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Last month I had someone write in asking for advice on how to better calibrate their drop shot.
Unless you’re a nationally ranked player, (and even then!) I’m sure you can relate to having days (or… ahem… entire pickleball careers) when you can’t seem to get the darn ball over the net from the back of the court without giving your opponent a cream-puff of a put-away shot to slam back at your feet.
From the dink to the drop shot, the secret to moving yourself from a defensive position into an offensive position in pickleball is to get the ball to drop relatively close to the net, inside the no-volley/kitchen line so that your opponent is forced to let it bounce before hitting it.
Because the pickleball doesn’t bounce high, that usually forces them to hit UP on the ball rather than hit down, which is always a disadvantageous position in pickleball. (For a more in depth discussion of why this is true, check out my article The Top 3 Reasons You MUST Play at The No-Volley Line + 2 Lies You Tell Yourself When You’re There.)
So let’s say you understand and buy in to the concept that in order to win a pickleball game against better players, you gotta get up to the net, and the best way to get up to the net from the back of the court is to take advantage of the no-volley rule by hitting a drop shot, and rushing to the line while you’re opponent is letting the ball bounce.
As I’m sure you’ll be the first to admit, understanding the concept intellectually is a far cry from being able to physically implement it.
So here are my best tips for how to hit a drop shot that actually drops out of your opponent’s wheelhouse & doesn’t go into the net.
#1: Hit the Ball ’til the Just Before the Second Bounce
After the ball bounces, you actually have much more time than you expect to hit it before it bounces again. Many players try to take the ball after the bounce & before the ball reaches the top of the next arch. But in order to get the most control of your shot, you need to wait and hit the ball AFTER it has passed the top of the arch, while it’s on it’s way back down, and right before it is going to make a a second bounce. Now I realize this is a question of seconds or milliseconds, but it really will make a big difference the longer you can wait to hit the ball.
This gives you more time to see where your opponents are positioning themselves, so that you can position the ball where they are not. The ball has also slowed down considerably by the time it gets there, so you have less speed to counteract.
#2: Lift with Your Knees
When I played & spectated at the Grand Canyon State Games in Surprise, AZ this past month, I paid special attention to the fact that nearly all the best players lift with their knees. Average height, short or tall, the best players all bend their knees & lift their paddle.
I’m not sure I can even explain the mechanics of why this is true, but when you bend your knees and use your whole body to lift your paddle and scoop the ball, you’ll have more control than you ever thought possible.
When you bend & lift with your knees, you are forced to get your timing right. This means you’re not just reaching out to get your paddle in front or unconsciously reacting to the shot, but you are positioning yourself closer to the ball and in a better position to hit it.
The improvement in your accuracy when you make the shot is absolutely worth every minute of practice to get the timing down.
#3: Don’t Swing & Hit: Instead Scoop the Ball
Just put your paddle in place and scoop the ball up & where you want it to go (as you’re lifting with your knees). The motion of your paddle should be more in an upward direction than a front-to-back swing.
With a deep a deep back-swing your paddle moves the course of several feet in just a few seconds. That range of motion of the paddle makes it very difficult to hit the ball consistently shot after shot.
When you reduce the swinging motion, you reduce the variability of your shot, and therefore make it more consistent.
If any of you have my friend Coach Mo’s video, he talks about aiming the face of your paddle before you hit the shot, and that is the same theory — minimize the amount of motion before the ball gets to you, so that you can maximize your consistency.
So instead of swinging your paddle, imagine it was a bowling ball. Now, a balling ball is so heavy, and has such momentum, that we really must stay in control of it while we swing the ball back, and as we push it forward. That is exactly the speed, motion, and control that I want you to give your paddle while you hit your drop shot. Try it, see the difference, and then give me your feedback.
#4: Aim for an Arch, Not a Dying Quail
Aim for a drop-shot that has a considerable arch on it, that peaks somewhere over the kitchen line on your side of the net and drops across the net.
Now, this certainly isn’t the ONLY way to hit a drop shot, but you’ll find it gives you the greatest control & the greatest consistency. Some of you know my wife, Wendy Garrido, who is an excellent, 5.0 player who has taken a couple Gold Medals at Nationals for her age group and placed 4th in the Women’s Doubles Open division in 2012.
Now Wendy also does most of my writing & editing so I promise you that she included this because she thought it would help you…Wendy’s most common way to hit a drop shot is what a friend of ours termed “the dying quail.” The ball travels at a pretty horizontal trajectory until it passes the net, and then seemingly drops straight down (like a bird shot out of the air). It’s a very difficult shot to return, but the problem is, it’s also a very difficult one to hit consistently, and if she doesn’t hit it exactly right, it usually lands in the net.
Instead, give yourself some wiggle room. Hit the ball so it has plenty of room over the net by aiming your arch, like I said, over the kitchen or kitchen line on your side of the court.
(For the record, Wendy says she does agree that my way of hitting the drop shot is more effective for her, it’s simply that old habits are hard to break & she hasn’t spent much time on it since we had our daughter in 2012.)
So those are my The 4 Secrets to Getting Your Dropshot to Go Where You Want (And Not Where You Don’t). I hope this article has already given you some new things to think about and I would love to hear how it goes as you try to put them into play.
So does that all make sense to you? Any questions? Comments? Hypothetical situations?