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How to Return a Slam in Pickleball

A senior athlete hits a shot in a pickleball tournament.

If you are new to pickleball like many of us are, you may know the rules but have not yet mastered the game. We are all learning together. One thing I know for sure is that the more you practice and play, the better you will become.

The more you learn about the game’s nuances and how it is played, the more knowledgeable you become. Offense and defense are both essential skills in pickleball. When you have a solid defensive game, you are creating an opportunity for your opponents to make mistakes.

One of the best defensive strategies you can learn is how to return a slam or an overhead smash. This article gives you all the information you need to add this to your arsenal of defensive tools.

What is a Slam in Pickleball?

Close-up of a pickleball on a pickleball court.

A slam or overhead smash is a movement that is usually performed by advanced players. This movement is one where the ball is returned from your opponent fast and hard. The smash is an aggressive move by your opponent.

It is a forceful hit that occurs in the air. Your opponent gets the ball as high as they can reach and then forcefully directs it down at an angle on your side of the court.

How To Return a Slam in Pickleball

There are some ways you can defend yourself against an overhead slam. Consider these options when you are watching your opponent blast a ball your way.

1. Square Yourself

A senior competes in the singles division of a pickleball tournament.

You want to ensure that you are squaring yourself with your opponent and the ball. The best way to visualize this is to hold your arms in front of you and create the letter V with them. You want to be positioned so that the V is facing your opponent that is hitting the ball.

2. You Want To Be Low

A pickleball action during a senior tournament.

You want to ensure that you are in a low stance. To do this, you want your chest and eyes up while your bottom is down. In addition, you want to keep your paddle lower to the ground because that is most likely where the ball is going to land.

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3. Paddle in Front of You

Digging deep for a low pickleball return by a professional pickle.

You want to have your paddle in front of your body. You want to be careful about how you hit the ball. It will have a lot of power behind it, and if you attempt a long swing, it can add more power.

Adding power makes it hard to keep the ball in play.

4. Take a Split Step

When you take a split step, it helps to rebalance you on the ball of your feet. A split step is a slight hop that gives you the ability to move easily and quickly in any direction.

5. Keep a Watchful Eye

The best thing you can do is watch your opponent’s paddle as it hits the ball. The angle of their paddle gives you an indication of the direction in which the ball will go. The faster and sooner you see the ball means, the faster you can react to it.

6. Paddle Movement

When you do move your paddle, you want to move it in an upward motion to help you get the ball in play. Even if you are setting your opponent up for another overhead shot, you are able to keep the ball in play. You want to remain defensive and play the percentages.

7. Paddle Position

A tournament pickleball players hits a shot.

The ball’s location will drive the direction in which you want to position the face of your paddle. For example, when the ball is coming towards your feet, your paddle face should be open or tilted up. On the other hand, if the ball is higher around your hips, you want the paddle face to be vertical.

8. Other Tips

When your opponent fires an overhead slam at you, your goal is to soften the shot and slow down the ball. It would be best if you kept a relaxed grip on your paddle in preparation for absorbing the impact of the shot. You want to keep your paddle in front of you because the more you move it back, the less able you are to return the shot.

You have to be patient and focused.

What To Remember About a Slam in Pickleball?

The young girl in a closed tennis court with ball.

You want to focus on two things. One, you want to work to get the ball back in place and force your opponent to mess up their next overhead smash. You also want to slow down the ball aiming it toward the kitchen.

Aiming at their kitchen forces your opponent to hit up with the next shot. Effectively defending an overhead slam requires practice. You will not become a great defender of the overhead smash overnight.

However, it helps when you stay patient and focused. You want to continue to practice to become a better pickleball player and respond quickly and defensively to all shots.