginners and lower-level players to struggle to remember to move forward. If you know that the rally will be over after three shots if you don’t volley the ball, you’ll make it a priority to move all the way up to the NVZ line.

More benefits? The serving team will see how helpful a deep serve is, as it makes it harder for the receiving team to return the ball deep and move up. Also, the receiving team will see a huge windfall from being able to play a volley on the fourth shot, as opposed to having to play the ball on a bounce.

While the drill centers around the serving team and the third-shot drop, what it really does is emphasize the importance of the first four shots, getting a good, deep serve in, a solid, deep return and transitioning to the NVZ.

There is less pressure when hitting the fourth shot. This drill puts the pressure on. It forces players to reach into the kitchen and pick balls out of the air. Knees bent, arm stretched out in front is not in anyone's comfort zone. But testing the limit of what you can reach in the kitchen will make you a better player.

Any ball taken as a volley reduces the amount of time available for your opponent to advance in the court. Time is precious at the start of a rally, use it to your advantage. With this drill, all four players are getting an opportunity to improve.

All of this while playing a game, too. You might even forget you’re actually practicing and getting better. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.


Instagram: @andrewgpickleball
Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK

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