Why Is It Called The Kitchen In Pickleball?

There aren’t many terms in pickleball you will hear players talk about more than the “kitchen”, and while many experienced pickleball players recognize this term as a natural part of their vocabulary, for newer players, it can definitely seem like a strange phrase. 

Why Is It Called The Kitchen In Pickleball (1)

In fact, the history of the term “kitchen” in pickleball is actually quite fascinating, despite its origins being lesser-known by even professional pickleball players today. 

So where does the kitchen actually come from? And how did it become such a normalized term in pickleball? Here is the full breakdown of this curious phrase and how it applies to the sport.

What Does The Kitchen Refer To? 

One of the first rules newer pickleball players will be required to learn is not to volley the ball in the non-volley zone which reaches 7 feet away from the net, and while this area is officially recognized as the non-volley zone, the majority of players have come to know this part of the court as the “kitchen”. 

Most players will even call the line at the end of the non-volley zone the kitchen line, with the term therefore being the more common way to refer to the non-volley zone in general. 

The Rules Of The Kitchen

Players are not allowed to volley the ball in the kitchen area of the court. Players can still return the ball within the kitchen, however, the ball must have already bounced for them to do so. 

It should also be noted that the kitchen refers to the physical ground itself and not the space above it.

Therefore, while a player cannot volley a ball when standing in the kitchen, it is still legal to have your paddle over the area as long as your feet remain planted behind or on the kitchen line. 

Rule 9.B of the official pickleball rules also states that even if only the paddle touches the kitchen zone after you hit a volley, this will still be a fault, so if you were to hit a volley while outside the kitchen but accidentally drop your paddle inside of it, the shot will not count. 

Where Did The Kitchen Originate?

What makes this word so interesting is that no one is exactly sure of where it came from, despite how popular it would go on to become in the sport.

With that being said, there are a few theories with the most popular being that it was a term borrowed from shuffleboard where it refers to the area just behind the scoring zones.

This area is often either called the “kitchen” or the “10-off area” where players would lose 10 points if their pucks or discs landed in the area, therefore acting in a slightly similar way to the non-volley zone in pickleball. 

Another theory is that because the game was invented back in 1965 by three dads who never anticipated the game to become as big and popular as it did, they were simply having fun naming the equipment (You might also want to check out The Best Pickleball Gloves) and areas of the court, and decided to settle on “kitchen” for the non-volley zone which eventually stuck. 

The third theory that also has some believability to it is that the term simply comes from the classic saying “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen” implying that if you don’t think you can use a technique to return the ball after a bounce in the non-volley zone, then you shouldn’t be in there at all. 

Why Was The Kitchen Introduced?

The kitchen exists to prevent players from hitting a smash which is an aggressive volley near the net which is seen as an unfair technique in the sport since they can be too fast for a player to react to and return. 

Why Is It Called The Kitchen In Pickleball (2)

Allowing players to do this would go against the fair nature of the sport and would end up intimidating many newer players, alongside more experienced players potentially abandoning the game because of how unfair and annoying it would be to have to play against people who only ever stand by the net and smash the ball. 

The kitchen also makes it much easier for beginners to get accustomed to the rules of pickleball and get a few games under their belt while still having some sort of protection from shots that would be too close or fast to react to. 

The lack of this area in tennis is actually a big reason why many people will struggle to get into that sport, especially when they see how professional players (Find out How Much Do Pro Pickleball Players Make?) will run right up to the net to expose their opponent and fire a rapid shot straight past them.

Is It Legal To Jump Over The Kitchen?

While it is true that a player will face a penalty if they volley a ball while in the kitchen zone, the rules do clearly state that they must be physically standing in the zone for this to be illegal, which has led many keen-eyed players to exploit the rules by instead volleying the ball while jumping over the kitchen instead. 

This is called an Erne shot and is usually only pulled off by players with tremendous amounts of experience and practice since it is one of the hardest shots in the entire game. 

To execute this type of shot without facing a penalty, a player must jump from outside the kitchen zone and never let their foot touch the ground before they hit the volley.

They also are prohibited from jumping into the kitchen and then jumping again to hit the ball. 

Summary

While there are a few different theories people will believe on how the non-volley zone came to be known as the kitchen in pickleball, one thing is for certain, the term has become very common with virtually every player knowing what it refers to. 

The official rules definitely leave room for some players to work around the kitchen, however, in most games, it serves as a way to prevent players from smashing the ball, keeping the game fun and fair.

Damien Dansel
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