A Quick and Complete Guide to Improving your Overhead Smash In Pickleball

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Look! Up in the air! It’s a bird, it’s a plane! It’s…a high, arcing lob shot that your opponent has just served up for you to return!

Now is your chance to really unload on that pickleball and slam it back across the net to win the point or end the rally! So how do you do that?

I’m glad you asked. We’re going to go over exactly how to hit a crushing overhead smash that will overwhelm and overpower your opponents’ defense.

What is a Smash In Pickleball?

5The overhead smash is probably the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of pickleball shots. It is hit using the full swinging range of your arm and shoulder, and when executed correctly in form and placement it is almost impossible to return.

Overhead Smash Fundamentals

To hit an overhead smash, start by taking a step back with your dominant-side foot while pivoting off your other foot so that your body is at about a 45 degree angle to the net.

As you watch your opponent’s lob coming towards you, put your non-paddle hand in the air and use it to spot the ball and track it as it approaches.

As it comes down, cock your paddle back behind your head as if you were using it to scratch your back. You might even let it touch the your dominant side shoulder blade to ensure you have a good, full extension.

When the ball comes down to within your reach, swing your paddle over your head and make contact with the ball in front of your body. If you hit the ball while it’s directly overhead, the resulting contact point will send it straight ahead and out of bounds – fast!

Aim for your opponents’ feet or an empty space on their side of the court. The power generated by an overhead smash can injure someone, especially if it hits them in the face or other sensitive areas, so never, ever target an opponent’s body when using this shot.

Here is a great video of Simon Jardim explaining these steps.

What Grip Should I Use To Hit An Overhead Smash?

The Continental grip, or “hammer” grip, is your best bet for overheads in pickleball because of the resulting position of the paddle face relative to your wrist when using it. For more information on different grips and their uses, check out or article How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle: 3 Main Grips And How To Use Them.

continental grip in Pickleball

Top 3 Tips To Improve Your Smash In Pickleball

Tip #1 – do the shuffle

When your opponent’s lob starts coming at you and you practice the method described above, you may have to make some minor adjustments to your position on the court as the ball comes down within striking distance.

Do not back up to get to the ball. Instead, once you have positioned yourself after stepping back with your dominant-side foot, make any necessary backward adjustments to contact the ball by shuffling, or taking small steps with your feet. Backing up can cause you to lose your balance and fall over risking injury, especially if your eyes and your focus are following the ball up in the air.

Tip #2 – Angles are everything

Would you rather try to return a ball hit hard right at you or one that is just out of your reach? Obviously, the answer is “right at you,” and I guarantee your opponent feels the same way. That’s why it’s strategically important to aim your smash at an angle – preferably one that sends the ball quickly out of bounds after bouncing – into your opponent’s court to further minimize their chances of successfully hitting it back.

While the exact spot to aim for will vary, it’s usually best to go for the far side of your opponent’s court, diagonally across from where you are hitting it. By aiming away from your opponents you also reduce the chances that you will accidentally hit them with the pickleball.

showing best Angle for overhead smash in pickleball

Tip #3 – Shift your weight

The power and velocity of an overhead smash comes from your paddle arm, shoulders, and the rotational force of shifting your body weight forward through the shot. As you swing through the ball – again, making sure to keep the contact point in front of your body – shift your weight from your back to your front foot, and use your whole body to follow through.

How to Defend a Smash in Pickleball

What’s the best strategy to defend against a smash? Pray, LOL.

Seriously though, when you are staring down the barrel of a smash about to come your way, there is little you can do to prepare. Your opponent is holding all the cards and the success of the shot will depend entirely upon their skill in delivering it.

Due to the power and velocity of an overhead smash, hitting a controlled, intentional return is nearly impossible. If you do manage to get your paddle on the ball, you won’t be able to do much with it besides send another lob back over the net.

That said, here are a few things you can try when defending a smash:

  • Hold your paddle in front of you in the ready position, don’t just let it hang by your side. You want to be ready for action once your opponent makes contact, and ready to protect yourself if they hit it right at you.
  • Try to quickly calculate the angle your opponent might use based on their position relative to the ball and go to where you have the best chance of being able to cut it off.
  • Identify weaknesses or gaps in your and your partner’s court position and try to anticipate where they might want to attack. For example, if you are leaving a wide open space, try to get to that area to plug it up and you may be able to block the overhead shot with your paddle.

How much power should you use for an overhead smash?

The short answer to this question is, “use only as much power as necessary.

This is a great time to mention how judicious one must be when using an overhead smash. Many players, especially beginners, might not appreciate how much a poorly placed smash can hurt and even cause serious injury. Many players have begun regularly wearing eye protection for this very reason.

As mentioned above, overheads should only ever be aimed at the feet. However, until one learns to control the power that a smash can generate, we recommend using only as much force as is necessary to strategically place the ball.

In truth, the effectiveness of the overhead smash as a put-away shot comes as much if not more from the placement of the ball as from its power and velocity.

Conclusion

An overhead smash is a great way to quickly and emphatically put an end to a rally or win a point when your opponent pops the ball up high either inadvertently or deliberately. And let’s be honest, they can also be really fun and satisfying to hit!

Just remember, until you have consistent control over where the ball is going to go when you smash an overhead, use only as much force as necessary to get the ball there to avoid the risk of hurting someone.

Happy hitting!

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Alex started playing pickleball in May 2021 and like so many other players got hooked right away. An avid ping pong player in high school and college, he instantly took to pickleball because, in the words of comedian George Carlin, it's like "playing ping pong while standing on the table." Originally from New York City and based currently in Miami, FL, Alex often travels to different locations for months at a time with his wife who is a travel nurse, so he has become part of many pickleball communities in several states. He appreciates the social aspect of the game as much as the finer points of strategy and technique.

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