Easy Tips for Improving Your Third Shot Drive

Third shot drive or drop? The age-old pickleball question is as divisive as choosing a waffle or sugar cone. At the end of the day, they’re both effective–and delicious.

And both shots should be mastered for a balanced pickleball game. Today’s tips are all about how you can improve your pickleball third shot drive.

Tip #1 – Less Backswing is Better

One of the critical elements for all pickleball shots, especially when driving the ball, is limiting the amount of backswing you put into your shot. In Tennis, it’s common to see a player use a giant swooping swing to really put some oomph on the ball. That same swing will send the ball flying off the court in pickleball, giving your opponent an easy side out.

Instead of a big swooping swing, try one with a smaller loop and step into the ball as you swing.

Tip #2 – Work on Balance

Another key element of a strong drive shot is to have good balance on the court. If you stand more open, where both feet are parallel with the net, you want to maintain a wide stance and bend at your knees as you drive the ball. If you stand more at an angle when you take the shot, you really need to step into it with the foot closer to the net. This weight transfer will help you maintain a good balance and drive the ball.

Tip #3 – Hit the ball off the sweet spot

Pickleball paddles are elongated, which means the sweet spot is bigger, but there is also room around the sweet spot that you don’t want to hit the ball with. The quickest way to deaden a ball is to hit it with just the end or side of your paddle. To drive the ball well, you really want to focus on hitting that sweet spot over and over again. When you practice, really try to look the ball into the paddle as you swing. This will train your hands to hit the sweet spot regardless of the angle you have to attack from.

Tip #4 – Follow-Through In Front

When we fall backward or stand flat-footed, we risk not following through on our shots. Often, this will cause the ball to die and land on our side of the court instead of our opponent’s side. If, instead, we had stepped into the shot and followed through with our swing and body, then it would’ve made it over. On a drive, the momentum of the follow-through should bring your body toward the net as you impact the ball.

Tip #5 – Watch Your Opponent’s Movement

Besides hitting the ball, we can improve our third shot drive by using a better strategy. If your opponent likes to move forward after returning the serve, drive the ball back at their feet. When playing aggressive opponents who want to get to the kitchen area quickly, the drive can be a great weapon to use again and again to punish their aggressiveness.

Tip #6 – Remember to Aim

Pick a spot to drive the ball into, don’t just hit it wherever. Sometimes we get so focused on mechanics and the swing that we forget to assess where our opponent is. See a gap? Drive the ball into it.

Tip #7 – Assess the Return of Serve

Assessing your opponent’s return of serve can help to inform you of the best third shot to take. If they hit the ball back at you and it’s soft and high, that could be an excellent opportunity to be aggressive and score with a drive.

Tip #8 – Be Aggressive

Remember, you can only score when you serve the ball. So, on a third shot, be aggressive and really go after your point. Some like to use the third shot to set up their net play or start a volley. Which is a fine tactic. But, when you have the chance to put your opponent away on a third shot with a drive, take it.

Tip #9 – Combat the Slice

More advanced players might use the return of serve as an opportunity to slice the ball. They know that since you have to let it bounce before hitting it back, a slice can throw off your balance and force you into a weaker shot attempt. But, one of the best ways to deal with a slice is to drive your paddle through the ball. Driving does a better job counteracting a spinning ball than trying to hit it softly does. Just be sure to catch the ball on a short bounce, so it doesn’t have time to leap away from you.

Tip #10 – Know Your Opponent

Can your opponent handle “the hard stuff?” How aggressive are they? Do they tend to favor one side of the court over the other?

Bruce Lee said it best, “Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” When it’s time to drive, drive it. When it’s time to drop it, “drop it like it’s hot.” Wait, that last quote was Snoop Dogg.

Be like a mix between Snoop Dogg and Bruce Lee, both masters in their own right.

Tip #11 – Add Spin to Your Drive

The final tip is the most advanced one. Combine your drive shot with some spin. If done well, this shot can be unhittable. And being unhittable is a great way to win a lot of matches. But, to do this well, you’ll need a lot of practice.

We began this article debating whether to drop or drive on your third shot. If you practice these 11 tips, you’ll be well on your way to mastering them both instead of choosing one or the other.

Happy driving!

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