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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Third Shot Review

This week will be focused on the third shot. We opened with a short article revisiting the topic yesterday. We will continue it today with a video from Jeff Shank called 100 Pickleball Strategies HD part 2 of 7.

The video is a comprehensive discussion of the third shot. It begins with positioning. First, remember what the third shot is. The first shot is the serve, the second shot is the return of serve, and the third shot is the serving team's first opportunity to play a regular shot. The disadvantage to the serving team on this shot is that they must allow the return of serve to bounce. Therefore, they cannot advance from the baseline until they know where the return of serve is hit. Jeff emphasizes that the serving team must stay behind the baseline and not move into the court. Moving into the court can create a difficult play if the return of serve is hit deep to the serving team's feet.

The goal of the third shot is to improve the serving team's positional advantage versus their opponent. Generally, a team has a better chance to win a rally when they are positioned at the kitchen line. Conversely, a team positioned at the baseline has a lesser chance of winning. If the receiving team has properly executed the return of serve and player movement, they will be positioned at the kitchen line when the serving team hits the third shot from the baseline. The goal of the serving team must be to hit a third shot that allows the team to advance toward the kitchen line to gain equal advantage with their opponents.

The best option to attain the goal is a soft drop shot that lands in the kitchen.

But this shot is one of the most difficult to learn and can have bad outcomes. Those college football fans among us who are old enough may remember Woody Hayes. Woody is credited with saying "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad." Similarly, there are 3 results from drop shots and 2 of them are bad. The ideal result is that the ball lands softly in the kitchen. The worst result is that ball lands in the net and loses the rally. The third result is still bad but does not end the rally. It is a ball hit too high or deep that allows the opponent to make an offensive return. But at least the serving team will have an opportunity to play on. Therefore, the single result that should be avoided is hitting the ball into the net.

Even a perfect shot may not enable the serving team to get to the kitchen line. It the third shot is hit from well behind the baseline or the team is a little slow, they may only get part way to the kitchen. When this happens, the team should stop at the time their opponents are about to hit the return of the third shot. Stopping and getting into the ready position is the best preparation for the next shot. Then, make another drop shot and move up to the kitchen line on the following shot.

The next strategy that Jeff discusses is unique to his teaching. It regards how to play the third shot with a partner. When a player sees the return of serve is hit toward his partner, the player should move 2 steps into the court and watch his partner's shot.

If the partner's shot is a good one, i.e., it is going to land in the kitchen, then both players should quickly move forward to the kitchen line.

The player who does not make the third shot should take a position closer to their partner's side since the returning partner will be trailing and less well-positioned to make the next return.

However, the partner's shot may not be perfect. It may be too high or deep. If the player positioned inside the court sees his partner hit a high shot, the player should immediately split step into a ready position facing the direction from where the opponent will hit his return.

Instead of the normal ready position with paddle held high, the player should be low with a backhand grip. The return off the high third shot is likely to be hard and deep at the player's feet. This ready position allows the best chance to make a return of a low hard shot. There is no need to keep the paddle high inasmuch as a high return will carry out of bounds.

While the third shot general target is the kitchen, there are 2 specific targets for the drop shot. The first target should be down the middle. Hitting into the area between opponents creates a millisecond of confusion and may result in total miscommunication or players out of position. The second target should be the backhand of the opponent directly in front of the player.

With regard to hitting techniques, it is especially important to be focused on the ball. As discussed in The Most Important Shot, all focus should be on the shot at-hand. Hitting the ball right in the middle of the paddle provides the best opportunity to hit a good shot. Moving to the ball so it can be struck in the same place time after time is very important as well. Pickleball is a game of movement and getting the body properly positioned is key to making this difficult shot a little easier. Move quickly to the ball, set your body, and make a smooth swing on the ball. The third shot drop is a shot that takes lots of practice to understand how hard it must be hit from various positions on the court. One way to grasp the concept is use the underhanded toss training techniques I wrote about in The Third Shot.

Jeff does point out that a drop shot is not always the best option for a third shot. If the return of serve is short, a good alternative to a drop is a hard groundstroke blasted at the opponents. Another opportunity to blast the return is when the opponent has stayed back. A hard groundstroke to the feet of an opponent is easier to hit than a drop shot. It also forces the opponent to stay back and meets the goal of the third shot - to improve the serving team's advantage versus the opponent.

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