The smash, also called the slam, is a powerful overhand shot. Intermediate and advanced players will often smash a ball that comes to them at least as high as their head.
There is no special technique in smashing. You don’t hold your wrist a certain way or use any unusual technique. It is just about taking advantage of a high ball. With practice, you become more accurate in returning smashes. Most players’ first attempts at smashes hit the back wall way behind the baseline. With practice, you also become more powerful. The smash can be fairly easy for the opponents to return if you don’t hit it sufficiently hard.
The smash is a blind hit. Most players don’t watch their paddle hit the ball. In fact, for most good smashes, that would be impossible. They have just learned to swing the paddle where the ball is going to be.
At first, players are more successful with smashes when standing just behind the non-volley line. In time, smashes can be hit from even as far away as behind the baseline. Why would someone hit from behind the baseline rather than just calling the ball ‘out?’ This happens when the player isn’t sure the ball is going to be out. The smash is an offensive return, even from far in the backcourt.
At first, players are also more successful with balls in just a limited range of height. The ball must be above the head, but not beyond where the arm can reach.
But with time, you can learn to bend your knees and smash a lower ball. Technically, anything above the height of the net can be smashed. And, with time, you can learn to jump in the air, and smash a high lob. For the intermediate player, this can be an unexpected, and most likely unpleasant surprise.
The perfect smash is aimed at the opponent’s shoes. They are defenseless to return a fast smash put there, yet it is safer and more friendly than a ball that may hit their body or face.
If you don’t smash the ball quite hard enough, an interesting effect can happen. The opponent will be able return it defensively. The almost-fast-enough smash will be returned, but it will be too high, which is fun, because you just smash it again.
One of the best uses for the smash is when an opponent has lobbed a ball over your partner. You can run behind the partner and smash the ball back. In most cases, you would yell “switch” to your partner, so your partner will move out of the way to your side of the court, and you won’t have to return to your own side of the court in case the opponents actually manage to return your smash.
I’m not sure if this qualifies as a variation of the smash, but it is possible when standing at the non-volley line, to hit a ball that has come or bounced higher than the net with a powerful forehand, generally with topspin. This is similar to a smash in its power, but a different stroke, since the arm moves up and sideways as the paddle imparts topspin, while a true smash is an overhand, flat stroke.
Come to think of it, the true smash could have a spin. I have not tried it, but you might consider bringing your paddle from near the centerline toward the outside of your body, rubbing against the ball as you smash it. This might create a spin like the American Twist tennis serve. Go ahead and experiment with it, and let me know how that works out.
As you move up the ranks in pickleball, you’ll notice that the smash becomes less and less a part of the game.
Problem solving: If your smashes tend to go out of bounds to the right or left, you might experiment with the Thumb Guide Grip.