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The Philosophy Behind Pickleball’s Third-Shot Drop: Is it Becoming Obsolete?

by Eric Roddy on

I had the privilege this past week to fill in for Adam Stone and co-host the It Feels Right podcast with Rob Nunnery on SelkirkTV.

Aside from the fun back and forth banter with Nunnery and guest (and fellow pickleball pro) Greg Dow, we got to talking about a hot button issue circulating pickleball right now: what is the philosophy around the third-shot drop, and is it becoming obsolete?

Paddle technology has fueled the desire to drive even more

Let me be the first to commend the growth and evolution in pickleball.

The progress that has been made in this sport across all facets (business, participation, equipment etc.) in the past few years is outstanding, and I hope it continues on the same trajectory. Paddle technology is another area that has experienced immense growth, especially in the last 12 months. It seems like yesterday that there were really only 4-5 paddle manufacturers. Now, there are legitimately hundreds. 

Pickleball paddles needed to improve and become more powerful and grittier. This has opened up the game tremendously and at the pro level, it has allowed for greater athletes to enter the sport and showcase their athleticism, which is crucial for increasing viewership.

However, I think paddle technology is toeing the line and will soon cross it. Paddles are becoming so powerful that the game is becoming more about who can hit harder than it is about skill. This rapid increase in paddle power is resulting in a change in the way players are playing the sport, and we are seeing some shots start to morph or even dwindle as a result. One of those is the third-shot drop.

Players (especially at the amateur levels) are more inclined and instantly rewarded now more than ever to drive their third shots. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the resulting consequence is that amateur players may completely neglect to develop a third-shot drop, which will ultimately stunt their development to higher skill levels. 

The third-shot drop will never disappear, but may take on a new look

I don’t think the third-shot drop will ever disappear from the game, no matter how good the paddles get. It has always been a fundamental part of pickleball and is essential to the serving team consistently transitioning to the kitchen. 

A well-executed third-shot drop is as effective if not more so than a well-executed third-shot drive. At the pro level, especially in gender doubles, it is the best way to get to the kitchen and eventually score on your serve. Yes, paddle technology has made driving bigger and easier than ever, but it’s also boosted players’ volleys and their ability to handle and neutralize a strong drive. 

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If anything, the third-shot drop quality will improve alongside paddle technology. With more grit and power, players can now hit more hybrid drops (think half-drop, half-drive shots) that can reach their opponents’ feet and have pace. Drops will have more top spin, and players won’t have to aim so high over the net. Better angles will be possible, and the first 2-4 shots of a point will be even more crucial. 

So, where do we go from here?

I think there will be a limit to how powerful and gritty a paddle can be. Are we already there? I think so, but not every paddle is created equal right now. There are a few paddles that are significantly more poppy/gritty than others. 

As for the third-shot drop – no, I don’t think it is going extinct nor would I say that it is becoming obsolete. If anything, it’s worth keeping an eye on it at the amateur levels (especially in the 3.0-4.0 range). These levels were already prone to driving the majority of their third/fifth/seventh shots and may be even more inclined to do so now. This shot becoming even less prevalent could make it even harder for players in the 3.0-4.0 skill range to make the jump to the next level.

What do you think? Follow me on twitter @RoddyPFN and on Instagram @ricroddy1 and let me know where you stand.

Thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for more strategy and instruction content. Enjoy the grind, and remember, you can’t dink all day if you don’t start in the morning.

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