Third Shot Strategies

In this video, Jordan Briones from PrimeTime Pickleball, talks about three options to neutralize the receiving team’s advantage. It starts with the third shot. There are basically three options which all make sense depending on the quality of the receiving team’s return.

  • Option 1: Third shot drop and work your way up – Jordan demonstrates how this looks in the video. You play a drop shot for your third shot and make your way through the transition zone making sure you stop and do a split step when the opposing team hits the ball so that you are balanced and ready to make your next shot. You continue working your way through the transition zone, making as many shots as necessary, until you reach the non-volley zone (NVZ) line. Since I don’t drive the ball well, this is pretty much how I play 99% of the time.
  • Option 2: Third shot drive and fifth shot drop – Third shot drives are a good option when the return is super deep or when the returner puts tons of spin on the ball and it’s nearly impossible to play a good drop shot. Then your best bet is to drive the third shot to get it over and play a drop shot on your fifth shot so you can make your way to the NVZ line. Sometimes you’ll get an easy, short return which you can also drive for a quick winner or shake-and-bake setup. Shake-and-bake is the term used for the play when you (or your partner) drive the ball and the opponent pops the ball up so you can execute a finishing overhead smash to win the point. It’s usually hard to win attacks from the transition zone so it’s best to wait until you are in a strong position at the NVZ line before attacking. If you attack from the transition zone and the ball comes back, you’re not going to be in the best position to defend against that counter attack. This is something I constantly have to remind myself because sometimes you get somewhat of a high ball that seems attackable and it’s very tempting to smash it. Unless you are completely balanced, you run the risk of smashing the ball into the net or your attack gets countered and you get yourself in a bind because you’re still in transition. So sometimes it’s smarter to play a fifth (or seventh or ninth) shot drop, make it to the NVZ, and wait for a better opportunity to attack the ball.
  • Option 3: Third shot drop and hustle to the NVZ line – This is a good option if the return is weak and/or you are able to execute an excellent drop that allows you to make it all the way to the NVZ line but it’s not the best idea if your third shot drop is high or attackable because you never want to still be running when you hit the next ball. If you’re still running to the NVZ and not in position when the ball comes to you, you’ll be more likely to pop the ball up or miss the shot. So, while this is an option, it might not be your best one given the situation. Never blindly rush to the net without first assessing the quality of that third shot and whether you’ll be able to make it. If the third shot is bad, resort to the first option — split step and work your way up.

These are three legitimate options for the third shot. I’ve seen and experienced third shot lobs and they work sometimes but this isn’t your best bet because lobs from the baseline are not as effective as lobs from the NVZ line. For one, the other team has way more time to respond and they have the potential to hit the next shot as an overhead smash which will put you and your partner in a bind. I guess the third shot lob can work if used sparingly and the other team isn’t expecting it.

Let me know your thoughts on the three third shot options discussed in the video by leaving a comment below. Until next time. See you on the courts!

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