If you’ve ever played this great game or watched some of the top players on tv, you may have noticed that the majority of points happen near or in the kitchen. This is the Non-Volley Zone (NVZ) and this article is all about breaking down the top Pickleball kitchen rules to help you improve your game.
Knowing the basic pickleball kitchen rules is crucial for all players, extending up to the pro level. Especially now that there are line judges at tournaments looking for pickleball kitchen violations on the court.
But beyond understanding the NVZ pickleball kitchen rules, there are plays and strategies that you can implement at the kitchen line to improve your gameplay.
What’s the Kitchen in Pickleball?
Yes, but not the kitchen that you’d find in your home, although the pickleball kitchen does heat up with some crazy firefights.
The kitchen, known as the Non-Volley Zone (NVZ), is an area that extends 7 feet from the net on each side. It has two sidelines, lines at the edge of the width of the court, and a non-volley line that marks the end of the 7 feet area of the kitchen.
The main purpose of the kitchen is to prevent players from staying too close to the net, allowing them to smash or serve the ball downwards—having it fly to the air. This restriction however has birthed tons of strategies and plays around the kitchen that we’ll be talking about today.
Official NVZ Rules for Pickleball Kitchen
The rules below are from the official pickleball rulebook. So, any mention of “Section X” means that it’s a direct reference to the official rulebook.
Stay out Of the Kitchen when Volleying
This is one of the most important pickleball court rules. Section 9.A.-C. states that when you’re hitting the ball out of the air, establish your feet behind the kitchen line, and be sure that your feet stay behind the line during the swing and follow through.
If your momentum causes your body or paddle to touch anywhere in the kitchen, the rule states that it’s a pickleball kitchen violation.
Camp out In the Kitchen, It’s Totally Legal
You just can’t hit the ball out of the air. There is no pickleball kitchen violation if you step in the NVZ after the ball bounces to hit the ball. Furthermore, you don’t have to reestablish outside of the kitchen after you’ve hit a ball that bounces in the kitchen.
Establish Your Feet Behind the Kitchen Line Before Hitting an Overhead
As the lob becomes more popular (I’d like to attribute this trend to Pro Pickleballer Callan Dawson), we’re seeing a lot of pickleball kitchen violations called as a player moves to hit an overhead. Section 9.D. states that if your foot is on the kitchen line or in the kitchen as you push off to hit an overhead, or any ball out of the air for that matter, and land outside of the kitchen, the result is a fault.
You Can Volley Behind the Kitchen Line, Even when Your Partner Is in The Kitchen
This does not result in a pickleball kitchen violation. So if the ball is there to attack, go for it! However, it’s a kitchen fault if you come in contact with your partner during the act of volleying if they’re in the kitchen.
If you want to read the in-depth version of the official kitchen rules, feel free to open the official pickleball rulebook and have a look.
How to Take Advantage of Pickleball Kitchen Rules
Understanding the pickleball kitchen rules not only prevents you from giving away points, but it can help you win some points if you execute correctly.
Anything Above the Kitchen Is Legal
Just because you can’t stand in the kitchen to volley, doesn’t mean you can’t have your paddle over the kitchen line or kitchen area. With that in mind, you can lean in with your paddle over the kitchen to volleyballs out of the air. Some of the best players in the world flick or roll the ball out of the air to change up the spin. This tactic also robs your opponent of precious time and can cause them to miss.
The Ernie Kitchen Shot
Did you know there’s a legal move where you jump the kitchen line, volley the ball out of the air, and land on the outside of the sideline? Sounds pretty badass right? It is! This shot is called an Ernie. We’re seeing this happen more and more at the higher levels, but even beginners are working on this shot. The Ernie is an effective play when you’re dinking straight ahead of your opponent.
- Pro Tip: When you and your opponent are dinking in front of each other, wait until their head drops as they prepare to hit the ball, then jump the kitchen and Ernie. When your opponent is focused on the ball and not you, they are most likely sticking with the pattern of hitting another down-the-line shot, giving you an opportunity to jump the kitchen as they make contact with the ball. This allows you to be in an attacking position and catch your opponent off guard.
Force Your Opponents to Make a Kitchen Violation
You can also cause a player to make a pickleball kitchen violation. I’ve seen this happen numerous times at the pro level. If you hit a ball that happens to roll over on your opponent’s side, throw up a lob or aim the ball right at the person in the kitchen. If they can’t get their body established outside of the kitchen before they hit it, then that results in a pickleball violation for the other team.
The Best Pickleball Kitchen Strategies
Now that we’ve gone over the basic pickleball kitchen rules and how to take advantage of this newfound knowledge, let’s talk strategy at the kitchen line. Here are some best practices that can improve your gameplay.
Step Into the Kitchen to Hit the Ball After It Bounces
In fact, I encourage it if you’re in a position to. Why? Because this allows you to hit a more effective dink, also known as a “push” dink, to get your opponent hitting off of their heels.
This is a perfectly legal move because the kitchen violation only applies to balls you hit out of the air. Meaning balls that have not yet landed. As long as the ball lands, you can step into the kitchen and hit a much more precise dink.
Mirror Your Partner When You’re at The Kitchen Line
Think of you and your partner tethered to each other. If you get pushed to one sideline to hit a ball, your partner should fill in the middle, and vice versa. This way, you and your partner can close any gaps and be in a position to hit the next ball. Moving side to side together with your partner also keeps your body alert for any returns that go to your side.
Step Back a Foot or Two Behind the Kitchen Line if Needed
Pickleball is evolving weekly, and thanks to new paddle technology, the game is speeding up. This means sometimes you have to adjust your game plan based on your opponents. Playing someone who loves to lob? Don’t stand so close to the kitchen line.
And, if you love to speed up the ball, giving yourself a foot or two to step into the ball when you speed it up is a good way to go. Take Anna Leigh and Leigh Waters, for example, a mother-daughter professional pickleball duo. They rarely stand centimeters from the kitchen line.
Utilize the Around-The-Post (ATP) Shot
One of the unspoken pickleball kitchen rules is the legality of the ATP. An ATP is a shot where you hit the ball around the post, completely ignoring the net. It’s actually much easier to hit than it sounds, so try it in practice and see how it goes! This is one of the best shots to counter balls that are hit toward the side of your court.
The ATP shot is completely legal as long as the ball travels around the net post and lands on the hitting player’s half of the court.
Now that you’ve got a good grasp on the pickleball kitchen rules, strategies, and best practices, tell us your favorite kitchen shot in the comment section below.