The Non-Volley Zone, also known as the Kitchen, is the 7-foot area on both sides of the net in pickleball where volleying is prohibited.
Pickleball is a fun, social sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It is played with a paddle and a plastic ball on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.
One of the unique features of pickleball is the Non-Volley Zone, also referred to as the “Kitchen” due to its kitchen-like shape. Understanding the Non-Volley Zone rules is critical for both recreational and competitive pickleball players.
What is the Non-Volley Zone?
The Non-Volley Zone is the 7-foot area on either side of the net. It extends from one sideline to the other and covers the entire width of the court.
Essentially, it is the 14-foot wide section right in front of the net on both sides of the court. This section is demarcated on the court by the Non-Volley Zone line, which runs parallel to the net.
The Non-Volley Zone is sometimes referred to as the “Kitchen” because it resembles the kitchen area in the middle of a house floor plan.
- The Non-Volley Zone is 7 feet deep on each side of the net
- It extends the full width of the court from sideline to sideline
- The Non-Volley Zone lines run parallel to the net, 7 feet behind it
Non-Volley Zone Rules
The Non-Volley Zone has specific rules regarding volleying the ball:
You Cannot Volley in the Non-Volley Zone
The fundamental Non-Volley Zone rule is that you cannot volley the ball while standing inside the Non-Volley Zone or while contacting any part of the Non-Volley Zone line.
A volley means hitting the ball out of the air before it bounces. So volleying is prohibited if you are:
- Touching any part of the Non-Volley Zone line
- Standing inside the Non-Volley Zone area
If you volley the ball while violating these Non-Volley Zone restrictions, it is a fault.
You Can Enter the Non-Volley Zone
You are allowed to enter the Non-Volley Zone area – you just cannot volley the ball when your feet are inside the zone or touching the lines.
So it is perfectly legal to enter the Kitchen to return a ball that has bounced. You just cannot volley it until you step back behind the Non-Volley Zone line.
The Rest of the Court is Fair Game
The Non-Volley Zone rules only apply to the 7-foot Kitchen area. Everywhere else on your side of the court is fair game for volleying.
So feel free to volley to your heart’s content from behind the Non-Volley Zone line. Just don’t let your momentum carry you into the Kitchen!
Why is There a Non-Volley Zone in Pickleball?
The Non-Volley Zone exists for two main reasons:
1. Allows Space for the Serve Return
The first reason is to provide adequate space for the ball to bounce after a serve.
In pickleball, you must let the ball bounce once on your side before returning the serve. Without the Non-Volley Zone, players could crowd the net and smash the ball back, preventing it from bouncing.
The Kitchen gives the serving team a fair chance to get the serve in play.
2. Limits Smashing at the Net
The second reason is to prohibit smashing from the Non-Volley Zone.
If players were allowed to aggressively spike the ball right off the net, the game would heavily favor the team positioned up there. Almost no ball smashed from the Kitchen would be returnable.
The Non-Volley Zone helps maintain competitiveness and flow by reducing smashes at close range.
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Common Non-Volley Zone Infractions
The unique Non-Volley Zone rules understandably lead to some common faults and debates. Here are some scenarios that often lead to violations:
Reaching Over the Non-Volley Zone Line
Even if your feet are clearly behind the line, reaching your paddle over the line to volley is still a fault. No part of your body can be touching any part of the Non-Volley Zone lines.
Momentum Carrying You Over
Many volleying faults occur when a player’s momentum carries them over the line after hitting the ball. Even if you were legally behind the line when you hit the volley, it is a fault if you step into the Non-Volley Zone afterwards. Be careful not to let momentum draw you into the zone.
Non-Volley Zone Infractions on Serves
Serves require extra attention to Non-Volley Zone rules. Neither the server nor the receiver can be touching the Non-Volley Zone lines on a serve attempt. So servers need to clearly stay behind the line.
Seeing the Ball Bounce in the Non-Volley Zone
Sometimes there is debate over whether a quickly-returned ball bounced inside the Non-Volley Zone before being volleyed. If in doubt, it should be called a fault since volleys are prohibited.
Non-Volley Zone Strategies
The unique rules of the Non-Volley Zone allow for some interesting pickleball strategies:
Control the Non-Volley Zone Line
Controlling the Non-Volley Zone line gives you optimal position to cut off shots. Push up close to the line (without touching it) to take balls out of the air. Just resist the temptation to actually volley from the zone.
Lob Over the Non-Volley Zone
When your opponents crowd the non-volley line, lob shots over their heads into the backcourt. This pulls them back and opens up the court.
Attack Weak Returns from Behind the Line
Keep your eye out for high, slow balls that land near the non-volley line. Step up quickly from behind the line to attack weak returns.
Poach Cross-Court Volleys
Try volleying cross-court to open up the court. This pulls your opponents wide, dragging them out of position.
The unique Non-Volley Zone rules provide engaging gameplay you won’t find in other racquet sports. With the right strategies, you can gain an advantage and demonstrate your skills.
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Common Non-Volley Zone Questions
The Non-Volley Zone often generates questions from pickleball players learning the game. Here are some of the most frequent questions about the Kitchen:
Can you hit a swinging volley in the non-volley zone?
No, swinging volleys are still prohibited. A swinging volley means letting the momentum of the ball carry your paddle, rather than propelling the ball with an aggressive stroke. Any type of volley – even a gentle swinging volley – is a fault if initiated from the Non-Volley Zone.
Does the non-volley zone apply to dinks near the net?
Yes. The prohibition on volleying applies to all shots – including dinks. You cannot legally dink the ball while contacting any part of the Non-Volley Zone or lines.
Can you jump into the non-volley zone to hit a volley?
No. Even if you jump, the volley cannot be initiated while you are contacting any part of the non-volley zone. Jumping into the zone to volley is a fault.
If the ball bounces in the non-volley zone, can you then volley it?
Yes. You are permitted to enter the non-volley zone to return a ball that has already bounced inside. You simply cannot volley until you exit the zone.
Is it legal to stand in the non-volley zone if you are not volleying?
Yes. Merely standing or moving in the non-volley zone is not prohibited. You can enter it to return a bounced ball. You just cannot legally volley while there.
Understanding these common Non-Volley Zone questions will help you master the unique rules.
Why is it Called the Kitchen?
You may be wondering why the Non-Volley Zone is nicknamed the “Kitchen.” There are two likely explanations:
1. It Resembles a Kitchen Floor Plan
One reason is that the Non-Volley Zone visually resembles a kitchen layout in the middle of the court. The net looks like an island counter, while the Non-Volley Zone surrounding it is the kitchen floor space.
2. It’s Where You “Cook” Opponents
Another theory is that the Kitchen earned its name because volleying opponents from up close in that area was like “cooking” them. The term “cooking” means soundly beating an opponent in sports slang.
Whatever the origin, the Kitchen is now a ubiquitous pickleball term. Understanding the Non-Volley Zone rules is essential for all players.
So now you know the purpose, rules, and strategies for properly playing within the unique Kitchen area. Obeying the Non-Volley Zone regulations ensures fair and competitive pickleball that emphasizes strategy over close-range smashing. Mastering this singular facet of the game will greatly improve your pickleball prowess.