Every new pickleball player, like new players in many other sport, will find themselves confronted by a barrage of terminology that seems odd at best, counterintuitive at worst. Many terms in pickleball, including the name of the sport itself, were chosen out of whimsy, to make the sport feel more approachable to families and small children. They were chosen by people on vacation, to create a sport whose purpose was to while away boring afternoons.
One of these is the “Kitchen.” Pickleball has this one weird little area where volleying the ball is prohibited. There are several elements to the pickleball court that need consideration. The baseline and sidelines, of course, but the unlined area seven feet deep by twenty feet wide at midcourt on either side of the net is one of the most important parts of the pickleball court. This unlined area is the “no-volley zone,” or “the kitchen.”
The kitchen takes up almost one-third of the twenty-two-foot area on each side of the pickleball net, and takes up the space between the two 15-foot by 10-foot (4.57 x 3.05 m) service boxes and the net. Combining both sides of the net together, the 14’ x 20’ kitchen area is the largest single bounded area on the court. There are a handful of special rules that apply to the kitchen that apply nowhere else in the court.
Why the No-Volley Zone?
To state the obvious, the no-volley zone in pickleball is the part of the court where no player can volley the ball. Any hit on the ball made in the kitchen must be a ground stroke – the ball must have bounced off of the ground no more than once (twice in wheelchair pickleball).
The game is structured to prohibit volleying while close to the net for several reasons. The most important of these is competitive balance. Smash volleys near the net can result in the feeling of unfair play. Owing to the game’s origin as a game for children to occupy themselves during a vacation, the rules were designed to keep balls in play for as long as possible, and a volley at the net would be against that goal. So the no-volley rule, was born, designed to keep players from advancing to the net.
The No-Volley Line is the boundary between the kitchen and the service boxes. A player who volleys on or ahead of that line commits a fault and loses the rally.
Why The Kitchen?
The nickname “kitchen” is nowhere in the official rules of pickleball, but it’s a universally understood nickname for the no-volley zone of the court. It’s a name with an obscure origin, but since the name of the sport itself is after Joel and Joan Pritchard’s dog, it’s likely that it was chosen by Mr. Pritchard out of a sense of whimsy. Pickleball, after all, was invented to give bored kids a way to while away lazy summer afternoons.
The most credible answer as to the origin of the name is that Mr. Pritchard or one of his associates named it after the “kitchen” or “10-off” area in shuffleboard, a game that was also common as a vacationer’s pastime. In shuffleboard, landing a weight in the 10-off area deducts 10 points from the player’s score, making it a place you do not want to end up.
It’s important to remember the rules regarding the kitchen. Just as the lines bordering the court are in play, so too is the line marking the back of the kitchen area part of the kitchen. Because of this, new players can get into trouble with the game’s volley rules when they attempt to volley the ball while standing directly on the kitchen pickleball line. Additionally, volleys can break the kitchen rule after hitting the ball. If after hitting a volley, the player’s momentum from the hit continues into the kitchen or steps on the kitchen line, the action becomes a fault and the rally ends.
What Can You Do In The Kitchen?
It might be a common mistake among beginners to assume that the kitchen is a no-go zone, a place where nobody will normally step or play, or even that moving into or through the kitchen is disallowed in its entire. However, this is indeed a mistake. The kitchen is part of the court that every player is entitled to enter – so long as they don’t do so to play a ball on a volley or after doing so. Soft shots into the kitchen, commonly known as “dink shots,” are a major tactic of the game, as they can force players sitting at the kitchen line to lunge aggressively into the kitchen to catch the ball on a short bounce. Especially after a long shot into the back part of the court, a dink shot into the kitchen can catch an opponent off guard and score a point.
Players should remember that while good strategy will put players naturally at or just behind the kitchen line, they should never be too far behind the kitchen line, as this will make them vulnerable to a dink shot, nor ahead of it, to avoid vulnerability to shots they might have to illegally volley. A balanced attack in the game will be one that plays directly behind the kitchen line, for greatest flexibility.
The kitchen rule is one of the defining rules of pickleball. With a few important nuances to the rule and how it interacts with the way that players approach the kitchen, it can create a few tricky situations. Even though “kitchen” appears nowhere in the rules of pickleball, the understanding of this word is universal in the game of pickleball and no one will play for long without hearing it.
Players may not realize right away on beginning the game that approaching the kitchen with the ball in the air requires a kind of full-body that many people might not have approaching the game for the first time. The most important part of approaching pickleball for the first time is to be aware of not just where your whole body is, but even where your feet are, because the kitchen line is part of the kitchen. So approach the kitchen, go into the kitchen, even play a bit in the kitchen. Pickleball is one of the most unique leisure sports invented in the last seventy years, and the kitchen is a big part of the reason why.