You've been there a million times: You play a close, contested rally, and the opponent pops the ball up into the air. Great! You go to smash the ball, and something goes awry.
Oops. The overhead shot in pickleball is a vital aspect of the game that can make or break a player's performance in the key moments. Let's learn how to hit a great overhead.
[Bonus Read: 47 Signs You're Obsessed With Pickleball]
A strong overhead puts a lot of pressure on the opponents to basically never pop the ball up. This will actually cause them to make more errors of other sorts, notably missing low and hitting the net. They may also be tentative when they lob.
A good overhead ends points swiftly and drama-free, when executed well.
The overhead is a crucial shot in pickleball.
This is true whether you are playing a match or just playing a rec game.
As a developing player, you may have felt the frustration of hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds when attempting an overhead shot.
Maybe you tend to hit the ball to down or too outward.
You may also feel like you "let your opponents off the hook" when you hit an overhead shot weakly and they defend it and stay in the point. You had a chance to end the rally and couldn't quite get it done.
How do you hit a proper overhead?
You won't smash every overhead perfectly.
And sometimes you'll hit an amazing overhead and they will defend it anyways. It happens.
However, with a focus on footwork, some tactical use of wrist, and refined preparation and timing, you can elevate your overhead and become more dangerous on the court.
Ultimately this will put you in a position to capitalize on more balls and win more rallies in a more efficient, quicker manner! Here are tips for a better overhead.
Footwork and Preparation:
The first concept to focus on for a successful overhead shot is your footwork.
Good, quick steps will allow you to use your body in the best way, reaching high balls, using your core, and getting into the proper position for your shot so that your arm can swing and follow-through the right way.
Good footwork will let you make quick adjustments as the ball falls.
When you're preparing for an overhead shot, start by moving your feet into position before you even think about hitting the ball.
Basically, get the movement done first. You will have to make an educated guess where the ball will drop.
Tip: Get behind where you think the ball will land.
You want to hit an overhead slightly out in front of you so you can hit downwards.
Lot of times the ball goes sailing long if you hit an overhead smash but it's landing too far behind you, causing the paddle to face more and more upward.
So go from facing the net to turning towards your dominant side, more like you are skateboarding out at the opponents. Pay close attention to your stance and make sure your feet are spaced apart, with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
This will give you the stability and balance to execute a powerful overhead.
From there you will bend your knees a bit and place your paddle behind you like you're about to throw a ball. As you bring your paddle to ball, your weight will transfer forward gradually to your front foot.
Ultimately your weight should bring you forward as you make contact.
Use of Wrist Upon Contact:
Another key aspect of a successful overhead shot is the use of your wrist.
You won't use your wrist in every shot in pickleball. You might barely use it when you dink or block.
You might use a bit of wrist when you serve and hit a groundstroke from the baseline.
But an overhead uses a bit of wrist. To generate the power and downward trajectory you need on your overhead shot, you will use your wrist to snap at the ball upon impact.
This will dictate the trajectory of the ball. It will also give it more pop than using just your arm.
A little bit of wrist snap will improve overheads.
When you hit the ball, think about rotating your wrist pretty much right upon impact. You will begin snapping your wrist pretty much right as you begin accelerating your paddle for real, and by the time you hit the ball, you will be mid-snap.
This will create a bit of topspin in some instances, which will help the ball clear the net and drop into the opponent's court.
In addition, it's important to keep your wrist relaxed, as a tense wrist can cause you to miss the ball or hit it out of bounds, because it will make you use too much of your arm strength isolated. By using an ever so slight amount of wrist snap, it helps you keep a controlled swing.
Bonus tip: Swing hard, but keep your head and body "quiet."
Preparation and Timing:
As you get ready to hit the ball, focus on the ball and relax your body.
Move your body while continuing to eye the ball. Pay attention to the speed and trajectory of the ball, and be prepared to make adjustments if necessary.
Typically the ball will feel like it drops faster than it seems it should. It will "creep up" on you near the end of its descent and it's very common to swing when the ball has dropped too far, meaning the swing was too late or slow.
When the ball is in the air, get into position, get turned, prepare your arm and backswing, and be ready to make your shot. Some players put their other arm in the air for stability and to help align their body by somewhat pointing at the ball as it drops.
Timing is just as important as technique in pickleball.
Try to time your overhead where you can do a full swing at full speed and do not need to slow it down or rush.
Also, worst case, if your timing is off and you cannot hit a reasonable smash, go ahead and just let the ball drop. Then hit it back off the bounce. This is always a safe option.
Mastering these three concepts will help you improve your overhead shot and become a dominant player on the court.
Summary of overhead technique and concepts:
Turn your body sideways. Track the ball as you move, don't take your eyes off it.
Do your movement early so you aren't rushing later. Get a bit behind where the ball will land, not in front of it. Prepare your arm to swing while you are moving.
Use a bit of wrist upon impact of ball. Let your arm follow-through down and to your non-dominant side. Let your core naturally rotate as you make contact.
Only jump if you must. In an emergency, let the ball bounce and then go deal with it!
Bonus: Aim the ball down to the opponent's kitchen line or feet
Whether you're a seasoned pickleball player or just starting out, these overhead tips will help you become a more confident, accurate, and powerful player.
Overheads are tricky.
Put these tips into practice, focus on your footwork, wrist technique, follow-through, and keeping your head still. The combined technique will help with timing, and you won't feel rushed. You'll soon be hitting overhead shots better!