Are underhand shots the only way to play pickleball, or can the power of the overhand smash be unleashed on the court?
The short answer is that, except for when serving, you do not always have to hit the pickleball with an underhand motion. In fact, overhand smashes can be an effective and offensive play to end a point or generate a weak return from your opponents.
In this article, we’ll dive into everything there is to know about hitting underhand and overhand in pickleball, including:
- The rules around hitting overhand and underhand,
- When to use an underhand or overhand shot, and
- How to optimize your use of the overhand shot
Ready? Let’s get into the details!
Do You Have To Hit Underhand In Pickleball?
No, not every shot in a pickleball rally has to be hit through an underhand motion. According to the official USA Pickleball rulebook, overhand shots are allowed – most of the time. All serves must be hit with an underhand motion. After the serve, spikes, smashes and other overhand shots can all be great options while the ball is in play.
Can You Hit Overhand In Pickleball?
Yes, you can hit overhand in pickleball on most shots. Keep in mind that you cannot hit overhand on the serve however. In all other scenarios, overhand shots are legal and can be tactical or powerful moves to end the point.
There are a few other things to know about underhand and overhand hits in pickleball:
- You can hit overhand on any shot other than the serve.
- Due to the 2 bounce rule, the first few shots of a rally will probably be underhand. Overhand shots are normally used later in a rally after 3 or more balls have been struck.
- Overhand shots can be forceful, offensive, and effective, but it can be hard to find the right moment to use them. Overhand shots are normally only used if the pickleball is above your shoulders and head.
So you can hit overhand in pickleball! However, it’s not often that you will find yourself using an overhead motion. You can and should try to smash or spike the ball when you can, but it can be tricky to find the perfect opportunity to do so.
As you can see from the below clip, most shots during a rally - even winning shots - will be played underhand:
Can You Serve Overhand In Pickleball?
No, you cannot serve overhand in pickleball. According to the official pickleball rules, the pickleball must be struck with an underhand motion, with the ball below your waist when it is contacted, and with the paddle being swung in an upward arc from underneath the ball.
Not Allowed in Pickleball!
When serving in pickleball, you must stand behind the service line (or baseline) and keep at least one foot on the ground until the serve is struck. The pickleball must be struck below your waist, with the highest point of the paddle below your wrist as the ball is struck.
When Do You Hit Overhand In Pickleball?
Overhead shots, such as spikes and smashes, are most commonly used when you are standing at or near the kitchen line and when your opponent hits a soft and high shot above your shoulders.
This scenario presents a great opportunity for you to smash the pickleball back towards the opponent’s court.
Perhaps the hardest part about hitting an overhand shot is knowing when to do so. Overhand shots can be a very powerful play in pickleball but must be used at the right time.
If your opponent hits a weak shot above your shoulders and you are standing at the kitchen line, it’s usually a good time to try to smash the ball back into their court with an overhead smash.
One important tip to remember - if you are hitting an overhead you are likely in control of the point! Don't go for too much on the overhead in terms of power or placement. Hit a good hard shot and make your opponent hit a great shot to get back into the point.
How to Hit Overhand In Pickleball
Good overhand smashes are hit with force and a downward motion, and are usually aimed at your opponent’s feet.
Overhead smashes can be tough to master at first, so we wrote a tutorial on hitting overhead smashes with videos showing the pros’ technique along with tips on how to perfect your own overhead smash on the pickle court.
Frequently Asked Questions - Do You Have to Hit Underhand in Pickleball?
What is a Spike in Pickleball?
A spike in pickleball is an overhead shot. To perform a spike, you strike the pickleball hard with an overhand motion – directing it downward toward the opponent’s side of the court.
Spikes are usually hit when you are standing on or close to the kitchen line. When performed and positioned correctly, strikes are offensive shots that can end the point or result in a weak return or miss from your opponent.
Can You Serve Backhand in Pickleball?
Yes - backhand serves are allowed in pickleball. The serves must conform to the serving rules (be underhand with the struck below the waist). Backhand serves can be a good way to change the pace, spin and angles on serves to mix-up things up against your opponent.
Here's a quick tutorial on hitting a backhand serve:
Do You Have to Underhand Serve in Pickleball?
Yes - only underhand motion serves are allowed in pickleball. Legal underhand serves in pickleball are called volley serves or bounce serves. When serving, the ball must be contacted at or below the waist and the paddle head should be below the highest point of the wrist.
Why is it Called a Spike in Pickleball?
The term spike is often used to describe an overhead smash in pickleball because the motion of hitting the pickleball is similar to that of a spike in volleyball.
In volleyball, players jump up to reach a high ball and smash the ball downwards with force using an overhead motion. In pickleball, players push their paddle up to reach a high ball and smash the ball downwards with force – using an overhead motion similar to a pickleball spike.