Basic Pickleball Strategy: Get to the Kitchen Quickly

We’ve all been told countless times that a basic pickleball strategy is to get to the kitchen ASAP. And it’s great advice! But there’s more to it than just rushing up the court. Getting to the kitchen quickly is important, but effectiveness is key. If you make a poor approach, an experienced player will exploit your error more often than not. 

Why Is Getting Established at the Non-Volley Zone Line So Important?

If you’re reading this, then you are likely a beginner or intermediate-level player. If that’s the case, if you take one thing away from this article, make it this: Whoever controls play at the non-volley zone line controls the game and statistically, has the greatest chance of winning.

Here are several reasons why basic pickleball strategy dictates that you should get to the net quickly.

  1. Being closer to the net provides you with a greater variety of angles, making it tough for your adversary to make offensive returns.
  2. If you are stationed at the kitchen line, you can avoid running up to meet an unexpected soft ball, which often leads to pop-ups…and you know what happens next!
  3. Many pickleball players also fashion themselves “shoe shiners,” since hitting shots at their rival’s feet make their life incredibly difficult. Playing near the kitchen gives you more opportunities to “shoe shine.”

How Do You Get to the Non-Volley Zone Line Quickly?

A deep pickleball serve return is essential to get to the non-volley zone faster. By doing this, you give yourself more time to react and get to the ball. If you can return the ball deep into the backcourt, you will be in a much better position to defend your opponent’s shot and win the point.

The longer the ball is traveling, the longer it’s going to take your opponent to return it. The longer it takes them to return it, the more time you have to get up to the net. Keep in mind that your return speed comes into play as well. Many rookies coming from tennis and other sports tend to hit fast serve returns–but all that means is that the ball you hit will get to your opponent faster, reducing the time you need to get to the non-volley zone line.

The serving team has a bit more of a challenge to get to the kitchen, but if you keep it simple, you can get there! The key is communication and staying organized. Let me walk you through the perfect scenario so you can see how it works.

In an ideal world, you or your partner would hit a great drop shot, and then you could race to the kitchen. However, this scenario is rare for beginner and intermediate players. More often than not, something less than perfect happens.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

When players are either beginner or intermediate, the most common mistake I see them make is hitting their third shot drop way too high. We’ve all been there! But unfortunately, the consequences of this shot can be disastrous.

If the ball is hit too high, the defenders will easily return it, and you’ll lose the rally. So you might find yourself getting to the kitchen quickly, but if you pop the ball up along the way, it will be a moot point since your opponent will put the ball away.

If you or your partner hit the third shot drop too high, stay in position outside the baseline instead of running forward. If you don’t heed this advice, all that will await you is a ball flying straight toward your feet–hard.

If you find yourself in this type of dire situation, your primary objective should be surviving. To make that happen, you need to keep trying drop shots until one finally works–and then you can start making progress again. This is the perfect time to hit a FIFTH-SHOT DROP.

If you’ve ever had to run to the kitchen quickly but then stop just as abruptly, you know how difficult it can be. It’s an awkward movement that requires both speed and finesse. If you don’t stop in time, you could lose your balance, and everything falls apart from there.

The key is not to run but jog instead. Try different speeds and find what works for you over time. I have found that I let each point play out organically, and while I am always thinking, “move forward,” I try not to rush the action.

Footwork is another key thing to remember. If you’re rushing towards the kitchen, your opponent might hit a drive at you. Instead of trying to return the ball while moving, split step first to stop and then make your shot. Split stepping will also help you generate more power.

Getting to the Kitchen Takes Awareness As Part of Your Basic Pickleball Strategy

The most difficult aspect of getting to the kitchen is being aware of what’s happening. You have to learn when people hit hard shots and how. However, as with anything, practice makes perfect. Playing pickleball is similar to when you first started driving: at first, it will be difficult to gauge speed and space, but after some repetition, you will hardly think about these things. 

What About a Tennis Approach Shot to Get to the Kitchen?

When a player can hit an approach shot, they are usually successfully transitioning closer to the net to gain an advantage and end the point. Approach shots are often defined as offensive because they allow players to get closer to their opponent’s side of the court. Usually, this type of tennis shot is executed when the ball falls short and lands near the service line rather than close to or behind the baseline. This shot can be effective in getting to the kitchen, but with a smaller court to work with, you’ll need to plan out how to transition from the baseline up to the net.

The Final Word

For pickleball rookies, the non-volley zone line can be a scary place to be. Trust me, even after eight months of learning the game, I still occasionally find myself intimidated and drifting backward. However, I challenge you to play a few games where you commit to advancing to the kitchen on every point. Once you improve your hand speed, you will quickly find that there is no better place to be.

4 thoughts on “Basic Pickleball Strategy: Get to the Kitchen Quickly”

  1. Hey Drew!

    I want to start playing pickleball, but my brother in-law hasn’t given me a pickleball paddle! What’s up with that???


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