Today we’re going to talk about the most enjoyable shot in pickleball: the pickleball overhead smash. I know what you’re thinking…what are you going to teach me about the overhead smash? It’s the simplest shot in pickleball. Just reach up and smash it at your opponent’s feet (or head…depending on your disposition). Just smash it as hard as you can. Well, as you can probably guess, it’s not that simple. If it were that simple there would be no need for me to write about it. But here I go.
What is the Pickleball Smash?
Hard to believe but there are nearly as many videos on YouTube on the pickleball smash as there are on the pickleball serve. Lets begin with the USAPA’s definition of the shot. It is worth reviewing here.
- A hard, overhand shot directed downward into the opponent’s court, usually as a return of an opponent’s lob, high return, or high bounce.
- The paddle is extended over the head at maximum height with elbow straight.
- Aim at an open spot on the opponent’s court or at the feet of an opponent, not at the body.
- Never back up to position for an overhead. Shuffle sideways or turn around and run into position. Backpedaling is a dangerous maneuver.
- Look up and point toward the ball with non-paddle hand.
- Contact the ball as high as possible and in front of you, shifting weight from the back foot to the front foot as the ball is contacted with a downward swing and often a wrist flex (snap).
- The backhand overhead smash may require flexing the wrist backwards.
Okay so now we know what an overhead smash is in pickleball.
Overhead Smash like a Tennis Overhead Slam
Here is a video called “Three Tips for Overhead Smashing,” by Sarah Ansboury demonstrating the overhead smash. It is by far the best instructional video of the smash I have seen online.
What I notice first about Ansboury’s technique is that it is remarkably similar to the overhead slam taught in tennis. Have you ever tried this shot in tennis? Not so easy. Have you ever tried it in pickleball? Equally, not so easy. My point is that if you did not learn this overhead smash technique as a youth or as a young adult you are out of luck. There is no way you are going to learn it now especially if you are over the age of, let’s say, 40. If you’re a senior, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Here is another video of how to hit an overhead smash by Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports. The video is called “How to Hit Quality Overheads in Pickleball.” Renneson’s technique is similar to Ansboury’s. “Being able to use an overhead to put away lobs is a key skill in pickleball,” says Renneson. He believes that good players put away smashes, and that is why you don’t see too many lobs in advanced and professional matches. Lets take a look at his video.
Both Renneson and Ansboury use advanced pickleball strategies in their game, and clearly the overhead smash is an important part of their games.
If you watch Renneson in his video you can see how he gets effortless power using his technique. He explains that just using your arm to hit the overhead smash doesn’t work. You have to turn sideways so you can use your whole body and not just your arm to get power into your smash.
Renneson also says that you should use the Continental grip, which will allow you to point the edge of your paddle forward towards the net, whereas, with a flat grip, holding the paddle like a frying pan, your body will be facing straight ahead towards the net. He wants you to turn your hand or pronate your hand. This action generates power and speed. Renneson shows you how to do it in slow motion.
Here are the three keys to hitting a winning tennis-style overhead smash :
- Turn your body
- Pronate your hand
- Make contact with the ball as high as you can reach
Not surprisingly, the pickleball smash technique taught by Renneson and Ansboury fits perfectly with the definition prescribed by the USAPA. It is surely the right way to hit an overhead smash. See if you can hit the overhead smash this way the next time you go out to play.
Overhead Smash unlike a Tennis Overhead Slam
Now let’s look at another way to hit the overhead smash that doesn’t mimic the overhead slam in tennis. In this video, “Pickleball: How to Hit an Overhead,” by Deb Harrison, she specifically countenances against hitting the overhead smash the same as you would a tennis smash. Lets view the video.
Hitting an overhead can be a very satisfying shot. That’s for sure. But a pickleball overhead, according to Harrison, is NOT the same as a tennis overhead. This pickleball instructional video reviews how to hit the overhead in a way that is much easier than the technique taught by Renneson and Ansboury.
In tennis, says Harrison (and anyone who has played tennis can attest to this), you have a big swing and a follow through, whereas, in pickleball it’s “smack…snap.” What Harrison means by this is that the ball goes over the net with the smack and down into the court with the snap. Your head stays up and the ball snaps down. You generate pace with the snap of the wrist. You actually have three options with this type of overhead smash: (1) right to left, (2) down the middle, or (3) pronated center to right.
Watching Harrison, you can’t help but notice that her stance is open compared to Renneson and Ansboury. It requires less athleticism and less effort to get into position to smash the ball this way. In other words, it is a much easier shot to learn for the beginner and intermediate player.
Not to belabor the point, but you have to watch this next video,”4 Keys to Hitting a Good Pickleball Overhead Smash,” with CJ Johnson, who has a number of excellent pickleball instructional videos on YouTube. Here Johnson is trying to teach a player how to hit an overhead smash. Lets look at the video. She uses the same technique as Renneson and Ansboury, the tennis-style overhead.
As you can see, she is teaching the same overhead smash technique that Renneson and Ansboury teach, the tennis-style overhead. I don’t know about you, but it is clear to me the student is never going to learn how to hit an overhead smash the way Johnson is trying to teach him. He is not a natural athlete (no offense), and he probably didn’t learn the shot if and when he played tennis in his earlier years, and he is just not going to be able to master the tennis-style smash in pickleball. Sorry to say.
In my mind you need to have a high level of talent and natural athleticism to be able to hit overheads like you do in tennis. Just to get into position to hit the ball is in itself difficult. You have to move backwards side to side like a basketball player on defense or a defensive safety covering a wide receiver. You have to shuffle your feet. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying. Then you have to line up the ball in the air, keeping your eye on the ball, while moving into position…need I continue? Finally, you have to execute the shot. So hard to do!
Deb Harrison’s technique is much easier to learn, as I have explained. Not only that, it works, so I highly suggest if you are trying to learn or perfect the overhead slam take the easier of the two routes and learn the non-tennis shot. You must have a good overhead smash to win your share of pickleball matches. When your opponents lob you have to move back and be able to slam it effectively enough to win the point. Go for the easy technique unless you already know how to hit a tennis-style smash.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I am a tennis player so know how to hit the overhead smash tennis-style. When I don’t have to move back too far I can hit this shot. But when I have to move far to get to a lob that is hit to me I opt for the non-tennis style smash. It’s easier and requires less effort, and I can hit it with authority and accuracy to win the point most of the time.
Which type of overhead smash do you use? Please comment below and share anything you would like about the smash or pickleball in general.