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Pickleball kitchen rules - everything you need to know in 2023

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Betsy Kenniston

Updated on: Feb 21, 2023

A player standing near the kitchen on a pickleball court

If you've ever played, or even talked about pickleball, you've likely heard of pickleball kitchen rules. The "kitchen", also referred to as the non-volley zone, is often one of the first elements new players trip up on. In this guide, we explain:

  • What is the kitchen in pickleball?
  • Why is the NVZ called the kitchen?
  • What are the pickleball kitchen rules?

When you're learning how to play pickleball, understanding how you should interact with the kitchen is vital to making the leap from a beginner to an intermediate player. Plus, once you know how the kitchen works, you can use it to your advantage and pull off more advanced plays.

What is the kitchen in pickleball?

The kitchen, as we and the majority of players refer to it, is officially called the non-volley zone (or NVZ for short).

It's the area located 7 feet on either side of the net, from sideline to sideline, and the line marking its location is called the kitchen line/NVZ line.

A graphic of a pickleball court with the kitchen labeled
A graphic of a pickleball court with the kitchen labeled

Some of the most intense and exciting pickleball rallies occur in and around this part of the court, and a lot of scoring opportunities occur at the kitchen line. So if you're playing at that line, you'll need quick reactions in order to make your shots count.

We'll get into the reasons for this later. But first, let's talk more about the kitchen itself.

How big is the kitchen in pickleball?

The rulebook dictates that the size of a standard pickleball court should be 44 feet long by 20 feet wide. The kitchen covers the area within 7' of the net on both sides and extends from sideline to sideline.

A graphic displaying the dimensions of a pickleball court

That means on each side of the net, the kitchen is 7 feet deep by 20 feet wide, for a total area of 140 square feet.

Pickleball kitchen rules to know

As a pickleball player, it's important to form good habits and learn the kitchen rules early. The USA Pickleball Rulebook for American players, and the IFP Rulebook for international players, spend a lot of time talking about the non-volley zone.

While the term "kitchen" is frequently used by players, there are no mentions of it in the rulebooks. To search for these rules, you need to use the term "non-volley", and remember that a volley simply means hitting the ball before it's touched the ground.

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You can't volley in the kitchen

While this one may seem obvious, it's a rule that's regularly misunderstood. A common myth is that you can't go into the kitchen unless the ball bounces. But this simply isn't true!

You can be in the kitchen any time you want, but you can't hit the ball while you're in the kitchen until it bounces. If you have so much as a toe on the line and you volley the ball, it's a fault.

A diagram of a pickleball court with the kitchen/non-volley zone labeled

This rule isn't just limited to the moment your paddle hits the ball, though. You can't enter the kitchen during your swing, follow-through, or the momentum of the action. Even if your opponent hits the next shot, if your continued momentum from that shot carries you into the kitchen, it's a fault.

Because of the wording of those rules, advanced players will often execute an Erne shot as a way of hitting a volley inside the kitchen, without breaking the rules!

The most common pickleball myths

How does this rule affect wheelchair users?

Wheelchair pickleball rules allow the player to volley the ball with their front wheels on or inside the kitchen line. But if the rear wheels touch the line and they volley the ball, it's a fault.

The kitchen line is part of the kitchen

The lines outlining the edge of the kitchen are considered part of the kitchen itself, meaning you can't volley while touching any of those lines – this includes both the kitchen line and the sidelines.

A pickleball player plays a shot from within the kitchen

Neither your body or equipment can touch the kitchen when volleying

No part of your body or equipment can touch the kitchen while performing the entire volley motion. That includes your paddle striking the kitchen area while making a volley on a low ball.

Fortunately, the kitchen only refers to the area on the ground and doesn't include the space above it! Therefore, your body or paddle may cross the plane of the kitchen line, as long as nothing touches the ground within its borders.

However, there are a few stipulations that you need to be aware of with this:

Nothing you're touching can be in the kitchen when volleying

If you hit a volley and bump into your doubles partner whose foot is on the kitchen line, you'll have committed a fault.

No item of clothing can fall into the kitchen zone when hitting a volley

In addition to your body and your paddle, if any piece of clothing or any other pickleball gear you are wearing such as a hat or sunglasses, falls into the kitchen zone while hitting a volley, it is a fault.

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Both feet must be on the ground outside the kitchen

Both feet must be outside the kitchen before hitting a volley. While that may seem obvious, this rule is aimed at players who are in the kitchen to hit a shot and must then get back out quickly before another shot is hit at them.

You must establish both feet on the ground outside of the kitchen if you're forced to hit a volley!

Pickleball player Brandon Mackie ready to play a shot by the kitchen

Serving and the kitchen

The service box consists of the kitchen line, the center line, the sideline, and the end line. The center, side, and end lines are all considered "in", or good if a served ball lands on them. The kitchen line, however, is considered as "out".

That means a serve must completely clear the kitchen line to be considered a valid serve – even if it grazes the net. However, it's not just where the ball lands that makes a service valid - you'll also have to make sure you don't pre-spin the ball before you serve.

Tips to improve your serve

What can you do in the kitchen?

You can do anything you want in the kitchen! You can hit any type of shot you wish from inside the kitchen, as long as the ball bounces first.

Although probably not a good strategy, you can hit a groundstroke while standing in the kitchen, or a dink, or a lob. You can move within the kitchen freely and you can stay there as long as you'd like, as long as you don't volley the ball.

Our guide to pickleball lobs

In doubles pickleball, one teammate can be inside the kitchen while the other volleys, as long as you don't touch each other in the process of making the shot.

Just remember, as long as you don't volley in the kitchen, you won't violate the pickleball kitchen rules.

Here's a great recap on all the do's and don'ts of play in the kitchen from the Pickleball Channel:


What is dinking?

A "dink" is a softer pickleball shot, usually played from near the kitchen line. It's hit with control and finesse over the net and intended to land in the opponent's kitchen – keeping the ball close to the net and forcing your opponent to let it bounce.

A well-placed dink can force your opponent into a different position. This creates scoring opportunities by making it difficult for your opponent to volley the ball, and keep them moving until you see an opening.

A pickleball player plays a backhand shot near the kitchen

Patience is key, so keep the ball low to prevent your opponent from hitting a hard volley or even an overhead smash. They might even pop up their return, allowing you to attack the ball.

Whether you use a dink as part of an offensive strategy or as a defensive shot, it'll give you time to move into a better position and help you keep your opponent on the run.

Why is there a non-volley zone in pickleball?

The kitchen serves a few purposes in pickleball, and forces players to play more strategically, rather than camping out at the net, and smashing the ball back at their opponents.

It's a vital rule to maintain the enjoyability of prolonged rallies and strategic play, and players must learn to rely on better footwork and shot placement if they want to outplay their opponents.

Pickleball kitchen rules and the erne

The Erne shot is an advanced move named after Erne Perry, who popularized the shot in tournament play, and it can be devastating when used properly.

It's difficult to master, but it involves a player quickly shifting outside of the sideline to volley the ball as it comes into the kitchen. Because the player isn't technically in the kitchen, it's a perfectly legal move!

Hitting an Erne in pickleball

How is an erne legal?

When performing an Erne, the player never touches the kitchen. The pickleball rulebook states that players can't hit the ball out of the air while standing in the kitchen or touching the kitchen line, but that line doesn't extend beyond the sidelines.

So, if you're in the air above the kitchen, or are standing outside the court lines beside the kitchen, it's legal to volley. Just make sure you don't hit the ball on your opponents' side of the net or cross over to their side while the ball is still in your court.

Our guide to erne shots

Why is it called the kitchen in pickleball?

Nobody knows for certain why pickleball's non-volley zone is called the kitchen. However, there are a few popular theories:

One explanation is that the term is borrowed from shuffleboard, which also has a kitchen. In shuffleboard, the kitchen is behind the scoring zones in what's called the "10-off area". If a player's shot lands in the kitchen, they lose 10 points. No one wants to be in that kitchen!

People playing shuffleboard

Given that pickleball's creators drew heavily on other leisure games, it's definitely possible they may have borrowed the term from shuffleboard.

Another popular theory is it refers to the old phrase, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen".

With both teams' players positioned at the kitchen line, they are only 14' apart. Rallies can get hot at the kitchen line, and even hotter if you have to step into the kitchen to make a shot! If we had to put a pin in it, we think it's probably a bit of both.

See the origins of pickleball

Bottom line

If you haven't actually played pickleball, the kitchen rules might sound complicated, but they're actually pretty simple in practice, and they quickly become second nature, just like pickleball's service rules.

When in doubt, just remember: unless the ball has bounced, stay out of the kitchen! If you're thinking of putting your newfound kitchen knowledge to use, why not?

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About the author
Betsy Kenniston
I’m Betsy, the founder of Crazy Pickleball Lady, a blog I created to share my love of pickleball with the world! I discovered pickleball when I finished working in 2012, and the sport has defined and thoroughly enriched my retirement. I spend the warmer months in Toledo, Ohio and the winters in SW Florida, and I’m a member of four pickleball clubs in total, serving on the board of directors for one. In my time off the court, I write my blog as a way to reach others who want to learn to play pickleball, and to give tips to players looking to improve their game.
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