“Was that shot legal??” is a common question heard when playing pickleball!
While pickleball shares many elements with its paddle sport relatives like tennis and badminton, it does have its own share of quirky rules that can throw off beginners.
For example, in tennis, overhand shots are allowed when serving, and there are no limitations on when a player can hit overhand throughout the match.
Meanwhile, pickleball rules disallow overhand shots on serves, and other rules like the 2 bounce rule complicate when you can hit a pickleball overhand.
Confused? Don’t worry, we’re here to lend a (over) hand with this article! We'll walk you through all you need to know about overhands, smashes and pickleball spikes, including:
- the official pickleball rules on spiking, smashing, and hitting overhand in pickleball
- a rundown on how best to hit overhand smashes and spikes, and
- the best strategy to take when hitting overhead smashes
After reading this article you’ll be equipped to unleash your overhead smash on the pickleball world, so let’s get into it!
Can You Hit Overhand In Pickleball?
Yes — hitting overhand is allowed in the pickleball rulebook on most shots, but there’s one key exception where you can’t hit an overhand shot: the serve. It’s not legal in pickleball to serve the ball overhand. Serves must be hit with an underhand motion and contact with the paddle and ball must occur below your belly button. This is a rule where pickleball differs from tennis (where overhand serves are allowed).
Are There Other Times When You Can’t Hit Overhand in Pickleball?
Yes - the other time an overhand shot may not be allowed is on the 2nd and 3rd hits of a rally.
Why is this? Pickleball has a rule called the 2 bounce rule that basically says the 2nd hit in a rally (aka the return of serve) and the 3rd hit in a rally must bounce on the ground before being hit with the paddle.
Put another way, you can’t hit or volley the 2nd or 3rd ball in a rally in the air - it must bounce on the ground before contact is made.
So even if your opponent hits a soft, high, wonderfully smashable ball to you on their 1st or 2nd shot, you can only smash or spike the ball after the ball has hit the ground (and since pickleballs don’t bounce very high it may be tough to spike or smash these shots).
Can You Serve Overhand In Pickleball?
No - serving overhand in pickleball is not allowed. The serving rules in the pickleball rulebook state that a serve must be exclusively underhand and your paddle’s contact with the ball must be made at or below your navel.
So while you can typically hit an overhand shot in pickleball, the only time a player cannot hit overhand is during the serve.
What Is A Spike In Pickleball?
In pickleball, a spike is similar to a volleyball spike but the ball is struck with a paddle instead of a hand. The pickleball is hit with an overhand motion and smashed downward into the opponent's court with strength and power. Spikes are usually hit by a player that is at or near the kitchen line.
Spikes are considered offensive shots and usually result in a winning shot that ends the point, or they generate a miss or weak return from the opponent.
Spikes and overhead smashes can be hit in several ways, including a flat slap or by hitting the outside of the ball like a tennis smash.
Check out the different techniques in these overhead smashes:
When Can You Hit Overhand In Pickleball?
Overhand shots (e.g., spikes or smashes) are legal on any shot in pickleball except for the serve (note that the 2 bounce rule in pickleball usually means players can’t spike or smash on the 2nd or 3rd shot of a rally).
Spikes can be hit when the ball is in the air before it bounces, or in some cases spikes can be hit after a ball has bounced if it bounces high enough for a player to swing with an overhand motion.
When Should You Hit Overhand in Pickleball?
In both tennis and pickleball, spikes and smashes are the single most powerful shots players hit. The downward motion means players can generate more power and speed than with an underhand shot.
As a result, the overhand shot is more aggressive and offensive on the court than other shots. When an overhand spike is hit in pickleball, this indicates attack mode!
The key to an excellent overhand shot is to know when to be aggressive and where to hit the shot.
Smashes and spikes are good options when the opponent lobs the ball or hits a weaker shot above your shoulders that you can smash from the kitchen line.
For placement, aim at your opponent’s feet (if they are at the kitchen line or in the mid court), and if they are back on the service line smash the ball hard so it lands a few feet in front of them.
In doubles, a good smash hard and in the middle of the court can create confusion as your opponent’s have to quickly decide which one of them should try to return the ball.
Another good option on a smash is to aim it at an angle short and towards one of the sidelines. These shots are easy to miss so make sure to aim a few feet inside the sideline!
Remember, more points are lost with errors or bad shots than won with winners, so be smart and stay away from risky shots. When you have a smash opportunity, the last thing you want to do is make an error. You are in control of the point so keep the ball between the lines and keep the pressure on your opponent!
There will also be times where your opponent hits a high ball that you may be able to smash, but you may be moving backwards or not be in a great position to put away the ball. In these situations, an overhand smash may not be a great option.
If you are feeling under pressure or having to move to get to the ball, it usually makes sense to hit the ball back hard at your opponent but not necessarily go for the winner.
How To Hit It Overhand in Pickleball
Now that all the logistics are out of the way, it’s time to master the perfect overhand shot!
These shots in pickleball aren’t necessarily easy to hit. Most players can make contact; however, the shot can be messy without proper technique.
There are several factors to consider when spiking or smashing the pickleball. To consistently hit good overhand shots, perfect your technique with the following tips:
- When the opponent hits a high, spike-able ball, move your feet and position yourself behind the ball (or where the ball will be!).
- Turn your body 90 degrees so that your shoulders and hips are facing the sideline.
- Place the paddle behind your head with your elbow cocked (your elbow should be parallel to the ground or pointed slightly toward the sky). Try to replicate the technique and movement seen in this video:
- As the ball approaches, determine where you want to hit it and then swing the paddle upward toward the ball. Your arm should be fully extended as you contact the ball above your head and just in front of your body.
- As you make contact with the ball, remember to keep your head and shoulders up and high and not let them fall toward the ground as you complete your swing. Keeping your eyes up and looking at the sky is a good way to keep your upper body high and avoid hitting your smashes in the net.
- Hit the ball with as much force as possible, mimicking an overhead smash movement.
How to Hit Overhand in Pickleball: FAQs
Can you spike in pickleball?
Yes! Players can spike in pickleball, in the right moments. Certain situations within the games have rules against spiking, such as when serving.
Do you always have to hit underhand in pickleball?
Not at all! Players can hit both overhand and underhand shots throughout a game of pickleball.
There are several opportunities for players to hit their favorite overhand shots. The most common option would be when an opponent returns a high, soft shot.
Why is it called a spike in pickleball?
Spikes are the more informal term for a pickleball overhead smash. A spike is an overhand stroke played overhead aimed downward into the opponent's court with force, aimed at hitting the opponent's feet so they cannot return the shot.
The name comes from volleyball spikes since the motion, shot intent, and power are similar between an overhead spike in volleyball and a pickleball overhead smash.
Are smashes, spikes, and overhand shots the same thing in pickleball?
For the most part, yes - when players use an overhand motion to swing down hard on the ball, this is considered a spike, smash, or overhand shot.