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Everything to Know About the ‘Kitchen’ of Pickleball

Rules to help you navigate the nonvolley zone with confidence and finesse

Video: Pickleball pros Eva Welsher and Andrei Daescu explain the rules of the “kitchen” in pickleball, part of AARP’s Pickleball Fundamentals series.

Although many of the terms used in pickleball like “baseline” or “drive” are likely familiar to anyone who’s played a racket sport before, there’s one common term that’s bound to baffle every newcomer: the “kitchen.” 

A nickname for the 7-foot area on each side of the net technically called the nonvolley-zone, the “kitchen” is a must-know for any pickleball player. After all, “it’s a critical area in controlling the game,” says AARP Champions Tour Pickleball Pro Eva Welsher, adding that the primary goal of pickleball is that “all four players get to the kitchen line.”

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Welsher explains that the reason you’d want to get to the kitchen during a game is so that you can send a dink — a soft, controlled shot that goes just over the net into your opponent’s kitchen — and have it bounce, causing the other side to have to quickly react. “You want to keep your opponent off balance, move your dinks around and keep them low enough that they cannot attack you,” Welsher says.

But of course, you still need to be ready for anything that might happen – which means that whenever you stand by the kitchen line, you should be in your best athletic stance.

“I like to keep my feet slightly wider than my shoulders, a slight knee bend … so I can move with ease, and I like to hold my paddle up around chest-high to be ready,” says Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Pro Andrei Daescu.

What are the rules of the kitchen?

Welsher and Daescu explain pickleball kitchen rules and some smart stroke techniques:

Wait until the ball bounces in the kitchen to hit it

In pickleball, players are not allowed to hit the ball in the air while they’re standing in the kitchen – unless the ball bounces into it, and then it’s fair game.

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Don’t let your momentum accidentally take you inside the kitchen

“When you are taking the ball out of the air, the momentum of your shot cannot take you inside the kitchen,” says Daescu (watch the video to see a demonstration ). “That would result in a foot fault and the loss of the point.”

Decide what shot to use based on the ball’s height

At the kitchen line, you can return a ball either by dinking or volleying — hitting the ball out of the air with your forehand or backhand. Both shots serve different purposes. A dink is a “vital part of the game,” says Welsher, adding that “when four players are at the kitchen line, they’re using the dink to move each other around and gain the advantage and gain control.” A volley, meanwhile, “allows you to be aggressive” and “put the ball away, and hence put a lot of pressure on your opponent,” Daescu explains. 

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To determine which shot you should use, the pros suggest studying the height of the ball. If the ball is lower than your knee level and thus difficult to hit out of the air, you’re better off letting it bounce and returning it with a dink. If it’s higher than your knee level and you can reach it easily, opt for a volley.

When dinking, keep your grip loose and don’t use your wrist

If you choose to dink, Daescu recommends keeping your grip relatively loose on your paddle and relying on your shoulder and lower body to help control the distance of your shot. He advises against using your wrist, as that will “accelerate the ball and make it travel too fast.”

When volleying, meet the ball halfway

Having a proper stance is just as important when you volley. Welsher says to crouch low and keep your chest up, avoiding reaching from your waist – otherwise, you won’t be ready if your opponent attacks back. “You basically go out and meet it halfway, so you shake hands with the ball,” she explains. Then, you can pop it off your paddle.

Following these rules will help you navigate the kitchen “with confidence and finesse,” says Welsher, and become a true pickleball pro.

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