How to Introduce the Kitchen Rules to New Players

The rules surrounding the kitchen – or more formally, the non-volley zone – can be a source of confusion for newer players. With an emphasis on creating a fun first experience, here’s some advice for introducing first-timers to the non-volley zone rules.

Photo by chadpryan licensed under (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Before diving in, let’s quickly cover the basics.

What is the kitchen?

What is commonly called the kitchen is actually officially named the non-volley zone. It’s the area that extends the entire width of the pickleball court (from sideline to sideline) and 7 feet back on either side of the net.

The primary purpose of the kitchen is to ensure players can’t stand right at the net to smash balls.

That’s why they call it the non-volley zone – you’re not allowed to volley a ball while standing in that area.

What is a volley?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term volley, it simply means to hit the ball out of the air before it has a chance to bounce. Any time the ball crosses the net and you hit it before it touches the ground, you’re volleying the ball.

And if you’re wondering, yes, an overhead smash is technically a volley.

Explaining the kitchen to first time players

When learning to play, it’s easy for first-timers to get overwhelmed trying to remember all the rules, keep track of the score, figure out where they should be standing, and trying to absorb tips from other players.

In my experience, it’s more important to make sure new players have fun rather than gaining a complete understanding of the rules. They’ll learn the full set of rules in time, assuming they’re allowed the space to enjoy playing without getting bogged down.

The simplified kitchen rules

For this reason, I find it best to keep it simple and avoid getting into nuanced explanations of different kitchen faults. I Introduce these aspects of the kitchen as they arise and after new players have a couple games under their belts.

Here’s the simplified explanation I give first-timers:

  • You can only hit a ball while standing in the kitchen if the ball bounces first.

I might give them a simple demonstration of a legal and illegal kitchen hit if it doesn’t quite make sense to them, but that’s it.

Pickleball Kitchen Rules: A Comprehensive Explanation

After they play a few games, you can start to point out more nuanced non-volley zone rules as they pop up. A full set of the non-volley zone rules can be found in the official rule book. The section on the non-volley zone is actually pretty short and only takes a couple minutes to read through.

If you’re a visual learner here’s an excellent video from Pickleball Channel explaining the rules of the kitchen with some great examples. It’s the best video I’ve found on the topic.

Common faults

Here’s a few of the nuanced kitchen fault scenarios that you should be aware of (you’ll see visual examples of all of these in the video).

Toes off the line

The non-volley zone includes the lines marking it – if you touch the line or anywhere inside it while volleying, it’s a fault.

Watch your (and your opponent’s) toes!

Control your momentum

If your momentum carries you into the kitchen after volleying a ball, that’s a fault. This applies even if the ball is dead before you enter the kitchen.

For all you crafty players out there that have wondered if you could jump from outside the kitchen, smash a ball, then land in the kitchen – sorry, that’s a fault.

Paddle in the kitchen

If anything you’re wearing or have touched while volleying come into contact with the kitchen, that’s a fault.

The most common example of this is hitting a very low volley and your paddle accidentally scraping the kitchen while swinging at the ball.

Two feet down

If you enter the kitchen, you need to re-establish both of your feet outside the kitchen before you can volley the ball.

You can’t be in the kitchen and jump backwards, volley the ball while you’re in the air, then land outside the kitchen.

This type of play violates the spirit of the kitchen and is considered a fault.

Wrapping Up

There’s definitely some subtleties to the rules around the kitchen. But, keep it simple for new players and allow them to build a love for the game rather than bashing them over the head with the rule book.

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