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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Recycle Sunday - Pickleball Statistical Analysis - Drop Shots

A blast from the past...

This week's Recycle Sunday article was originally published February 11, 2016.


I have discussed several options for the third shot, including the drive, the lob, and the drop shot. In my post on The Third Shot, I stated that the drop shot is the best option. I based that recommendation on observations, discussions with 4.0+ players, as well as personal play. Now, I have statistics that support the recommendation. My post on Pickleball Statistical Analysis mentioned 5 areas of the game that were analyzed by Noel White. One of these 5 areas was drop shots. The conclusion (Results Nutshell) reached by Noel was:

In the 2013 research sample, 73% of the time the winning teams hit a majority of the successful drop shots. In the 2012 research sample, approximately 90% of the time the winning teams hit a majority of the successful drop shots.

Noel's conclusion is clear - successful execution of the drop shot on a regular basis will lead to more winning. Teams that successfully hit more drop shots than their opponents won between 7 and 9 games out of 10 games played. This is true even with some built-in lost rallies due to the difficulty of the shot.

The reality is that the third shot is one of the most difficult in the game. Noel's analysis showed that 16% of attempted drop shots result in a fault when they either hit the net or go out of bounds. Furthermore, more than 50% of drop shots hit by 4.0+ players were long, i.e., the trajectory carried the ball past the opponent's kitchen line. This allowed the opponent to make an offensive return rather than the defensive upward shot that is the goal. Noel witnessed only an estimated 25% of players who hit a drop shop as taught.

But the difficulty of the shot, in conjunction with the statistics, means there is an opportunity of which everyone can take advantage. Said another way, the lack of successful drop shots shown by most players, in conjunction with the winning that comes with success drop shots, means players who improve their drop shot success rate will win more. So, what is the bottom line of this analysis? I will make three recommendations:
  1. Use the drop shot more. The supporting statistics demand it.
  2. As always, practice is the answer.  
  3. Noel's analysis showed that not all drop shots are equal in effectiveness. Drop shots hit to the middle of the court (in the kitchen), to opponents' backhands, and hit cross court (diagonally) to the corner of the kitchen are "by far the most effective in neutralizing the opponents’ returns".  Those are the shots that should be emphasized in practice.
The statistics behind using a drop shot are overwhelming.  If your opponent does use it and you do not, you are likely to win less than 3 out of 10 games played.  As difficult as it may be, the drop shot must become a bigger part of your game.

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