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If you’re new to pickleball, you might have heard people tell you to stay out of the kitchen. But what does that mean? The kitchen line is a line seven feet back from the net. But what’s it there for? Let’s take a look at the pickleball kitchen rules.
What is the Kitchen in Pickleball?
Before we take a closer look at the rules of the pickleball kitchen, it’s important to know what exactly the kitchen is. The kitchen zone is technically called the “non-volley zone.” And notably, the kitchen line itself is included in that non-volley zone. And if you talk to just about any pickleball player, they’ll tell you that they prefer to stay out of it as much as possible.
As you can probably tell based on the name, the no-volley zone does not allow you to hit a volley. However, the rules are a lot more complex than that. We’ll get to the nuances of the pickleball kitchen rule in a minute.
How big is the kitchen in pickleball? Luckily, it doesn’t take up a proportionally large part of the court. It is a line extending the whole width of the court, and it is set back seven feet from the net on each side. You might hear this line referred to as the “kitchen line.”
Why Is It Called the Kitchen?
If you’re like most pickleball players new to the sport, you probably wonder how it came to be called the kitchen or kitchen line. You might be somewhat disappointed to learn that no pickleball player really knows how the name came to be.
Most players believe that the informal name for the no-volley zone came from the “kitchen” in shuffleboard. Shuffleboard has a similar area that is also called the kitchen. If you land there, you get a 10-point deduction. Since the shuffleboard kitchen was a place you really wanted to stay out of, it seemed like a fitting name for the non-volley zone in pickleball.
What’s the Purpose of the Kitchen in Pickleball?
If you aren’t too familiar with racket sports and how they work, you might wonder why there’s even a pickleball non-volley zone. After all, this feature is unique among racket sports. It also seems to add a lot of rules to the game.
To understand the point of the kitchen line, imagine two players standing right at the net and smashing every hit downward. That would make the game virtually unplayable. So the kitchen line may make the game a bit more challenging, especially for beginners, but it also stops pickleball from devolving into a dull and unplayable game.
There’s another reason behind the non-volley zone, too: the kitchen line is also there to prevent injuries. If two players are very close to the net and one hits a hard volley, there’s an increased chance that the opponent will be hit by either the ball or the paddle. Paddles usually have a solid, rectangular shape and the ball is hard plastic, so either one is bound to hurt!
What Are the Pickleball Kitchen Rules?
So you now know the answer to “in pickleball what is the kitchen line?” But before you get on the court, you’ll probably want to know kitchen pickleball rules. If you just want a one-sentence summary of the kitchen rules, you can’t be standing in the kitchen or in contact with the kitchen line while volleying the ball.
But what’s volleying? In pickleball, a volley is when you hit the ball in the air before it has a chance to bounce on your side of the court. If you were to hit the ball while standing in the kitchen (without regard for the rules) or on the kitchen line, you would most likely need to hit a volley.
This gives you the gist of the rules, but you should understand a little more before playing. This video also offers a great breakdown of the rules surrounding the kitchen line and the non-volley zone.
But with all the discussion of it being disallowed to hit a volley in the kitchen, you may start to wonder: can you hit the ball in the kitchen in pickleball? The answer here is yes, as long as the ball bounces on your side of the court before you hit it.
Kitchen Rules: More Complex Situations
The kitchen rules pickleball players need to follow will often seem simple at first. But as you play, you’ll start to see that there can be some confusion over whether certain actions would count as breaking kitchen line rules or not. Here are several situations involving the non-volley zone that might come up in recreational or tournament play:
You touch the kitchen line while volleying. Sometimes, you might make a hit without the ball bouncing when you’re not really standing in the kitchen. But as the ball hit your paddle, you might step forward so your toe touches the kitchen line.
Though it might seem minor, this is considered to be a fault in pickleball. It’s sometimes called a “foot fault.” To avoid accidentally touching the kitchen line and getting a foot fault, it’s a good idea to stay a safe distance away if you can.
Your hat falls into the kitchen. This scenario doesn’t only refer to if your hat falls; it also can apply to when your keys fall, you drop your racket, etc. The International Federation of Pickleball’s book of rules for tournament play spells it out pretty succinctly. You’ll get a fault if “a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying touches the non-volley zone or touches any non-volley line.” So if momentum carries anything of yours over the kitchen line and into the non-volley zone, you get a fault.
You accidentally step over the kitchen line as a result of momentum. You might think that once you’ve made your volley motion, you can step over the kitchen line and into the non-volley zone with no issues. That isn’t entirely true.
If you or anything you’re wearing or carrying crosses the non-volley line into the kitchen as a result of the forward momentum gained when you hit a volley, you’ll still get a fault.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your opponents hit a ball over the net. You sprint up to it and hit the ball when you’re about a foot or so from the no-volley line. You might think that this is a legal shot, as you hit a volley completely outside of the pickleball kitchen.
But let’s say that the momentum carries you forward and you stumble a bit. You reach your paddle forward and downward to stop yourself from falling, but your paddle touches down across the non-volley line and into the no volley zone. In this case, you would get a fault.
The same rule applies if your forward momentum leads to your hat, sunglasses, etc. crossing the line and falling into the non-volley zone. Make sure all of your accessories are secure before you play pickleball!
You are standing outside the kitchen, but your racket enters the air over the kitchen line as you hit the ball. You might be relieved to hear that this type of volley shot is completely legal. When the rules refer to entering the no-volley zone or crossing the non-volley line, they are referring to the playing surface, not the air above it.
However, there is one situation that is an exception to this kitchen rule:
You initiate a volley while jumping upward in the non-volley zone. This might sound like a complex situation, but it’s easier to watch than to explain. Let’s say you’re standing in the kitchen and the opposing player hits the ball over the net. You jump upward and hit the ball in midair.
But somehow, you manage to jump backwards enough that both feet land clearly on the safe side of the kitchen line. It might seem at first that this is perfectly legal, as the air above the kitchen line doesn’t count.
However, the International Federation of Pickleball says that this maneuver violates the intent of the no-volley zone. If you were just standing in the kitchen and want to hit the ball back, you need to place both of your feet outside of the no-volley zone and reset your stance before you volley the ball.
It’s worth noting that since this kitchen rule is somewhat unusual (and even seems to almost contradict other kitchen rules), it’s often missed. This might not be a big issue at the rec level of play, but if you intend to compete, make sure you know and abide by this kitchen rule!
Kitchen pickleball rules might seem highly complex, but they largely boil down to ensuring no part of you, your accessories, or your doubles partner is in the kitchen when you hit a volley. That’s part of why many pickleball players prefer to stay out of the kitchen almost entirely — there aren’t any real advantages to standing in the kitchen, and standing inside of or near the kitchen line increases your risk of getting a fault. And especially for newer picklers, it can be tough to remember the nuance of the kitchen rule while playing a game.
What Happens if You Break Kitchen Rules?
Now you know the answer to “where is the kitchen in pickleball?” as well as the kitchen rules you need to follow. And if you’re new to the pickleball court, you might not know what happens if you do break the rules of the kitchen line or touch the non-volley zone while trying to volley the ball.
If you break a pickleball kitchen line rule, what happens is similar to what happens if you break a rule in tennis. You lose the serve, and your opponent gets a point. It’s not a devastating blow, but it’s enough to hinder your chances.
Obviously, you don’t want your opponent earning a point based solely on a mistake you made. Losing a serve can also make winning a game more difficult since you at least have some level of control as to where the ball goes when it’s your turn to serve.
If you break a pickleball kitchen rule where there’s a crowd present (especially at the level of rec play), you may hear everyone yell “kitchen!” in unison. You might then hear laughter or “ohhhhh!”
If this happens, keep in mind that it’s all in good fun — it’s in no way meant to mock you as a player!
When Can You Do in the Kitchen?
Now we’ve been through a whole list of kitchen rules. And after reading through everything you can’t do in the no-volley zone, you might wonder what you can do on the other side of the kitchen line.
You can do basically anything in the kitchen or no-volley zone as long as the ball bounces before you hit it. One thing you commonly see is a player stepping into the kitchen to return a dink shot. A dink shot is a useful strategic move. It’s when you hit the ball so that it moves upward and lands on the opponent’s court just barely over the net (and of course in the no-volley zone).
Hitting a stroke like this can be a useful way to get your opponent to move out of position. To make their next shot, your opponent needs to run right over the kitchen line and into the kitchen. As soon as the ball bounces, they then hit the ball back to you.
If you’re able to, this is a great opportunity to hit the ball back so it bounces on the safe side of the kitchen line. Since your opponent is standing in the kitchen, they likely won’t be able to get to and hit the ball back before it bounces out of bounds.
But the dink shot isn’t the only thing you can do in the kitchen. You can also do a ground stroke. A ground stroke, as the name suggests, is when you hit the ball when it is on (or very close to) the physical ground. The trick here is that as long as you’re in the non-volley zone, make sure the ball bounces before your paddle touches it. It may take some time to master the ground stroke, but it’s a great shot that’s well-worth learning.
Approaching the Kitchen Line
With all of this kitchen rule discussion, you might start to think that you should just always stay on the safe side of the kitchen line. But if you categorically ignore the non-volley zone, you’ll probably miss out on some great shots.
Basically, the best way to approach the kitchen is to make sure that you aren’t either afraid of it or drawn to it. After all, if you just stand over the kitchen line over in the non-volley zone, it’ll be easy for the ball to bounce onto your side and then out of bounds when the opponent returns the shot. If you opt to regularly stand in the kitchen, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
But don’t be afraid to go into the kitchen if an opportunity presents itself! As long as the ball has bounced on your non-volley zone, you can hit it back without getting a fault. Just don’t hit a volley! But most players will advise you to get right back out of the kitchen as soon as you can.
Mastering Pickleball Kitchen Rules
Especially if you’ve played other racket sports (none of which has a kitchen line), it can be pretty tough to avoid venturing into the no volley zone. But the longer you spend on the pickleball court, the easier it becomes to avoid hitting the ball in the non-volley zone. Of course, if you do make a mistake, don’t sweat it too much — you’ll master the kitchen line rules in no time.
Still have some questions on pickleball kitchen rules? Here are some answers:
In pickleball, you are allowed to cross the kitchen line. However, in the kitchen, you are not allowed to volley (hit the ball back before it bounces). Since this is hard to do when you’re so close to the net, most players prefer to avoid the kitchen and stay on the “safe” side of the kitchen line.
In pickleball, you can step in the kitchen as long as you do not hit a volley shot while in it or touching the kitchen line. This means that you need to wait until the ball bounces before hitting it while you’re in the kitchen.
If the ball bounces on your side of the net before you hit it, you can hit the ball in the kitchen. However, you can’t hit a volley while there.