What is Toe the Line in Pickleball and How to Master It

Est. Reading: 4 minutes

If you’re a beginner in pickleball and want to improve, you should master how to stay out of the non-volley zone when volleying. Otherwise, you’ll be violating the kitchen rule. One way to do this is to learn how to toe the line.

Now, you’ll probably ask, “So, where should I stand if I need to volley near the non-volley zone?” This is where the toeing of the line comes in. In this article, you’ll learn what “toe the line” in pickleball means and how to do it correctly.

What Does “Toe the Line” in Pickleball Mean?

In pickleball, to “toe the line” means to get closer to the non-volley zone line, also called the kitchen. To do so, you have three choices - volley the ball, wait for the ball to bounce in the kitchen, or move a bit backward. Proper timing and positioning allow you to return the ball effectively without breaking the kitchen rule.

What are the Benefits of Toeing the Line?

In pickleball, being able to control the net helps you win points because it gives you a good position. When toeing the line, you can aim at your opponent’s feet, hit the ball at a better angle, and return shots quickly. It also allows you to hit the ball higher so your opponent cannot react quickly. You can win a rally if you can toe the line effectively.

How Close Should I Stand Near the Kitchen Line?

When toeing the line, the distance between where you stand and the kitchen line depends on several factors. Ideally, you would want to be as close as possible. In an experiment, professional pickleball player and certified USAPA instructor Sarah Ansboury suggests a player should be about an inch to the non-volley zone line. I agree this can be a comfortable distance.

But mainly, the proper way of toeing the line depends on the height and position of your opponent and yours. Whether you are taller or shorter than your opponent, make sure you can see your opponent's feet without the net blocking your sight. If done correctly, you can react fast when returning the ball or deciding whether to enter the non-volley zone.

How to Toe the Line Effectively

By principle, toeing the line is an easy thing to do. You just need to stand near the non-volley zone and prepare to volley or enter the kitchen. But in reality, it’s pretty challenging. You should also know exactly where to stand. Note that volleying the ball is only one of the many shots in pickleball. 

Believe it or not, many experienced players fail in this strategy. It’s not because they don’t know how to do it; it’s because of their incorrect timing. You see, this is not just about you; it’s also about your opponent’s playing strategy. To help you out, here are some tips on how to toe the line effectively.

#1 Understand the Kitchen Rule

If you’re new in the pickleball world, the kitchen rule can be confusing. It’s more than just knowing that volleying is not allowed in the non-volley zone. Here, your momentum near the NVZ line is also crucial. It will be the deciding factor for toeing the line without breaking the non-volley zone rule. To know more about the pickleball rules about momentum, check out our comprehensive Kitchen Rules Guide

#2 Know Exactly Where to Stand

There’s no official rule regarding where to stand near the kitchen line. But as Ansboury suggested, you should stay on the spot where you could view your opponent’s feet. This position will depend much on how tall you and your opponent are. Then, focus on tracking the ball while keeping your paddle up. You must be relaxed and in a neutral posture to move quickly in any direction.

#3 Know Your Opponent’s Moves

Toeing the line is more of a defensive strategy than an offensive. Once you assume you’re in the right spot, you should be ready for your opponent’s move. Will it be an offensive lob? Do you need to move back or closer to the kitchen line? The answers depend on how well you know your opponent and their skill level rating. If possible, watch their previous games. Otherwise, you’ll just keep on guessing. 

#4 Be Familiar With The NVZ Line

The NVZ line is one of the most feared spots in a pickleball court. While you can easily view your opponent’s kitchen line, you need to bow a bit to see yours. If you’re not quick enough, the ball will hit you before you know it. If you always focus on the ball, you might step on the kitchen line, a common fault of beginners. So, if you can’t estimate your distance to the NVZ line yet, avoid toeing the line for now.

#5 Practice, Practice, Practice

Mastering to toe the line can take a lot of work, it needs a lot of practice. Unlike other pickleball drills, it’s a combined skill of great footwork and a high level of accuracy in calculation. So yes, practice regularly and be patient. Although you can practice toeing the line alone, asking a friend to be your opponent is better. They don’t really have to be a great pickleball player, though.

Final Thoughts

Some pickleball fanatics argue that toeing the line is not for beginners, which might be true. However, you can start doing it in recreational games. Learning this playing technique as early as possible can help you elevate your skills. After all, pickleball doesn’t require much physical strength and was invented for people of all ages. 

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