In pickleball, the “kitchen” isn’t where the cooking happens, but it’s essential to the game’s flavor. This specially designated area, also known as the “no-volley zone”, plays a vital role in shaping the match. Let’s delve into its specifics and understand its importance in the game.

    What is the kitchen in pickleball?

    The kitchen in pickleball comprises an area of the court adjacent to the net on both sides, where players are restricted from hitting the ball in the air (i.e. volleying it) before it bounces. Doing so will result in a fault, even if your foot is only touching the kitchen line.  [graphic]

    The 4 Basic pickleball kitchen rules

    These are the four main rules of the kitchen that you need to know:

    1. No volleys: You may not volley the ball while any part of your body is inside the kitchen. However, it’s perfectly legal to be inside the kitchen at any time, you just can’t hit a ball out of the air while inside, unless it has bounced first.
    2. Momentum: You can’t let your momentum take you into the kitchen after you have volleyed a ball.
    3. Stepping on the line: Even the kitchen line is considered part of the kitchen, so you may not volley a ball while your foot touches the kitchen line.
    4. Entering the kitchen: You can stand in the kitchen at any time during the game, even prior to the ball bouncing, and you can hit the ball once it has bounced in the kitchen when standing in the kitchen.

    For the sticklers to the rules, also keep in mind:

    • You cannot have a piece of clothing or your paddle touch the ground inside the kitchen upon volleying a ball outside the kitchen.
    • If you are standing in the kitchen and want to hit a volley outside the kitchen, you must get both feet on the ground outside the kitchen prior to hitting the ball.  This comes from Rule 9.D of the 2020 Official Rulebook from USA Pickleball.  

    You can find the official and exhaustive list of pickleball kitchen rules in USA Pickleball’s official rulebook.

    What are the dimensions of the kitchen area?

    The kitchen measures 20 ft in width and 7 ft in length. It extends back from the net towards the players by 7 ft and spans the entire 20 ft width of the court, resembling a long, rectangle box on either side of the net.

    How are kitchen violations enforced?

    In recreation play and during the round robin portions of tournaments, the official rulebook states that it is up to the players themselves to make their own kitchen line fault calls.  If a player calls a fault and the opponent contests the call, the rules stipulate that the point is to be replayed.

    Kitchen faults in tournaments

    In the final matches of most tournaments, referees preside over the action and keep a close eye on the non-volley zone to see if a kitchen fault has occurred. Players do not call kitchen line faults in these events.

    Who invented the kitchen and why is it there?

    The kitchen area was created by pickleball’s founders, Joel Prichard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, soon after the game was invented. After inviting some early participants to play the game, they noticed that one of them had a penchant for getting up close to the net and spiking the ball. It became clear that allowing players to volley anywhere on the court would lead to very short games. To combat this, they took a badminton line that was already marked off on the court, and exclaimed that inside that line, it would be illegal to hit the ball out of the air without it bouncing first.

    Why is it called the Kitchen?

    No one actually knows the origin of the name “kitchen” for the no-volley zone.  But, there are a few theories out there.   The term may have originated from the game of shuffleboard, which also has an area referred to as the kitchen, located behind the primary scoring zones.  If the puck lands there, the player loses ten points. So no one wants to end up in the shuffleboard kitchen. Another theory is that the term came from Joel Prichard, one of the inventors of pickleball, who reportedly did not allow his dog Pickles inside the family kitchen.

    How the kitchen shapes pickleball gameplay

    By its mere existence, the kitchen makes pickleball a much more strategic sport than it would be otherwise.  In fact, the sport would probably be unplayable if not for the no-volley zone, for competetive adults at least.  Instead, players are forced to form their play strategy around the kitchen, making the game much more nuanced and difficult to truly master.

    The kitchen creates dink wars

    When both teams are at the net, it is common for a dink war to break out. Dinks are short and tight shots that pass over the net only by inches and usually land inside the kitchen. This is a direct result of the kitchen limiting the ability to volley near the net.  Therefore, these shots become the only viable option when both teams are at the kitchen line, because the no-volley zone restricts how close players can get to the ball, reducing their ability to smash it.  These rallies can go on for quite awhile if both teams are skilled, but eventually, a player will make a mistake and hit the ball too high, and their opponent will take advantage and smack the ball back with force.   DInk wars can also end with one team lobbing the ball over the other team and forcing them to do a “run down” in which they have to run to the back of the court and try to hit the ball past their opponents who are already at the kitchen line.   Many times though, the precise movements needed to get the ball over the net as low as possible will cause one player to miscalculate and hit the ball into the net, a rather anticlimactic end to a hard fought point.

    Getting to the kitchen line becomes priority #1

    The no-volley zone also leads players to get to the kitchen line as soon as they can, rather than stay back at the baseline and open themselves up to a variety of attacks. That’s because when both teammates are at the kitchen they occupy a power position, reducing the options for their opponents to hit an easy winner. You can see this strategy in action when the non-serving team returns the serve to their opponents. The returning player will then immediately run up to the kitchen line as fast as they can, parallel to where their partner is already positioned. Keep in mind that the serving team shouldn’t run up to the kitchen line immediately after the serve due to the two-bounce rule, which states that the ball must bounce on both your opponents’ and your own side before it becomes legal to volley.  Once positioned at the net, the non-serving team now has an advantage over the serving team. They now control the game by having both players at the kitchen line before their opponents can get to their own line. They essentially form a wall that their opponents need to contend with.

    The kitchen creates the need for the third shot drop

    Let’s say you serve the ball, your opponents return it, and you let the ball bounce before hitting it (as per the two-bounce rule) What are your options for your next shot?  Well, you have the following three, with the best being what is called the “third-shot drop.”

    1. Drive the ball: One option is to drive the ball past the receiving team.  This works well in beginner and intermediate games, but more advanced players can field the drives successfully.  
    2. Lob the ball: The serving team can choose to lob the ball as their third shot.  This is also a shot that isn’t effective at the higher skill levels because players will return the lob with overhead slams.  Also, lobs are a low percentage shot that often go out of bounds.  
    3. Third shot drop: The third, and usually best, option is for the serving team to hit a third shot drop.  This is one of the most important shots in pickleball.  The well executed third shot drop is a soft arching shot in which the ball reaches its apex about 5 feet before crossing the net and is on its way down as it crosses the net.  The successful third shot drop is impossible to slam and if the receiving team player cannot reach out to hit it, they are forced to let it bounce prior to hitting it.  The receiving team’s only option is to dink the ball back across the net, giving the serving team the opportunity to approach the net and take away the receiving team’s advantage.

    Kitchen strategy

    In general, it is important to stand as close as possible to the kitchen line without stepping on the line.   By being as close as possible to the net, your angle for hitting balls over the net is improved.  The farther back you stand, the more the net is an obstacle to hitting a ball onto your opponent’s side of the court.  Additionally, the net serves as a protective barrier to shots coming toward you.  You don’t need to protect your lower body from a blistering drive headed your way.

    Quick tips

    Here are several other kitchen strategies you can integrate into your game:

    • Move with your partner: Shift from side to side with your partner as if there is a tether between the two of you.  If your partner is pulled far to one side, go with your partner to cover the middle.  
    • Watch out of ATPs: When you dink a ball with a wide angle near the sideline, you may think you’ve placed a great shot. That’s until your opponent hits an around the post (ATP) shot back on to your side. So make sure you don’t dink too wide to avoid this possibility.
    • Go down the middle: If you can poach a high dink, hit it down the middle, this can have the added benefit of confusing your opponents as to which person should go for it.
    • Dink to their backhand: Dink toward your opponent’s weak side, which is usually their backhand. This will increase your chances of them hitting a bad return.
    • Anticipate dinks: Don’t be afraid to get into the kitchen and prepare for the ball to bounce if you think that the ball will land inside. 
    • Vary your returns: Occasionally lob the ball over your opponents during a dink war to force them to move back and keep them guessing.

    Kitchen mistakes to avoid

    Try to avoid making these common kitchen mistakes:

    • Swinging at drives: If your opponent drives the ball at you with force, punch it with your paddle rather than swinging at it. Swinging at a drive is a risky move which will likely send the ball out of bounds.
    • Allowing opponents forward: When you and your partner are at the kitchen line and your opponents are back, keep them back.  Don’t dink unless you are forced to. Punch back their drives and their third shot drops until you can no longer keep them back.  
    • Momentum faults: Make sure you don’t fall into the kitchen because you hit your shot on the move due to your momentum.
    • Speeding up the ball early: Don’t be impatient during dink wars and try to drive the ball at an inopportune moment. Be patient and wait for the other team to make a mistake
    • Lobbing too much: Lobs are dangerous shots to hit in general, but if you decide to switch things up and try one, be sure to not lob the ball off the court or lob too short, giving your opponent an overhand slam.

    Advanced kitchen shots

    These are four advanced pickleball shots that you can use to great effect when playing at the kitchen line: 

    • Around the Post (ATP):  In a dink war, if your opponent makes a very angled shot that forces you to move outside the court to hit the ball, you will have the opportunity to hit an ATP.  This is a shot in which the ball does not have to travel back over the net.  Instead, you hit the ball around the post and onto your opponent’s court.  The best way to perform an ATP is to allow the ball to drop almost to the ground before you hit it, giving you the maximum amount of angle around the post.  
    • The Ernie: The Ernie is an aggressive shot in which the player leaps over the kitchen and attacks the ball out of the air as it is crossing the net. This gives the player the ability to volley the ball with force without committing a kitchen violation by stepping inside the non-volley zone.
    • The Bert: This is a variation of the Ernie.  The only difference is that the player crosses over in front of their partner to perform the Ernie on their partner’s side of the court.

    The Chicken Wing:  This is a shot which targets your opponent in the shoulder of the arm that holds the paddle.  This location makes it very difficult to get the paddle in the correct position to hit the ball.  To return it, they must assume a chicken wing position, hence the name.

    The kitchen in pickleball is a 20 ft x 7 ft rectangular area adjacent to the net on a pickleball court where players are prohibited from volleying the ball. This makes it more difficult to score easy points and creates the need to master other skills, like dinking the ball.

    The kitchen in pickleball, also known as the no-volley zone, measures 20 ft wide and 7 ft in length.

    In casual and round robin play, the players themselves call kitchen faults. In tournament play, dedicated referees make these calls.

    Nobody knows for sure, but the prevailing theory is that the name was taken from shuffleboard, which also has an area called the “kitchen.” Another possibility is that founder Joel Pritchard named it so due to the fact the family dog was not allowed in the kitchen.