If you’re new to the sport of pickleball and are starting to get your head around all the terminology involved in the game, the one word that can initially seem a little strange that players will often refer to is the “kitchen”.
The truth is that the kitchen is potentially the most important term to know about since the whole purpose of it changes how players compete, allowing each match to be a lot more fair and much different from other racket sports such as tennis.
So that you can get up to speed as quickly as possible, we’ve compiled a full breakdown of what the kitchen means in pickleball and take a look into why it is considered so important to the sport by many of the top players.
What Is The Kitchen?
The kitchen refers to the small 7-foot area that begins at the net and extends out to both sides of the court.
When pickleball was first invented back in 1965, the kitchen was one of the very first concepts that became involved with the game since the inventors quickly realized that the faster pace of the game and the fairly small court meant that there needed to be some way to keep every match even and fair.
The way the kitchen provides this fairness is by creating an area where players are not allowed to volley the ball, so long as they are physically standing in the kitchen.
If you’ve ever watched a professional game of tennis, you might have noticed that now and again a player will charge up to the net and volley the ball as soon as it reaches their side.
This is called a “smash” and while it’s considered a highly-skilled technique in tennis, when it comes to pickleball, the much smaller court size means that a smash would virtually be impossible to return for the opposing player.
Therefore, the kitchen area ensures that no player can strike the ball this way, since this would just end up making a match annoying and very unfair for players on the receiving end.
It should also be noted that the rules are very specific when describing how the kitchen works, including the rule that “anything the player is carrying or wearing” is also not allowed to touch the ground, so even if you volley the ball outside of the kitchen, if you drop your paddle inside, then this is still a fault.
The Penalty For Volleying In The Kitchen Area
If a player is caught volleying the ball while physically standing in the kitchen, it will be recognized as an illegal act and will incur a fault.
If a player continuously volleys the ball from the kitchen multiple times throughout the match, there is a good chance they will be removed from the match entirely since they are not abiding by the fair rules of pickleball.
If a player notices or suspects that their opponent might be volleying the ball whilst standing in the kitchen area of the court, they will often shout out the word “kitchen” so that the referee is aware of it and can keep an eye on the movements of the specific player.
How Did The Kitchen Get Its Name?
There are a few theories as to how the kitchen got its name, and why it became the go-to way to refer to the non-volley zone, with the most popular being that it is a term borrowed from shuffleboard.
In a game of shuffleboard, if a player lands their weighted puck in the kitchen, also known as the “10-off” area, then they will be faced with a 10-point deduction, so its purpose is very similar to the non-volley zone in pickleball.
There is also a popular theory that the term simply comes from the common phrase “if you can’t take the heat, leave the kitchen” which is usually used when someone is trying to undertake a task that proves to be too intense or challenging for them.
Finally, some people simply chalk the origins of the phrase down to the fact that pickleball was created by three dads who invented the game in order to create a fun (see also: 17 Fun Facts About Pickleball)summertime activity for them and their kids to get involved with.
Because of this, there’s no doubt that the inventors of pickleball were never expecting it to become as popular as it eventually did, so there’s definitely a possibility that they were just simply having a bit of fun with the terms they were using.
Exploitations Of The Kitchen Rules
The pickleball rule book specifically states that a player physically touching the kitchen is not allowed to volley the ball, which has led many players to find their own ways to exploit these rules which are still allowed in the game.
For example, the rules do not say anything against a player hovering a paddle over the kitchen to volley a ball, so this is completely acceptable as long as they don’t drop the paddle or step into the kitchen at any time.
Some high-level players have even taken this a step further by perfecting the “Erne”, a technique that requires an incredible amount of practice and a great sense of timing to pull off.
The way it works is a player will jump over the kitchen zone and reach out to volley the ball with their feet landing on the outside of the court.
This is a completely legal move, but because of how difficult it is to pull off, many people will only use it if they are confident enough in their abilities and feel that the ball is traveling at the perfect speed to hit the volley without the need to reposition by touching the floor.
The kitchen is undoubtedly the most important part of the court in a game of pickleball, and while the exact origins of the name itself remains somewhat of a mystery, the term has nonetheless stuck and can be heard being shouted by professional pickleball players in nearly every game.