The Non-Volley Zone, also known as the kitchen, is the section of the court closest to either side of the net on a pickleball court. According to pickleball kitchen rules, it is illegal to volley the pickleball while standing in the kitchen. As a player, there are ways to use pickleball kitchen rules to your advantage.
Overview of Pickleball Kitchen Rules
The rules for the kitchen in pickleball are relatively straightforward. While standing in the kitchen (officially known as the Non-Volley Zone or NVZ), pickleball players are not allowed to volley (make a shot before the ball bounces).
The kitchen is defined as the area seven feet from the net on either side of the court. It is delineated by the non-volley line, known colloquially as the kitchen line, which runs from sideline to sideline across the court.
No part of your body can be touching any part of the kitchen while making a volley motion. This means even if your toe is touching the non-volley line while you attempt a volley shot, a fault is called.
The non-volley zone rules do not prohibit pickleball players from entering the kitchen. It is perfectly legal to attempt a groundstroke (hitting the ball after it bounces) from within the kitchen. This is often required when returning a dink.
Background of the pickleball kitchen rule
The main reason the pickleball kitchen rule exists is to stop players from simply standing at the net and hitting aggressive smashes into the ground.
Like in badminton, pickleball uses a slow-moving hollow ball. This ball makes it relatively hard to hit the ball past someone to the baseline if they are close to the net.
Unlike in badminton, however, in pickleball, the net is relatively low. This makes close-to-the-net smashes much easier to hit.
The rules of the kitchen were developed to stop matches from turning into nothing more than smash contests, where players were incentivized to simply stand as close to the net as possible.
Why is it called the kitchen?
Nobody really knows! The most accepted theory is that the name of the kitchen was lifted from shuffleboard.
In shuffleboard, ten points are deducted from your score if you land in an area called the kitchen. Pickleball’s similar prohibiting of shots from within the non-volley zone could well have led to the name being adopted.
Gray areas and bending the rules
There are some places where the rules regarding the kitchen in pickleball get a little more complicated.
According to the USA Pickleball rule book, no part of your body may be in the NVZ while attempting a volley during a game of pickleball. What is crucial to know is that ‘part of your body’ also includes anything you are wearing, touching, or carrying.
This means that if you hit a volley from outside the kitchen, and then your hat falls off and lands in the non-volley zone, you will be penalized. You’re also penalized if your pickleball paddle touches any part of the kitchen while you are engaged in the act of volleying.
The second thing you have to be aware of is that the rule doesn’t stop once you have made contact with the ball. If your momentum takes you past the non-volley line on your follow-through, even if you hit the ball outside the kitchen, you will still be penalized.
The grey area surrounding the non-volley zone is that the kitchen is a 2D space. This means that, according to the pickleball kitchen rules, the non-volley zone is only defined as the actual area of the court, not the air above it.
This makes it perfectly legal to make contact with the pickleball before it bounces with your pickleball paddle over the top of the kitchen. As long as no part of your body is touching the floor of the NVZ, you are in the clear.
Using pickleball kitchen rules to your advantage
Something beginners struggle with when learning pickleball is how best to use the kitchen.
Risks presented by the kitchen include:
- The lob shot: If you get stuck in the non-volley zone you become vulnerable to the lob shot. You’re not allowed to return a shot from the kitchen before it bounces. Instead, you’d have to let the ball pass and hope it goes out of bounds.
- The dink: At the same time, if you stay too far back at the baseline, you can easily be beaten by a well-placed dink shot.
You can use these risks to your advantage. A dink shot followed by a lob shot can be a great combination: it draws your opponent into the non-volley zone, then challenges them by sending a shot over their head that they can’t legally return from within the non-volley zone.
The safest way to approach the kitchen is to ‘toe the line.’ This means positioning yourself as close to the non-volley line as possible without entering the kitchen itself.
This allows you to volley the ball back with power when given a chance, without falling foul of pickleball’s kitchen rules.
It also gives you good versatility: you can get in to return dink shots to your opponent’s side of the court, while also being far enough back not to be beaten by the lob.
Developing your awareness of the court lines is a big part of improving your pickleball skills and can take time. The more you play, the more you will get a sense for where you are on the pickleball court.
Frequently Asked Questions
How big is the pickleball kitchen?
The kitchen, or non-volley zone, is seven feet long by 20 feet wide.
When can you go in the kitchen in pickleball?
You can go in the kitchen in pickleball as soon as the ball bounces.
It is perfectly legal to attempt a groundstroke (hitting the ball after it bounces) from within the kitchen. This is often required when returning a dink.
Can you stay in the kitchen in pickleball?
You can only enter the kitchen once the ball bounces, which means that it’s illegal to stay in the kitchen for the duration of a pickleball rally. You can only enter for brief periods when the ball has already bounced.
What is considered the kitchen in pickleball?
The kitchen is the seven feet on either side of the pickleball net.
How should you play the kitchen in pickleball?
The best way to “play the kitchen” and use pickleball rules to your advantage is to draw your opponent into the non-volley zone with a dink shot, then follow up with a lob shot that goes over your opponent’s head.
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