The kitchen in pickleball is a designated zone where players cannot volley the ball. This makes the game more challenging and offers the opportunity for strategic play. Although the non-volley zone is just a couple of boxes on the pickleball court, there’s a lot to know about all the rules that govern this zone.
Have you ever been told to “stay out of the kitchen!”? Maybe it’s something you heard as a kid, or even as an adult if you dared to get in the way of someone who was preparing a feast. However, in the world of pickleball, adhering to the kitchen rules means something different entirely.
In pickleball, you don’t always have to stay out of the kitchen, but there are times when entering it is detrimental to your game. To help improve your game, we’ve dug out the official rulebook of pickleball and outlined everything you need to know about the kitchen (also called the non-volley zone) and all the pickleball rules that go along with it.
The Non-Volley Zone
Before getting into all the rules, let’s first begin by talking about what exactly the non-volley zone is. Every pickleball court has an area that extends 7-feet on both sides of the net. This box, defined by what we call the non-volley line, is known as the “kitchen” or non-volley zone.
Just looking at the name gives us a big clue as to what this zone is about. It’s an area where pickleball players aren’t allowed to volley the ball.
This sounds simple enough, but there are actually some more complex rules that go along with this, which we’ll get into in just a moment.
What Is a Volley In Pickleball?
The term volley is when a player moves to hit the ball in the air before it lands and bounces. The alternative is to hit a ground shot after letting the ball bounce once before hitting it.
Both the volley shot and ground shot off of a bounce are legal in pickleball, although there are rules for when and where you can use these shots. The act of volleying the ball back and forth means that during a rally, both teams are hitting a volley shot rather than letting the ball bounce.
When Not to Hit a Volley
So, you don’t want to hit a volley in the non-volley zone, which is what this entire article is about. But it’s also worth noting that there are other times when it’s considered an illegal move to hit a volley in pickleball.
There’s a rule in pickleball called the double bounce rule. After a serve in pickleball, the rule is that the ball bounces twice before either team hits a volley. What this means is that when the serving player launches the ball over the net, the opposing team must let the ball bounce once before hitting it.
Then, after the opponent hits the ball and it lands back into the serving team’s court, they must also let the ball bounce once before hitting it. After these two bounces, either team can volley the ball.
Non-Volley Zone Rules
Alright, so now let’s get into the meaty part of this article – the non-volley zone rules. The basics of the non-volley zone are pretty simple. You don’t want to be standing in the non-volley zone, or even touching the non-volley line when you hit a volley. These rules apply to the initiation of a volley and immediately after you make the shot.
The non-volley zone rules state that it’s considered a fault if a player enters the non-volley zone, including touching the non-volley zone with any part of their body. This includes touching the non-volley line. So, if you’re volleying the ball and your foot touches the non-volley line, that would be considered a foot fault under the pickleball kitchen rules.
The Basics Of Pickleball Kitchen Rules
Now that we’ve established what the no-volley zone is and offered a general definition of the rules, we can now dig a little deeper into the more complex nature of the kitchen in pickleball. Here’s a rundown of the most basic pickleball kitchen rules.
We established that the player cannon be in the no-volley zone when they hit a volley and that this includes any part of their feet touching the kitchen line. The full scale of this rule is a little more complicated.
It’s considered a fault against the volleying player if any part of their feet, or anything that they have contact with, touches the kitchen line or the non-volley zone. This includes the paddle that you’re making the shot with. If any part of your paddle touches the non-volley zone during volley motion, including during the swing, hitting the ball, and immediately after, it’s considered a violation of the rules.
It’s also worth noting that even dropping your paddle or hat into the non-volley zone after volleying the ball is considered a fault. If your keys fall out of your pocket and touch the non-volley zone, well, that’s a fault too. You really have to be mindful of that non-volley line and how your body is positioned and moving in relation to it.
The rules about not entering the non-volley zone unless you’re hitting a ground shot are so serious that if you volley the ball and you land in the no-volley zone, it’s still a fault even if the ball falls dead before you touch or cross the kitchen line.
Another pickleball kitchen rule to keep in mind is that if you make contact with the non-volley zone for any reason, you cannot hit the ball to volley it across the net until both of your feet have made contact with the playing surface completely outside of the kitchen area.
What this means is that you can’t be standing in the non-volley zone or on the non-volley zone line, then move forward or jump up for a volley before landing outside of the non-volley zone lines. If you are in the kitchen, you must move completely outside of it before attempting to volley the ball.
This can be tricky because, let’s say you’re standing in the non-volley zone and you see the ball coming, knowing that you want to hit it without the ball bouncing, so you quickly move back behind the kitchen line to make your shot. You followed the rules, so you should be good.
The problem is that you moved so quickly that you really didn’t have time to secure your footing or make sure that you were positioned solidly behind the non-volley line. This makes it easy for momentum to propel you forward or for you to lose track of where your footing is. This makes it more likely that your foot crosses into the kitchen zone.
The moral of the story here is to always avoid standing in the kitchen unless you know that you’re going to wait until the ball bounces and hit it with a ground stroke. Also, always make sure that your feet are touching the physical ground of the playing surface outside of the non-volley zone except when you purposefully want to enter the kitchen.
Non-Volley Line Rules
For new players, one of the most difficult areas of pickleball kitchen rules centers around the non-volley line. As mentioned earlier, a player’s foot must not even be touching the kitchen line when they volley the ball.
This sounds simple enough, but when you consider that much of a pickleball game is spent tight up against that kitchen line, it makes things more complicated – especially during a fast-paced game.
A big part of the struggle, especially for new players, is learning to understand and accommodate for the forward momentum that occurs when you volley the ball. If you’re not careful, the momentum carries you straight across the kitchen line, which is illegal and becomes a fault.
Even when careful, a player’s momentum can bring them forward just to the point where they’re touching the kitchen line. You don’t want this, so you need to learn where and when your own momentum takes you forward when hitting a volley.
There’s this idea that both the player and the player’s partner have to be standing outside of the non-volley zone at the same time if one player decides to follow through with a volley. This actually isn’t the case. It’s entirely legal to stand in the non-volley zone while your partner is volleying the ball from outside of the kitchen.
But, just because it’s perfectly legal doesn’t mean that it’s a smart move from a strategic standpoint. If you’re standing in the non-volley zone, the only time you can hit the ball is if it bounces first. For strategic play, this is really not the space you want to be standing in. If a shot comes and you want to volley it, you’re in a position where you suddenly have to jump backward outside of the kitchen before even thinking about hitting the ball.
This also leaves your partner covering the rest of the court, no matter where the ball hits. This leaves too much of the court open and makes it more likely that your opponents hit the ball with a hard volley deep into your court in an area that isn’t being covered.
All of this said, your partner can be very helpful in making sure you don’t commit a fault. It’s not against pickleball rules for your partner to grab you and pull you back away from the non-volley zone as you volley the ball into the opponent’s court. But, you really need to have a partner that you work well with for this to work.
On that same note, if your partner is standing in the non-volley zone and you volley the ball, make sure that you don’t make contact with the partner standing in the kitchen.
Kitchen Rules: What Is Allowed?
With all this talk about what the pickleball rules prohibit, you might be wondering about what is allowed in the kitchen zone. Basically, you can be standing in the kitchen any time that you’re not volleying the ball, but it really helps to have a complete understanding of the non-volley zone rules.
The only time you can hit the ball in the pickleball non-volley zone is if the opposing player hits the ball directly over the net and into the kitchen, and you let it bounce once before hitting it. It’s important to note that only one bounce is allowed. Letting two bounces occur before hitting the ball is a fault against the receiving pickleball player.
The only exception to hitting a ground shot in the non-volley zone is during the serve. The serving team has to serve the ball from behind their service area, making sure that the shot carries past the non-volley zone and into the opponent’s service court.
More advanced players sometimes use a strategy that allows them to hit a volley from the non-volley zone, but they do so from the air. To accomplish this and avoid violating a kitchen rule, you have to be able to jump high enough to reach over and follow through with hitting the ball and then manage to land with both feet securely behind the kitchen line. This is not an easy shot to make, so it’s best to save it for after you’re feeling confident in your pickleball game.
Common Faults Committed In the Non-Volley Zone
Now that we have a good grasp on the rules of the non-volley zone let’s recap by listing a few of the most common faults committed in the kitchen area of the pickleball court.
- Not standing completely outside of the non-volley zone when volleying the ball is one of the most common faults. This often happens when momentum carries a player into the zone immediately following a shot.
- Dropping your paddle or anything that you are wearing or have on your person into the non-volley zone.
- After hitting the ball with a ground stroke, not completely moving out of the non-volley zone before you volley the next shot.
- Being in the non-volley zone and jumping up to hit a volley, then landing behind the non-volley line is also considered a fault because you body was actually in the kitchen at the time the volley was made.
- Commiting a foot fault, which is almost alway a result of not having secure footing and losing track of where your feet are in relation to the non-volley zone.
When can you enter the kitchen in pickleball?
You can enter the kitchen in pickleball to hit a ground stroke after the ball bounces within the non-volley zone. Other than this, there’s no reason to ever cross the kitchen line because in just about every other scenario, doing so will result in a fault against your team.
Can the return of serve in pickleball land in the kitchen?
The answer is no. When you play pickleball, the serve can never land in the non-volley zone. A serve is also not allowed in the non-volley zone even if it hits the net first, lands in the non-volley zone, and is declared dead. It’s also considered a fault if the served ball touches the kitchen line at any point.
Be Careful Crossing the Non-Volley Line!
The golden kitchen rule is to stay out of the non-volley zone unless you’re there to hit the ball with a ground stroke. Pickleball is a fun game, and the noh-volley zone rules make it a bit more challenging and a lot more exciting.
Unlike other racket sports, pickleball is easy to learn and fun to play for all age groups. Learning a few rules about the act of volleying will really help you improve your game and make you an even more worthy competitor on the pickleball court.