Pickleball Kitchen Rules and How Not to Violate Them

Est. Reading: 9 minutes

Pickleball is becoming more popular not just because it's a fun sport and a great form of exercise but also because of its uniqueness. Speaking of unique, pickleball is the only paddle sport with a “kitchen.” 

Like your kitchen at home, a pickleball kitchen is very important and has its own set of rules. So, if you’re new to playing pickleball, you came to the right place. Here, you will learn the full details about the kitchen rules and some useful tips on how to avoid violating them.

What is the Kitchen in Pickleball?

In pickleball, the “kitchen” is the slang term for the non-volley zone (NVZ). This area inside the pickleball court is 7 feet on each side of the net, from sideline to sideline. The line that marks its boundary is called the NVZ line or the Kitchen line. But just to be clear, the non-volley zone refers to the physical ground only, not the space above it. In short, it’s a 2D area, not 3D. This means that kitchen rules only apply to the ground, including the NVZ line. Got it? Good.

Why is the No-Volley Zone Called the Kitchen?

There’s no clear explanation as to where the term “kitchen” in pickleball originates. However, many people believe that it came from the same term used in shuffleboard. Also called shovelboard, shuffleboard is a game where players use cues (or hands) to push weighted discs into a scoring area at the opposite end of the court or table. It has a zone called the 10-off area (or kitchen), where players are not allowed to enter.

What is Volley in Pickleball?

In sports, the term “volley” is used when a player hits or returns the ball before it touches the ground. In soccer, it is when a player kicks the ball before the ball rebounds. This is also a common shot in volleyball and paddle (or racket) sports such as tennis. In pickleball, volleying is also allowed, except that there are some restrictions where players should not do it. This is where the non-volley zone rules are applied.

Why is Volleying Not Allowed in the Pickleball Kitchen?

Volleying is not allowed in the kitchen for four good reasons - It promotes safety and fairness in competition and encourages players to be more strategic and skillful.

Remember, volleying is hitting the ball before it bounces on the ground. Therefore, doing this in the kitchen could lead to more aggressive and potentially dangerous play near the net. This increases the risk of accidental collisions or injuries.

The kitchen rule also ensures that opposing players have an equal opportunity to engage in the game. Without it, one player or team could potentially dominate by constantly volleying near the net, making it difficult for their opponents to defend or make effective returns. Therefore, allowing volleying in the kitchen is an unfair advantage.

The non-volley zone also adds a strategic dimension to the game. Here, players need to carefully choose when to step into the kitchen and when to let the ball bounce before hitting it. This strategic element adds depth and variety to the gameplay.

Lastly, the kitchen rules encourage players to develop a well-rounded set of skills, including groundstrokes, volleys, and dinks. It rewards players who can execute controlled shots from different parts of the court. In doing so, players are more motivated, especially those that are thought to be underdogs.

Pickleball Non-Volley Zone Rules

As the name suggests, the non-volley zone is the area inside a pickleball court where volleying is not allowed. Although this principle sounds simple, a lot of beginners (and even some intermediate players) are confused about the pickleball kitchen rules. So, to make sure you understand them clearly, let’s discuss what Section 9 of the 2024 USA Pickleball Official Rulebook says and elaborate on it further.

9.A. All volleys must be initiated outside of the non-volley zone. For players using wheelchairs, the front (smaller) wheels may touch the non-volley zone during a volley. 

9.B. It is a fault if the volleying player or anything that has contact with the volleying player while in the act of volleying touches the non-volley zone. For players using wheelchairs, the front (smaller) wheels may touch the non-volley zone.

9.B.1. The act of volleying the ball includes the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum from the action.

9.B.2. If the paddle touches the non-volley zone during the volley motion, before or after contacting the ball, it is a fault.

9.C. During the act of volleying, it is a fault if the volleying player’s momentum causes the player to contact anything that is touching the non-volley zone, including the player’s partner. For players using wheelchairs, the front (smaller) wheels may touch the non-volley zone.

9.C.1. It is a fault even if the ball becomes dead before the player contacts the non-volley zone.

Section 9 is up to 9.H, but instead of copying and pasting them here, let’s break them down into simple words.

  • 9.A. No volleying is allowed on the kitchen grounds.
  • 9.B. You, any part of your body, or anything that touches you should not touch any part of the kitchen while volleying.
  • 9.C. Your momentum or your partner should not cause you to enter the kitchen while volleying. 
  • 9.D. If you are in the kitchen, you are not allowed to volley unless you get your feet off the kitchen. You are also not allowed to stand within the non-volley zone and jump to hit a volley.
  • 9.E. You can enter the kitchen any time you like, except when you’re volleying.
  • 9.F. You can enter the kitchen before or after returning a ball. Just make sure the ball bounces first before hitting it.
  • 9.G. You may stay in the kitchen to return a ball after it bounces.
  • 9.H. In doubles, you can stay in the kitchen while your partner returns the ball.

Again, these rules apply not only to the physical ground of the kitchen but to the kitchen line as well. This means that the NVZ line is part of the non-volley zone. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Momentum Mean in the Pickleball Kitchen Rule?

If you read Section 9.C carefully, you will come across the word “momentum.” Although this section seems to be self-explanatory, a lot of newbies get confused about what this term means, what you should not be doing, and what you’re allowed to do. Fortunately, Section 3.A.21 of the same rulebook has a more detailed explanation of momentum, which you can read below.

3.A.21. Momentum – Momentum is a property of a body in motion, such as a player executing a volley, that causes the player to continue in motion after contacting the ball. The act of volleying produces momentum that ends when the player regains balance and control of their motion or stops moving toward the non-volley zone.

This means that the term "momentum" in pickleball kitchen rules is the player's continued motion (regardless of whether intentional or not) on the court relative to the kitchen line. This momentum ends when that player regains balance or stops moving forward toward the kitchen zone.

Simply put, your momentum should not bring you into the kitchen ground while you are in the process of volleying. Otherwise, it’s a fault. This rule also applies even if the ball is dead before you step into the kitchen. 

What If My Paddle Touches the Kitchen During a Volley?

If you lose your balance during a volley and place your paddle on the kitchen floor to avoid entering the kitchen, it’s considered a fault. This is because your momentum made you decide to touch your paddle in the kitchen. See Sections 9.B and 9.C.

What If My Hat or Sunglasses Fall Into the Kitchen During a Volley?

If you’re wearing a hat or sunglasses, and it falls into the kitchen while hitting a volley, it’s also considered a fault. Aside from the said items, Section 9.B mentioned “anything,” which means it could also be any gear or piece of clothing that you were wearing during the volley.

Can I Volley Over the Kitchen?

Sure, you can. The phrase “over the kitchen” means that you are in mid-air and not touching the kitchen ground or line. In most cases, you need to jump to volley over the kitchen. If you jump diagonally from around the kitchen while volleying and land on the other side of the sideline, it’s not a fault. Pickleball fanatics call this the Erne shot, which is further explained below.

Can I Initiate a Volley in the Kitchen?

No, you are not allowed to initiate a volley while you are in the kitchen. Going back to Section 9.B, the “act of volleying” simply means from the start or initiation of volleying until the end. Hence, you are allowed to initiate a volley at any time only if you are outside the kitchen.

Can I Step Into the Kitchen Before the Ball Bounces?

Yes, you can. Sad to say, this is one of the most common pickleball myths. However, Section 9.E clearly states that a player can be in the kitchen at any time as long as he or she does not hit a volley. Therefore, you can also hit the ball while you are in the kitchen, but you should let the ball bounce first.

Is it Legal to Stay in the Kitchen to Wait for the Ball?

Yes, it is legal to stay in the kitchen to wait for the ball, and there’s no time limit as long as you don’t hit a volley. However, this is a bad habit and not recommended. Staying in the kitchen (regardless of how long) will limit your ability to reach some shots. Therefore, it’s better to let the ball bounce first before entering the kitchen.

Can I Get Into the Kitchen After Hitting a Volley?

This question is a bit tricky, so let’s answer it using Sections 9.C and 3.A.20. Technically, you are not allowed to be in the kitchen during the act of volleying. You can also enter the kitchen after hitting a volley. But if your momentum forces you to get into the kitchen while volleying, it’s considered a fault, even if the ball is dead. This means that the momentum rule has no time limit. 

Let’s say you move forward to hit a volley and wave your arms as if you're walking on a tightrope to avoid being in the non-volley zone. Then, your opponent wasn’t able to return the ball, and you scored a point. But then, you can no longer control your momentum and eventually land in the kitchen. In that case, it’s considered a fault. 

On the other hand, if you were able to regain control and composure and eventually avoided being in the kitchen, then you won the rally. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how long you have been trying to balance yourself. Regardless of what happens, you’re good to enter the non-volley zone as long as your momentum didn’t cause you to do so.

In Doubles, Can I Stay in the Kitchen While My Partner Volleys?

Yes, you can stay in the kitchen while your partner volleys, as long as your partner is outside of the kitchen. In fact, both of you can stay in the non-volley zone, provided that neither of you will volley. But again, staying long in the kitchen is not a good idea. Otherwise, your opponents can force you to commit a fault.

Can My Partner Grab Me If I’m About to Fall into the Kitchen While Volleying?

Yes, your partner can grab you if you’re about to fall into the kitchen, provided that your partner is outside the kitchen. You can also do the same to your partner, as long as you’re not in the non-volley zone. In both scenarios, the word “anything” in Section 9.B also applies to a partner.

How to Avoid Violating Pickleball Kitchen Rules

Professionals and long-time pickleball players know that the kitchen rule is the simplest. In fact, most points in tournaments are won on the non-volley zone line. On the contrary, most beginners' faults happen in the kitchen. Now that you know the details of the non-volley zone rules, let me give you some tips on how to avoid breaking them.

  • Leave the non-volley zone quickly. For the nth time, you can do anything in the kitchen except volleying. So, if you’re in the non-volley zone and you need to volley, leave the area as soon as possible. But of course, you should also know when to return.
  • Toe the line. This term means standing closer to the non-volley zone. This gives you enough time to enter the kitchen and hit the ball after it bounces. If you want to know more about “toeing the line,” check out our separate guide.
  • Do the Erne shot. This shot involves jumping from near the kitchen line to hit a volley and landing on the other side of the sideline. To do this effectively, read our comprehensive guide about the Erne shot.
  • In doubles, communication is the key. Discuss the strategies as to who and when one of you will be in the non-volley zone. Better yet, talk or use signs during the game to avoid confusion when getting into the kitchen.
  • Improve your momentum. Before the game, practice running near the kitchen line and bend forward to attempt a volley shot. Getting in and out of the non-volley zone also requires effective footwork. 

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, pickleball kitchen rules are easy to understand. There are only three essential points to remember. First, volleying is a fault while you are in the kitchen. Second, while volleying, anything that touches you shouldn’t touch the non-volley zone. Third, your momentum shouldn’t cause you to get into the kitchen. The only concern is how you can master the right strategies to avoid breaking these rules.

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