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How to Position Yourself at The Kitchen - Pickleball Strategy

by Thomas Shields on

Positioning at NVZ

It's common practice to stand your ground at the kitchen line. If you can, take balls out of the air to increase pressure on your opponent. And when the time is right, you'll be better positioned to reach in and initiate an attacking shot.

At least, that's what they say...

When you first start out, coaches tend to oversimplify certain concepts. It's better to stand at the kitchen line then be at mid-court right? "Ok, so let's just tell them to stand right at the kitchen" - coaches

And sure, there are benefits to this. But there are also advantages that come with a constant (and often subtle) variance in your proximity to the NVZ line. Long story short, there are times to impose yourself and apply pressure, and there are times where being right up on the non-volley-zone line will be to your detriment.

Step Back, and then Collapse
In a previous piece (in The Dink Newsletter, subscribe here), we mentioned Pro Altaf Merchant's tendency to stand two feet back from the line (sometimes more than that), and allow himself all the time in the world to execute consistent, methodical dinks. More room to breathe, more time to react and more options for his own shot (dink cross, middle, short or lob, shot down the line, speedup, etc.).

Altaf can dink with the best of them. Here's a clip of a 100+ shot rally featuring Altaf (near right), whoa. But Altaf also knows when to slide forward, establish himself on the kitchen line, and increase pressure on his opponents.

In fact, he deliberately allows his opponents to get comfortable with all the room they have, only for him to collapse to the net suddenly and capitalize on their carelessness.

That said, once someone learns your game, they'll be less susceptible to those quick moves. And as an additional caveat, if you're TOO far back, your opponent will have enough space to essentially hit a dipping forehand at your feet, and they'll also have more gaps to aim for (the middle will be more open for example). So, be cognizant of this.  

Back Up During Fast Exchanges
Another common strategy when it comes to positioning at NVZ is to slide off the line as soon as the rally is sped up. The extra distance allows you more time to react, particularly in quick exchanges.

As soon as the ball is sped up at the pro level, you'll notice almost every pro takes a quick hop back and lands in a split-step to ready themselves for the next ball. This is why firefights tend to go longer at the highest level. Well that, and their wickedly fast hands, but I digress...

It will also make it easier to execute a reset, if you feel your at a disadvantage and want to slow the point down.

Impose Your Will
And now I'm going to contradict everything I just said, because the point is, that you should constantly be varying your position.

Get to the net. Most of the time, it's ideal to stand about 5 inches back from the kitchen line. When you can, take those dinks out of the air. Why? Because it will shorten the time between when your opponent plays their shot and when they have to play the next one. That means they have less time to think, move strategically and dictate the rally.

It helps you maintain control. You dictate the point. You apply the pressure and when you want to, you can let the ball bounce. Or, you can pull a Ben Johns style move, and suddenly flick the ball up toward your opponent's chicken wing. And we can talk all day about the strategies there.

Speak of, if you want think more strategically about tactical speedups and targets, listen to this short clip of a conversation we had with Pro Kyle Yates. Obviously, Kyle is paying chess, while the rest of us are playing checkers.

In Conclusion
All of this to say, don't be predictable at NVZ. Reach in and take some balls out of the air, step back and allow them to bounce. Watch how your opponent reacts and capitalize.

And as always, be like Altaf and experiment! See what works for you...

If you want more, rising Pro Paris Todd talks about about stepping back from the kitchen line in this interview.

More article? 3 Skill Investment to Elevate Your Game.