Mastering the Third-Shot Drive in Pickleball: When to Drive and When to Drop

Discover the art of the third-shot drive in pickleball and learn when to drive or drop strategically.

I’ve been playing long enough (2 years +) to know that the cool kids are deploying a third-shot drive as or more frequently than a third-shot drop. I use a third-shot drive and it can be effective, but I would like to have more insight into why and when to use it. Specifically:

* what is the primary goal of the third-shot drive? Is it defensive (I think so?) or is it offensive? Sometimes I can catch an opposing player off-guard and they will over hit their return out of bounds. Occasionally I can hit a good hard shot down the sideline. But often it feels like a drive ends up going straight at opposing players who are at or approaching the NVZ.
* when do you (serving team) make the decision to drive or drop? I am trying to be more intentional about where I direct the drive – specifically away from the opponent already at the NVZ and toward the opponent who returned the serve. But if they have moved to the NVQ quickly I can freeze up with indecision about driving it versus trying to drop.

I would be grateful for any insights to help my on my journey from 3.6 to 3.65….


  • The third-shot drive in pickleball can catch opponents off-guard and create offensive opportunities.
  • Understanding when to drive or drop depends on the return and your strategic intent.
  • Varying your third-shot strategy can keep opponents guessing and prevent them from adapting too easily.
  • A mix of driving and dropping can help you maintain a dynamic and effective game plan.


i drive on weaker, higher returns and drop on low returns.


Most 3rds aren’t winners, they are there to make your next ball easier. Do whatever gets you up to the NVZ. That could be driving at the near player on a short return, or down the line, or to the running players feet, or dropping.

I am 80-20 drop as that more consistently gets me up. The occasional shake and bake is fun.


For me, my drive is a dipping drive, and I am trying to turn from neutral/defense to attacking. If I hit it right the reply is from below the net and I can do it again, or have a shorter drop which will hopefully have less bounce.

A short low return will put me in drop…