Pickleball For Dummies
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A rally is the period of continuous play, hitting the ball back and forth. It ends as soon as one of the players commits a fault, resulting in their team’s loss of that rally. In basic terms, a fault occurs when a player:
  • Hits the ball into (or under) the net
  • Fails to return the ball before it has bounced twice on their side
  • Hits the ball and it lands out of bounds
Many other types of faults can cause you to lose a rally, and these authors have done them all! Don’t worry: Even losing points can be tons of fun — it’s still pickleball!

It’s also considered a fault if a player:

  • Violates any of the serving rules
  • Violates the two-bounce rule
  • Contacts the ball with anything other than the paddle or the hand that is holding the paddle
  • Serves or returns as the incorrect player, or from the incorrect side
  • Violates any of the kitchen rules (see “It’s hot in the kitchen!” below)
  • Touches the net, net posts, or the opponent’s side of the court. This rule applies to your paddle and clothing as well, which is why we’ve stopped playing in hoop skirts and parachute pants.
There are a few even less common ways to lose a rally, such as taking too long to return from a time-out in tournament play, but the faults in the preceding list are the main ones to worry about during recreational play.

It’s hot in the kitchen!

The non-volley zone (NVZ), a.k.a. the kitchen, is another genius idea that makes pickleball great. If players could just lean over the net and spike the ball directly into your face, that may impede your ability to enjoy this great pastime. The kitchen makes it so that players have to stay at least 7 feet away from the net if they want to hit the ball out of the air (a shot known as a volley).

If you think of the kitchen as its technical name, the non-volley zone, it tells you exactly what it is — a zone where you cannot volley. To be more specific, you cannot have any contact with the ball before it has bounced while you’re in this zone. If anything about your volley starts, finishes, or takes place while you’re in the kitchen, it’s a fault.

Note that the kitchen is a two-dimensional surface, not a three-dimensional space. In other words, it’s perfectly legal to lean in and hit the ball out of the air from the area above the kitchen, as long as you are not touching its surface.

The kitchen line and bordering sidelines are considered part of the kitchen. The out-of-bounds area adjacent to the kitchen is not.

If you see that a ball is going to bounce short in the kitchen and you can’t reach it without going in, by all means go! You don’t have to wait for the ball to bounce before you can go in — that’s a common misconception. After you have gone in and made your shot, try to get back out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. Otherwise, your opponent may flick the ball right at you, forcing you to illegally contact it before it has bounced.

Because the kitchen is unique to pickleball and the rules are frequently misunderstood, many new players are petrified of being anywhere near the kitchen. We urge you to let go of this irrational fear because it will only hinder your development as a player.

The kitchen is not hot lava! Not only are you allowed to go in there, you will absolutely need to go in there sometimes to retrieve the ball. The only similarity between the kitchen and your average lava field is that you don’t want to camp out in there.

You may hear pickleballers advising each other to “Stay out of the kitchen!” Although it’s a cute turn of phrase, this advice is not entirely accurate. Instead of hanging signs in the kitchen that say “Keep Out,” we’d prefer more helpful signs that say, “No Loitering.”

So, now you know there’s only one thing you can’t do in the kitchen: contact the ball before it bounces. That doesn’t sound so complicated, right? The confusing part for many players is understanding what qualifies as being “in” the kitchen, and in what situations it applies.

The rules define a kitchen violation (fault) as occurring when:

  • You hit a volley while any part of your body is contacting the kitchen. Remember, the kitchen surface includes the kitchen line and adjoining sidelines. Even if just your pinky toe (the one that went “wee wee wee” all the way home) touches the very back of the kitchen line, it’s a fault.
  • You hit a volley and your momentum carries you into the kitchen. If you initially strike the ball outside the kitchen but the momentum from the shot makes you step inside it, it’s considered a fault. There is no time limit on this rule; that is, it doesn’t matter if your opponents have already made their next shot (or three), or your partner smashes the next ball for a gold-medal, match-ending winner.If you haven’t yet regained your balance from your earlier volley and you fall into the kitchen, it’s a fault. After you have reestablished your balance, it is no longer considered part of the same shot, and you can go into the kitchen as you please.
  • You hit a volley and touch the kitchen with your paddle. If you lose your balance after hitting a volley and fall forward, try to avoid using your paddle to steady yourself. If your paddle makes contact with the kitchen during or after your shot, it’s a fault.
  • You hit a volley and your hat, glasses, or other gear falls into the kitchen. If you hit a volley and your dentures fall into the kitchen, it’s a fault for a variety of reasons (and one that your fellow players are unlikely to ever forget).
  • You hit a volley and in the process knock your partner into the kitchen. By contacting your partner in the midst of your shot, you made them a part of that shot. Nothing that you touch during the act of volleying can come in contact with the kitchen until after you have reestablished yourself outside it.
  • After legally going into the kitchen, you hit a volley before reestablishing both feet outside the kitchen again. This one’s a little tricky to visualize, so imagine that you’ve stepped into the kitchen to retrieve a short, bouncing ball — knowing that you’re perfectly safe because the kitchen is not hot lava — and you are contacting the ball after it has bounced. You return the ball, but as you are in the process of hustling back out of the kitchen, your opponent hits the ball right back at you. Unless you have managed to touch both feet outside the kitchen again, you may not contact the ball out of the air. The photos below show examples of legal and illegal volleying.
Photos of people demonstrating a correct versus incorrect pickleball volley hit ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The left photo shows a legal volley; the right, an illegal volley.

The kitchen is a flat surface defined by its boundary lines and does not include the “air space” above it or the out-of-bounds area next to it. It’s legal to volley while stepping or leaping over the corner of the kitchen, as long as your feet do not touch the in-bounds surface. This is called an Erne. (It’s actually pronounced like “Ernie,” and people may suspect you’re a rookie if you don’t pronounce it correctly.) If you want to show off, just tell them it’s named after Erne Perry. The Erne is an advanced move, so don’t worry if you can’t hit one just yet — you’ll at least win pickleball trivia night.

Be honest when you break the kitchen rules. Kitchen violations in recreational play are typically called by the player who made the violation, or by their partner. The call usually sounds something like, “Oh wait, no, stop. Stop stop stop stop stop. I was in the kitchen.” This declaration is often paired with a sheepish look, or in some cases a big smile, because smashing a ball from the kitchen feels really great — until you realize it didn’t count! In tournaments with referees, the referees will call the kitchen violations. If you’ve been cheating a bit in recreational play, you will suffer in tournaments because referees are very good at spotting kitchen faults.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Mo Nard and Reine Steel are certified pickleball teaching pros and founders of Positive Dinking pickleball instruction. Reine also created the PlayTime Scheduler website, used by 100,000+ pickleball players. Diana Landau and Carl Landau founded Pickleball Media. Carl hosts the popular podcast I Used to be Somebody.

Mo Nard and Reine Steel are certified pickleball teaching pros and founders of Positive Dinking pickleball instruction. Reine also created the PlayTime Scheduler website, used by 100,000+ pickleball players. Diana Landau and Carl Landau founded Pickleball Media. Carl hosts the popular podcast I Used to be Somebody.

Mo Nard and Reine Steel are certified pickleball teaching pros and founders of Positive Dinking pickleball instruction. Reine also created the PlayTime Scheduler website, used by 100,000+ pickleball players. Diana Landau and Carl Landau founded Pickleball Media. Carl hosts the popular podcast I Used to be Somebody.

Mo Nard and Reine Steel are certified pickleball teaching pros and founders of Positive Dinking pickleball instruction. Reine also created the PlayTime Scheduler website, used by 100,000+ pickleball players. Diana Landau and Carl Landau founded Pickleball Media. Carl hosts the popular podcast I Used to be Somebody.

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