To win a point in pickleball you need to be onthe serving side, and the founders of the game put in some rules that made it really trickyfor the serving team to do just that. They only gave us one serve, we need to serve underhand,and when the ball comes back we have to let it bounce before we can hit it, so there is noserving and volleying. Combine that with the relatively tiny court on the other side and somepretty rudimentary equipment that we have to play the game with, especially compared to a lot ofother racket sports. I've got a pretty short paddle and then the Whiffle ball has no rubbercore or felt on the outside to produce some spin, so I find it really hard to produce enoughpace or spin to cause much of a problem for the two opponents who are standing at thenon-volley zone on the other side, covering.

Only 20 feet of court… hence the quandaryor as Websters says- “a state of perplexity or uncertainty in a difficult situation”.So let's talk about a few options here. Our first option is to try a traditionalthird shot drop… I prefer my forehand so I'll probably serve from close to themiddle to make sure I get a forehand when it comes back. I'm also going to try andmake sure I swing at strikes… that means move my feet to make sure I hit the ballin relation to my body where I prefer. I'm aiming at the kitchen in front of the playerwho's on his way in… I may as well go for the player who's moving, as opposed to the onewho starts the point in a stationary position. I'm looking to gently drop this ball.

Into the kitchen in front of the player whojust came in after his return of serve… it's a pretty delicate shot, sometimes I get thatball up a little bit too high… he's going to hit that one hard back at us… other times we haveto be careful not to hit the ball into the net, but when everything goes right it landsright in the kitchen. It's just a little breeze today… not too bad… so again, getmy feet moving so I can swing at strikes, use my knees, bend my knees, lift thatball up into the kitchen… right there. Over the past few years teaching morethan a thousand players of all levels I've identified a couple of problem areaswhen it comes to the traditional third shot drop. The biggest one is we're hittingway too many third shot drops right into.

The net tape… we're so concerned withgetting that ball up high enough that our opponents can smash the ball back atus that we're just cutting it razor thin and whether we're just not quite skilled enough,or the conditions aren't right, or too much wind or spin on the ball and we just hit thatball into the net tape a little bit too often. So I've been working on an alternative…something to add a tool to our toolbox to give us a little bit more variety when it comesto options for solving that third shot quandary. Let's explore an alternative to the traditionalthird shot drop given some of the problems that we just identified with it. First of all,before the point even starts, as the server, I have some control over how far advanced thereturner is able to make it toward the non-volley.

Zone before I hit my third shot. if we hit aregular looking low and fast serve that lands mid way into the service box, our opponent is ableto get a jump on it, get on up here and get close to the non-volley zone line before I hit my third.So, instead I'm going to prioritize a deep serve, a nice deep ball that makes it a little bit morechallenging for that returner to make it all the way in. So as we can see Diego our returnerhas made it three or four or five feet away from the non-volley Zone when I'm getting readyto hit my third shot. I've already agreed I'm not going to hit the ball at his partner, as hestarts the point leering at me from from only seven feet away from the net. I'm gonna hit thatball at the returner's feet as he comes in but I'm conscious of the clock that's ticking… ifI hit a traditional looking third shot drop it.

Takes a little while to get there, then Diegois definitely going to to finish arriving all the way up at the non-volley zone line. So I'mlooking to get that ball at his feet while he may still have a step or two to go to get to thenon-volley zone. I'm going to use a traditional forehand ground stroke… just looking to get thatball at his feet, and unlike the traditional third shot drop I'm not aiming for the kitchen… thatwould be an (acceptable) mistake if that will ball land short… I want to get that ball a littlebit deeper so that it lands in the blue. I'm aiming for his feet trying to get that ball at himbefore he makes it to the non-volley zone line… if I do that we can see that I'm clearing the netby plenty of room… it's not going to hit the net and I'm also not getting that ball up around hiseye level. So the goal is to catch him while he's.

Still in the blue, on his way in get that ballat his feet, not worry so much about it landing in the kitchen, and from there I feel prettygood about my partner and I having the chance to advance and move forward, play some winningpickleball up there at the non-volley zone line. Let's take a look at this New School thirdshot in action. Remember, I'm going to hang out close to the middle line… that's where I servedfrom… I'm not looking to do anything fancy here, I just still want to get the ball at thefeet of the returner as he's on his way in. I'm not terribly concerned if it's alittle bit too high, we'll cover that, I'm just really looking to not hit thisball into the net, get into the rally… it's gonna land right at his ankles rightthere… get into the rally… just a regular.

Basic ground stroke, forehand or backhand, itdoesn't matter what it is I'm just looking to get that ball to his feet rather speedily. Idon't want to put a lot of loft on the ball so that he can close the distance to thenon-volley zone, I'm just looking to get that ball at his feet while he's still on hisway up to the non-volley zone. Right there! Common concerns I hear from players when learningthe New School drop is…well, I understand that the returner may not be all the way up to thekitchen line when you hit the third shot, but they should have closed the gap while the ball is inthe air. Very true and sometimes the returner is savvy and they put a little bit of air under theirreturn, which allows them to make it all the way to the non-volley zone. I'm not terribly concernedabout that… I'm still aiming for their feet four.

Or five feet away from the kitchen line… if theymake it all the way there then they're going to cut that ball off… they made it all the wayup to here, they're going to cut that ball off right here… that ball would have landed backhere… they're allowed to hit it out of the air, but if they hit that ball right here thenthey're hitting up and as the serving team, I'm plenty happy to have the returners hittingtheir next ball up. The one I'm hitting this shot I certainly want to avoid putting that ballinto the net you know right here. The next step is we are anticipating that we'll definitelybe having to hit a mid-court fifth shot. We know he's going to get that ball back to us…I'm anticipating a fifth shot. Both players will have made it up to the kitchen line at that pointand now I'm going to work really hard with my ball.

Machine to see if I can't play that fifth shotfrom down here softly landing it in the kitchen. Again my fifth shot is going to need to land inthe kitchen otherwise they're going to be able to attack us out of the air. The third shot I'mmore than willing to have it be a couple of feet beyond the kitchen line knowing that they're goingto hit up and then ready to hit that fifth shot… the whole key to the New School third is that Ido a whole lot less of this with my third shots… clearing the net by about yay high, it lands acouple of feet behind the kitchen line, they're going to play that fourth shot, and my partner andI are going to practice diligently on our fifth.
Coach Scott Fliegelman introduces the concept of the “Third Shot Quandary”, then walks you through a unique solution… the “New School” 3rd. He shares his observations and tips as a highly ranked pro player (2022 USA Pickleball Nationals Silver Medalist- Senior Pro Division), and as a teacher to more than 1,000 aspiring players. Specifically, he has identified that most players using a “traditional” 3rd shot drop, are either hitting the ball too high or, otherwise, hitting it into the net out of fear of being slammed. The “New School” approach begins before the ball is even served, and includes a deeper understanding of the returner’s objectives and likely timing. The New School 3rd is not a simple fix for every situation, but should add a valuable tool to a player’s tool box, when handling the quandary that is the third shot in pickleball.

Best for players with at least 6 months of experience playing pickleball.

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