Non-Volley Zone Basics
If you’re new to pickleball, the best place to start learning the game is at the non-volley zone (NVZ), also commonly called “the kitchen”. This area is a 7’ space on either side of the net including the court line. The most important point to remember with the NVZ is that you cannot strike a ball out of the air (a ball that hasn’t bounced) while standing inside of it. Let’s break down what that means, nuances to that rule, and why you should start learning to play pickleball at non-volley zone.
Striking a ball out of the air
The most common NVZ violation is striking a ball that hasn’t bounced while a player is standing inside the NVZ. Beginners struggle with this violation for several reasons. One reason is a beginner has not yet developed court awareness and may slowly move into the NVZ during a rally. Another reason is that they may be so focused on slamming a pop-up ball, that they just forget about the NVZ rule. As a beginner playing pickleball, focus on developing court awareness and patience to avoid stepping into the NVZ during a rally.
Take care when stepping into the non-volley zone
An important distinction even regular players forget is that there is no violation for standing in the NVZ. The fault doesn’t occur until a player strikes a ball in the air while inside the NVZ. As long as the ball bounces first, there is no violation for being inside the NVZ. However, as long as a player remains within the NVZ, their opponents are incentivized to hit a ball at them. Beginners should focus on learning how to step into the NVZ, return a ball that has bounced, and step back out again. This will prevent you from accidentally making a fault, and you will start developing your rhythm for playing at the net.
One important nuance here is once a player has entered the NVZ, both feet must make contact with the playing surface outside of the NVZ before they can volley a ball. Having both feet in the air, such as a player simultaneously striking a ball and jumping out of the NVZ (known as an “erne”), does not prevent a NVZ fault.
Momentum carries you into the non-volley zone
The NVZ rules apply to a player even if they strike a ball from outside of the NVZ. The simplest example of this is if a player strikes a ball in the air then falls into the NVZ. Even though the player made contact with the ball while outside of the NVZ, it’s still a fault even if it was an accident. Another common error is a player running up to the NVZ to return a short volley, but they can’t stop and end up running through the NVZ.
Developing your balance (such as focusing on form and strengthening your core muscles) and pacing your transition from the base line to the NVZ will help prevent faults from your momentum.
Your partner can help you regain your balance and keep you from falling into the NVZ, but if they make contact with the NVZ while touching you, then it is still a fault.
Equipment touches the non-volley zone
Wearing protective eyewear, hats, and sweatbands can improve your game and keep you safe. However, if anything you’re wearing lands into the NVZ after striking a ball in the air then it is a fault. Likewise, it is a fault if a player’s paddle strikes the NVZ as part of your motion to strike a ball in the air.
Learning pickleball at the non-volley zone
It may seem daunting to remember all this nuance with the NVZ, but as you begin to play, don’t worry so much about making these faults. You’ll develop court awareness over time and more experienced players will help you remember the less commonly occurring faults.
When you first step onto the courts to learn pickleball, start by hitting a ball with a partner at the NVZ line. For players who are new to racquet sports, this will help develop a lot of the skills you need to play such as eye-hand coordination, placement, and court awareness. Athletes who are new to pickleball will learn how to control their power and begin developing their touch for dinking.
The majority of rallies are played at the NVZ, so getting comfortable there is important. It may seem logical to start at the baseline, but so few shots are returned from that far back in the court.
Want to develop your NVZ game? Check out Pickleballerz’s dink court. This half size court is perfect for warming up and perfecting your dinks. Start each day with 5-10 minutes at the dink court and you’ll be a pro at the non-volley zone.
Northern Virginia’s first indoor dedicated pickleball facility, Pickleballerz is conveniently located off Routes 28 and 50 at 14424 Albemarle Point Place, Chantilly, VA. Keep up with Pickleballerz by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribing to the mailing list.