Regardless of your skill level, positioning yourself at the kitchen line is a must-adhere-to strategy to play winning pickleball. Whether you are a beginner, an advanced player – or anything in between – you and your partner will want to traverse to this most strategic position on the court at your first opportunity. It’s at the kitchen line, after all, where the overwhelming majority of points are typically won.
But what is the kitchen? And where is it? As a beginner you have, no doubt, heard other will-intentioned players declare, “stay out of the kitchen.” But why? And when?
- Definitions for “Kitchen,” “Volley” and “Groundstroke”
- The Official Non-Volley Zone Rules According to USA Pickleball
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Closing Thoughts on Pickleball Kitchen Rules
Definitions for “Kitchen,” “Volley” and “Groundstroke”
In order to have a firm grasp of the pickleball kitchen rules, it is necessary to first define several terms, including “kitchen,” “volley” and “groundstroke.”
What is the Kitchen in Pickleball?
The kitchen in pickleball is simply another name – albeit, an unofficial one – for non-volley zone. The kitchen, or non-volley zone, is a two-dimensional “area” that extends 7 feet from the net on each side and is bound by the two sidelines.” It is within this area that a player is not allowed to strike the ball before it bounces.
To better grasp the concept, it may make more sense to refer to the kitchen area strictly as the non-volley zone as the word, non-volley zone, “defines” you what you are not allowed to do. It’s a zone in which you cannot volley.
What is a Volley?
So if, by definition, the kitchen is an area in which you cannot execute a volley, we must, therefore, define the term, “volley.”
A volley refers to the act of striking the ball out of the air before it bounces.
What is a Groundstroke?
A groundstroke in pickleball refers to a shot that is executed after the ball has bounced.
The Official Non-Volley Zone Rules According to USA Pickleball
Now that we have defined kitchen, volley, and groundstroke, let’s take a look at the official non-volley zone (kitchen) rules according to the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook.
Section 9 of the USA Pickleball Official Rulebook details the rules as it relates to the non-volley zone. In it, it is clearly stated that all volleys must be hit from outside of the non-volley zone (which includes the non-volley zone line).
The act of volleying includes the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum from the volley.
It is also important to stress that the kitchen, or non-volley zone, is NOT a non-come-in-here zone. In fact, you are allowed in the kitchen (non-volley zone) whenever you want. You simply cannot hit a volley when in there.
Frequently Asked Questions
As is frequently the case in any sport or discipline, skimming through the rulebook creates additional questions. The following FAQ’s attempt to answer any unanswered kitchen rules questions as it relates to the airborne pickleball, momentum from the act of volleying, and a ball that actually bounces first.
FAQ’s – Kitchen Rules and the Airborne Pickleball
No. Initiation of a volley while in the Non-Volley Zone (or standing on the NVZ Line) is considered a fault.
Can I hit a volley with just one of my feet touching the Non-Volley Line?
No, if a player touches any part of the kitchen line during the act of volleying, it will be considered a foot fault.
What if a player executes the volley, but his cap falls into the Kitchen?
This would be considered a fault. Something the player is wearing cannot touch the Non-Volley Zone or any Non-Volley Line during the volley.
What if – in the act of executing a low volley (or any volley, for that matter) – the pickleball paddle touches the Non-Volley Line?
A fault will be declared if, in the act of volleying the ball, a player (any part of your body) or anything the player is wearing or carrying touches the non-volley zone or touches any non-volley line.
When can you Step in the Kitchen?
You can enter the Non-Volley Zone at any time as long as you don’t hit a volley while in there.
Can I stand in the Non-Volley Zone while my partner serves or hits a shot?
While not recommended from a strategic perspective, you can nevertheless enter and stay in the Non-Volley Zone at any time as long as you don’t hit a volley while in there.
If I am in the Kitchen, when can I once again hit a volley?
You must establish both feet outside the Non-Volley Zone before you can once again volley the ball.
FAQ’s – Kitchen Rules and Momentum
No. A kitchen fault will be declared if, in the act of volleying the ball, a player or anything the player is wearing or carrying touches the non-volley zone or touches any non-volley line. The act of volleying the ball includes the swing, the follow-through, and the player’s momentum from the action.
Can the momentum from your volley carry you into the Kitchen subsequent to the ball bouncing twice on your opponent’s side?
Your momentum cannot carry you into the Non-Volley Zone even after it’s a dead ball (or in this case, bounced twice). There is no time-limit to the momentum rule.
When volleying, can your partner hold you back so that your momentum from the volley doesn’t take you into the Kitchen?
Yes. That is permitted. Your partner can, indeed, hold you back so that your momentum doesn’t take you into the Non-Volley Zone as long as your partner is not in the Non-Volley Zone either.
FAQ’s – Kitchen Rules and a Bouncing Ball
Yes, as long as the ball bounces first you can hit a shot while standing in the Non-Volley Zone. You simply cannot volley while in the Non-Volley Zone.
You hit a groundstroke but your momentum from the shot carries you into the non-volley zone. Is this a fault?
Regardless of where the ball bounces on the side of the court — as long as it bounces first — your momentum from hitting your groundstroke can, indeed, carry you into the Non-Volley Zone without penalty. Click here to see confirmation from our friends at the USAPA. Just don’t hit a volley on your next shot while in the kitchen! 😉
Closing Thoughts on Pickleball Kitchen Rules
There’s no doubt that the rules of the kitchen can be confusing. As a new player, in particular, the kitchen rules are the most challenging to fully understand. It’ll make more sense the more you play. It will also help immensely to begin calling the kitchen the non-volley zone as the pickleball non-volley zone actually states what you cannot do in the word itself.
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See you on the courts!
Sally Sennett says
I see that a shot is going to land close to the net, can I step into the non-volley zone and wait for it to bounce and then hit it?
Hi Sally, Yes, you can step into the non-volley zone at any time. You simply cannot hit the ball out of the air (before it bounces) while in there.
Bill Ries says
Playing last night, my partner’s shoe was over the kitchen line, but he was able to hold it so no part actually touched the line. His heel was on the floor but his toes were about 1/2 inch above the line. Fault or not?
Technically, no kitchen fault as no part of the body is touching the non-volley zone. That’s a tough call for your opponent or referee to make, however. But as you describe it, no fault.
My high lob shot lands in the opponents kitchen, they don’t hit it back, but the spin on the ball causes it to bounce back over the net into my kitchen. Is this a fault on them? or is it play on?
Hi Sean, you would win the rally. Your opponent has to strike the ball or it is a fault on them. https://www.pickleballmax.com/2017/09/pickleball-comes-back-over-net-without-being-touched/
Mark Orendorff says
Playing doubles, I’m serving, my opponent directly across me, comes up to the net, stands in the kitchen to distract me during my serve. If I accidentally serve it to the incorrect side, sticking my opponent while she is standing in the kitchen, is it a fault or my point since she touched the ball (or it hit her hard) before it landed on the floor of the court?
Hi Mark, If you hit your opponent (either one) in the air on your serve, it is a point for the serving team. This is also known as a “Nasty Nelson.”
Lynette Teal says
Opponent hits a groundstroke from the kitchen, stays in the kitchen and hits another ball after it bounces. Can they continue to stay in the kitchen and hit shots as long as the ball bounces first?
Hi Lynette, Indeed they can.
Julie Tanner says
What is the rule if you hit and spin a ball which lands in your opponents court without going over the net, but instead around the side posts?
Also, if your opponents shot hits you in the shoulder and returns to their side of the court? Or hits your paddle before or after your shoulder and is returned to their court?
Hi Julie, The following clarification relates to a ball that is hit “around-the-post:” https://www.pickleballmax.com/2017/10/pickleball-around-the-post-shot/. The next clarification relates to the ball that hits you and goes over the net: https://www.pickleballmax.com/2018/08/pickleball-hits-you-lands-in/. Hope this helps.
Tom Hogaboam says
I hit volley while moving laterally to my right just outside of the NVS. The momentum takes me two steps farther, but still in the court. I then reverse direction and take one step to my left, still in the court. I then take another step, but this time I step into the NVZ. My opponent called a fault. I contend that my forward momentum ended when I reversed direction and was still in the court. Who is right?
Hi Tom, I would agree with you. Based on your description, you had firmly established balance and position outside of the NVZ.
What if I hit a volley and my momentum is taking me into the kitchen but rather than step in the kitchen for a fault I jump to the side of the kitchen out of bounds
Bingo!!! That’s what you should absolutely do. Perfectly legal!!!
Could you clarify, at what point can you step into the kitchen after a volley without it being a fault?
For example, is it still a fault when the next player to serve has the ball and is ready to serve the next point?
Hi Norm, You can enter the kitchen once momentum from the act of the volley has been completely stopped. If you lean in, for example, to hit a volley and you are teetering (unbalanced) because of the momentum from the volley you need to stop teetering. There is no time-limit to the momentum rule. If you are teetering unbalanced for 30 seconds and you fall into the kitchen after this time it’s still a fault. Hope that helps.
I thought I read recently that if a volley from the kitchen line hits an opposing player that the ball is then dead. Is this the case?
I hit a volley from outside the kitchen that hit a player on the other side, it then bounced several times and rolled across the back wall at which time I stepped in to the kitchen.
Was this a fault?
There is no time-limit to the momentum rule. You cannot step into the kitchen to hit a volley — nor can the “momentum from your volley” take you into the kitchen.
Pat Bernardo says
I play against a guy who loves to “Ernie”. There are a few situations I’d like clarification on…In all situations there is no NVZ violation, he does contact the ball on his side of the net but he’s moving and his momentum takes him past the net onto my side of the court…I believe this is legal. However, what if I don’t hit him the ball or he misses the ball and still crosses the extension of the net and comes onto my side of the court? Is that then automatically my point? And lastly, as to a timing issue with all this…he’s coming down the side, I see him coming and I flinch and hit the ball into the net…then he passes the net onto my side of the court…If he breaks the plane of the net extension before my ball goes into the net would it then be my point…or would it be more like the NVZ where he can’t pass the net extension onto my side with any momentum until he can stop under control on his side even if I put the ball into the net? Thanks for any clarification…
The applicable rule here is Rule #11.I.
In other words, as long as contact is made, he can cross the plane of the net. If contact is not made, it would, indeed, be a fault on him. Hope this helps.
Judi Kuhns says
I was told if you are standing in the NVZ but step out of it before returning a volley that is still a fault, the same as if you were still standing in the NVZ when returning a volley. Is that correct? I thought as long as you exited the NVZ before hitting the volley, the return was valid.
Hi Judi, It’s called the “Non-Volley” Zone. You cannot volley while inside this area. A volley is defined as hitting the ball out of the air. Thus, you can be in this Non-Volley Zone any time you want. You just can’t hit the ball out of the air while in there. So if both feet were fully established outside this NVZ when you volleyed, you are A-OK. Hope that helps.
Sarah Neal says
My opponent hit a volley to my court then entered the NVZ and stayed there. My return bounced in the NVZ (where he was standing) and he hit the ball. Did he have to reset outside the NVZ or can you stay there anticipating the ball may bounce?
Hi Sarah, You opponent was within the rules to hit the ball while staying in the NVZ (as long as it bounced first). One can be in the NVZ whenever they want. They simply cannot hit the ball out of the air while in there. Having said that, it doesn’t make for good strategic sense to stay in there, however, as your opponent can easily hit you a ball that you would have to hit out of the air — which would be a fault while standing in the NVZ. Hope that helps.
Most tennis shoes have the toe part curled upwards. Is it a fault when the toes of such shoes are hovering over the airspace of the NVZ line and not physically touching the line, while executing a volley?
No, that would not be a fault — although, as I’m sure you can imagine, it would be very difficult for your opponents and/or referee to fully distinguish at full speed.
Most tennis shoes have the toe part curled upwards. When the toes of such shoes are hovering over the airspace of the NVZ line and not physically touching the line, is it still a fault when making a volley in this position? (My friends teasingly ask “would a fault be called on Alladin?”).
Hi Cynthia, Great question. A fault would not be called on Alladin. The Non-Volley Zone is two-dimensional, not three-dimensional.
Julie Longjohn says
One player I know says that if a player (unintentionally, not realizing his/her feet are out-of-bounds) hits a volley from outside the court lines (an out-of-bounds ball) then the point is automatically lost by the hitting team. I say that the ball is still in play as long as the player keeps hitting the ball since it was not called & regardless of where the ball is hit. (In tennis if someone hits a ball that is out before it bounces on the ground, it is still in play.)
Hi Julie, you are correct. In section 7 of the USAPA Official Tournament Rulebook, you will find the “fault” rules. Rule #7.I. specifically addresses this scenario where it says, “A fault will be declared for the following…”
Hope this helps!
Lynn Rochelle says
If I hit a volley, and my partner drops his paddle into the kitchen, is it a fault?
Nope. It’s only a fault if the paddle touches the kitchen in the act of volleying. In this case, your partner was not volleying the ball.
Who can call a non volley zone foot fault? Can I call it on the other team. I know they “should “ call it on themselves but they are often unaware.
Great question, Sandy. When there’s a referee, Rule #13.C.1 applies:
During non-officiated sanctioned play, Rules #13.D.1.a and #13.D.1.b apply:
In response to 13.D.1.b: my opponent claims my foot touched the NVZ line while I volleyed. I and my partner both think my foot did not touch the line (no referee). Whose call rules?
Hi Bruce, In a non-refereed game, the opponent’s call would stand. Rule 13.K. would be your only recourse:
I serve the ball into the opposition’s court and they let it bounce and then hit the ball (and it bounces) into my kitchen area. Is that a fault and my point?
Hi Terry, No that would not be your point. The only shot that must go beyond the kitchen line is the serve. Hope that helps!
Joan Canepa says
The ball is served. The receiving team let’s the ball bounce once and returns the ball over the net and its first bounce is in the NVZ. Is this a fault for not landing out of the NVZ for the 2nd bounce?
Hi Joan, It’s A-OK. It is only the serve that needs to land beyond the NVZ. Hope that helps!
James Tarquinee says
I hit an overhead shot while standing in the kitchen after the lob shot bounced. The opponent said if the ball bounces in the kitchen and you are in the kitchen you are only allowed to return the ball underhanded. No overheads allowed! True?
False! As long as the ball bounces you’re a-ok to hit the ball (with your paddle, of course) however you want while in the kitchen!
After the ball is hit, then bounces once and then rolls to the floor… is it legal to hit?
Hi Annette, The ball can only bounce one time before it must be hit. A ball that bounces a second time without being hit would result in a fault — unless, of course, your opponent had a NVZ violation. Hope that helps.
Harry Chin says
If I return a ball while in the NVZ and my opponent returns it in my NVZ, can I hit the ball if it bounces or do I have to get outside of the NVZ and then enter the NVZ to hit the ball after it bounces
Hi Harry, Great question. In this particular example, you can, indeed, stay in the NVZ to hit a ball that bounces first. In fact, you can be in the NVZ whenever you want — you just can’t hit the ball out of the air while you are in there. Hope that helps!
Linda Kuchma says
Is it ok if my paddle strikes my partners paddle at the same time when the ball is volleyed back to the opponent.
Hi Linda, That’s A-OK — as long as the ball only touched one of the paddles and as long as neither of you were in the NVZ at point of contact. Hope that helps!!!
Bob Betts says
Without entering the NVZ, I hit a low volley over the net and I drop my paddle into the NVZ? Is it a fault?
Yes, Bob, it is a fault if the paddle lands in your own NVZ as a result of your volley. Rule 11.H addresses this situation.
Hope that helps!
While the opponent is serving, can I stand in the kitchen?
Hi Kenn, Yes. You can stand in the kitchen whenever you want — including while your opponent is serving. You just cannot hit the ball out of the air while you are in the kitchen. Hope that helps.
I serve. The ball clears kitchen but touches the middle line. Is the serve good?
Hi Jim, All lines in pickleball are “good,” with the one exception that, on the serve, the ball that touches the kitchen line (NVZ line) is considered a fault. So, in your case, because it wasn’t the kitchen line that was touched on the serve, the serve is “good.” Hope that helps!
Can you cross the airspace of the NVZ when executing a volley?
Hi Jack, Yes, you can cross the airspace of the NVZ when executing a volley as long as you do not touch the NVZ. The NVZ is 2-dimensional, not 3-dimensional. Hope that helps!
I understand when executing a groundstroke outside the nvz one can step into the zone if need be to finish the stroke.
Can one step into the nvz prior to the ball bouncing in the nvz to stroke the ball or does one have to wait until the ball has bounced before entering?
Hi Michael, You can enter and stay in the NVZ at any time and as long as you wish. You simply cannot hit the ball out of the air while in the NVZ. Hope that helps!
Marty Kenney says
Is there a rule for the following situation? Today I returned a shot that bounced just over the net into our opponents’ kitchen; and because of (unintentional) spin that was on the ball, it bounced back over to our side before they could hit it. My opponent says it should be her point because the ball ended up on our side. I said it is our point because they never touched the ball. Is there a rule to cover this situation?
Hi Marty, Good question. In this case, you (as the striker of the ball) would win the rally. Your opponents needed to touch it first. I just recently wrote a blog post about this exact scenario that you can find here: https://www.pickleballmax.com/2017/09/pickleball-comes-back-over-net-without-being-touched/. Hope this helps!
Randall Baker says
What if you pull your partner back from the NVZ after he hits a volley but your momentum causes you to step into the NVZ while still touching him?
If your partner (the person executing the volley) is touching you (the one attempting to pull your partner back from the NVZ) at any point in time in which you are in the kitchen, it would be a fault.
So I’m guessing if your partner hits a volley and his momentum starts to take him into the kitchen… You cannot stand in the kitchen blocking him from entering
You cannot stand in the kitchen and push your partner from entering the kitchen, however, you can stand outside of the kitchen area and pull your partner so they cannot enter the kitchen. Hope that makes sense.
John Reuter says
A volley is made outside of the nvz and your momentum does not carry you into the nvz. The ball is missed by the other team and goes out of bounds. Can the player who volleyed the ball touch or walk through the nvz?
Hi John, As long as entrance into the Non-Volley Zone was not a result of the volley — or momentum from the volley — one can enter the NVZ at any time. In your case, it’s probably best not to walk through the NVZ immediately after the volley so as not to confuse your opponents or referee who may deem it a result of the momentum from the volley. But if it’s not part of the volley or momentum, you’re okay. Hope that helps!
Richard Gabbert says
A question came up about whether a player can hit a volley straddling the corner of the NVZ. I thought that the lines extend. Could you help?
Hi Richard, Good question. Yes, one can straddle the corner of the NVZ and hit the volley — as long as your feet are not touching the sideline or non-volley line. Hope this helps.
Just to clarify: one response says “You can enter the Non-Volley Zone … at any time”, while another response says “Your momentum cannot carry you into the kitchen.” My question is this: “Is it the lack of intentionality of entering the kitchen after a volley that makes the situation a “fault”? Thanks!
You can enter the kitchen at any time — as long as you don’t execute a volley while in there — AND as long as your entrance into the kitchen wasn’t a result of the momentum associated with the volley. So yes — intentionality is the key word.
Hope that helps clarify.
This may have answered my question. If you volley, stop and then step into the nvz that is ok? If you don’t stop, how many paces would be considered no longer ‘momentum of the action’ or after volleying a long (no forward momentum) can I step into the nvz.
Hi Gary, Once you volley and have established balance and position outside of the NVZ, the momentum from the volley is over. It is not dependent on any number of steps, however. It could be 1 step. It could be 10 steps. It can certainly be a judgment call for the referee, so unless you have good reason for entering the NVZ after a volley, I wouldn’t risk it. Hope that helps!
Dan Thomas says
My partner returned a serve into play, but mistakenly called the serve out. I overruled her, and although the other team did not hit a winner and we did not miss a shot, she said the opponent gets the point, instead of replaying the point as we would in tennis. True? I know if she missed the shot, or maybe even if the opponents hit a winner that we did not try for, they would get the point. I cannot find anything about this specifically online.
Hi Dan, In this case your partner is correct. Benefit of the doubt goes to your opponent. The point is not to be replayed. It is a fault on your team.
Is it a fault if your paddle touches inside kitchen after hitting a ground stroke?
Hi Clarence. No, it is not a fault if the paddle touches inside the NVZ (kitchen) after hitting a ground stroke. If it touches inside the NVZ during the execution of a volley, however, it would be a fault. Hope that helps to clarify.
Is an overhead smash shot legal while standing in the NVZ once the ball has bounced?
Hi Cathy. Absolutely. An overhead smash is, indeed, legal while standing in the NVZ as long as the ball has bounced first.
If I am standing in the NVZ and then jump backwards and land outside of the NVZ, but while airborne, I hit a volley, is this a legal shot?
Hi Vince, It is not a legal shot. Both feet must first be established outside of the non-volley zone before hitting the volley.
I assume that if your momentum takes you over the the NVZ but you land outside the NVZ without touching within the NVZ that it would not be a fault.
Hi Bill, That is correct. You can, for example, jump over the corner of the non-volley zone without touching the NVZ. Think of the NVZ as being 2-dimensional, not 3-dimensional.
Is it still a fault if I volley the ball and fall in the kitchen after the opponent hits the ball back.
Yes, it is a fault. The momentum from the volley cannot take you into the kitchen — even after the opponent hits the ball back.
Similarly, I volleyed a ball and teetered at the NV line as my opponent returned the volley to my partner, who volleyed back to win the point. Meanwhile, I’m still teetering on the edge but couldn’t avoid stepping into the NVZ after the point had ended.
I called a fault on myself, conceding the point. However, a friendly argument ensued with players with rules knowledge on both sides.
Rules 9.B and 9.C.1 seem to support my position that, since my momentum eventually carried me into the NVZ, the number of times the ball was struck in the interim, and by whom, is irrelevant. Even though the point was over and the ball dead, I faulted and we lost the point. Am I right?
Hi Don, There’s nothing to add. You were honest and absolutely correct on calling a fault on yourself!
Art Elliott says
Can my paddle and hand pass over the NVZ as long as no part of my body, paddle or clothing touches the NVZ?
Yep. You’re exactly right, Art. In the act of volleying (and the momentum from the action), your paddle and hand can, indeed, “pass over” the NVZ as long as no part of your body, paddle or clothing touches the NVZ.
J.M. (Chuy) Pena says
Two players hit a winning volley at the same time, but, one of the players touches the NVZ line from the momentum. Neither acknowledges hitting the ball. Since both paddles were touching each other, should it be considered a fault?
Thanks for the question, Chuy. The fact that the paddles were touching each other has no bearing on the ruling. However, in this situation there is doubt as to which of the two players actually hit the ball. Because of this doubt, rule 6.D.2 should apply which states, “The opponent gets the benefit of the doubt on line calls made.” Therefore, this is, indeed, considered a “fault.”